Taking the time to listen

Posted on April 27, 2012


Today ended what has been a unique experience. I’ve been on a long term project in NJ flying back and forth from Colorado every 1 to 2 weeks. Over the course of this project I had the fortune to meet and get to know Mustafa.

No, he was not one of my coworkers on the project. He was my frequent cab driver from the client’s office to the airport. In the 9 months I’ve been travelling to NJ he was my driver probably close to 70% of the rides. Mustafa is Palestinian, was born in Kuwait and  lived most of his life in Jerusalem.

What I like about Mustafa is not just that he’s friendly. He’s also smart. I would say brilliant. He is a funny guy too. To borrow a phrase from Jonathon Safran-Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, Mustafa is a “premium guy”. There are days when I walk out of the office and head back to my hotel and he’s waiting in his cab for a fare. He knows when I’m heading to the hotel and not to the airport based on whether I’m just carrying my laptop bag or my laptop bag and my suit case. But even so, he will step out of his cab, wave to me, say “Hi” and ask how my day was.

One night I was out for my evening run and there he is along with his other drivers’ It’s 7:00 PM an they’re outside the office as I run by. Again. I see him step out and wave to me. I pause my run, jog over to him and we speak for several minutes asking how our days have gone. As I’m jogging away I hear him call back “See you tomorrow afternoon. We go to airport, yes?”

But more importantly, to me, is that, aside from his family, he loves flowers. His favorites are roses (all kinds, but particularly Black Beauty’s he has based on roses from Ecuador), and calla lilies.

You can tell from talking to Mustafa that he is passionate about flowers. He owns a shop in Palestine and one in  Jerusalem. He used to own one in Clifton, NJ but it went out of business. That’s why he’s driving a cab now. He’s providing for his family and saving up for another flower shop. This time, he says, in a better location with less competition. But as you talk to him you see how much he misses flowers and wants to be surrounded by them again.

So Mustafa, insh’ allah. I know you will be back in flowers some day soon.

Salaam ala ikum.