His name was "Adil" or something like that; his skin was swarthy but not black.
I guessed "Egypt."
He laughed. "No! But you are close!"
I guessed "Jordan," and all the other countries close to Egypt. None of them.
As you know, I only get a Point if I am right on the first guess.
"Mauretania," he said at last.
That was a first: a cabdriver from Mauretania!
"That's not close to Egypt!" I protested. "That's the other side of Africa!"
"Some of us look like Arabs, from the north; others are darker, from the south," he explained.
The south of Mauretania is very close to Senegal, and there are lots of cabbies from Senegal these days.
They are mostly from Africa now, have you noticed? Fewer and fewer subcontinentals. They used all to be from the subcontinent; now I guess they've gone into IT. Or gone home. And of course my podiatrist - or, rather, her parents - was subcontinental. (She, however, was born in New Jersey, and she's not going back to India except to visit relatives and spend some beach time.)
"How long have you been here?" I asked the Mauretanian. What is the capital? Nouakchott? I'm not even sure.
"A year and a half," he told me. "New York is the greatest city in the world!"
I basked in that - but how many other cities had he seen? To what were we being compared? Nouakchott?
"Don't you think so?" he prodded me.
"Well - I was born here - I don't have to find it so impressive."
But of course I do.
Still - the greatest? Hmmm.
"How long do you think it will last?" Now that was an interesting question. I don't know if a cabbie ever asked me that one before. That it even occurs to someone is - a change.
"It will all go to pieces the day after I am dead," I told him, airily.
That made him laugh. "Are you the Messiah?"
"I? No. He married my sister. We don't get along. In-laws. You know."
"I think from this you don't believe anything," he said, slyly.
"I wouldn't say that..."
"I was raised Muslim," he sighed, "but since I've been here - I've begun to have doubts - about all that."
"Doubts are good."
I don't even have a sister.
The next cabdriver was from Côte d'Ivoire, Ivory Coast, not Abidjan (site of its recent civil war) but a small town outside it. I didn't get that point either. I think I guessed Ghana. There have been several from Ghana, the second-largest country in West Africa after Nigeria and a former British colony. None from Nigeria. Nigerians don't come here much. The last one from Ghana was named Kwame; that's how I guessed it: I remember Kwame Nkrumah from my little-kid-reading-the-papers days.
I got this cab at JFK, right after Ghana beat the pants off us in the World Cup. Mentioning futbol is usually a good way to make friends with foreign guys.
"You sure killed us last week at the Cup." He chuckled. "We played well," I continued (meaning nothing much). "You played better. I'll be rooting for you against Uruguay." And so I did, but Uruguay cheated and won. Another good game. The Ghanaians are exciting players - unlike the Italians or Dutch, who make me want to slap them.
But I'm very proud of getting my point for Mali. His first name was Oussan, which implied something in northern, Muslim Africa, and he was slim, sort of caramel-colored. "What do you know about Mali?" he cried, amazed.
"Timbuktoo," I said, though that's not even the capital.
"No one in America has ever heard of my country!"
That made me very proud.
Anyway, I got the point.
I'm delighted when they say, "What do you know about my country? Americans never know anything about my country. Where are you from? You can't be American!"
I don't want to be a typical know-nothing American. But is that typical of New Yorkers? Don't think so.
Sometimes they won't tell me where they're from. Then the game goes into penalty kicks.
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