Mountain town, north Georgia. Tourist town, but still, an out of the way place, two hours from the nearest international airport, nestled in the hills, formerly a lumber town, on the railway.
Not the place I’d expect to run into a Kenyan refugee author or former member of Nelson Mandela’s inner circle. But hey, what is this trip for if not too smash all my stupid “expectations,” read: biases, to stupid bits.
Gordon was an older white guy, sightly plump with a tinge of Georgia in his speech. The only Lyft driver I saw in the area, and even then a fifteen minute drive to get us for a ten minute ride into town. Like I always do, I began chatting. I almost always get around to, “So are you from this area?,” and when I did he mentioned spending most of his working years in South Africa.
So what’s next in conversation? I asked if he speaks Afrikaans. “No,” he chuckled, “My wife does better than me. I took lessons for six weeks but the teacher kicked me out. Said my accent was to thick and I talk too slow.” We laugh. “So,” I say, “What found you in South Africa?,” expecting him to perhaps talk about missionary work or business.
“I worked for Nelson Mandela, traveled all around with him. I was in charge of a project to try and create a black middle class. We’d get folks setup with seed money, get them a business started, and get them some custom. Or we’d lobby existing business to start South African branches and hire locally.”
Our Lyft driver in Helen Georgia… a member of Mandela’s cabinet, heading a key anti-apartheid initiative. He recounted whistle-stop international tours, meeting with celebrities and dignitaries. Sharaun and I got out of the car and just looked at each other. Wow. You never know.
Yakob came to the US from Kenya, where he lived as a refugee from some war torn country he didn’t name. An African Muslim, he speaks six languages and is a published author. His upcoming book is a theological study on the commonalities between the God worshipped by Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
He was spurred to write this book after his brother was killed in a religiously motivated terrorist attack. Specifically, his brother was murdered in the San Bernardino husband & wife mass shooting a while back. Yakob paused and thought out loud, “He came to this country for safety and peace and was in the end killed by terrorism.” Wow.
The world is out there, people have seen and done and been inspired and motivated by amazing things. We just have to encounter and learn from them.