Many of the people that I teach to drive are migrants from Africa. They are inspiring, gracious people with good hearts. This is a story about Yonas from Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, the origin of the coffee bean has many claims to fame. It is the most populous landlocked country in the world, the second most populated African state, one of the oldest known locations of human life and the only African country to defeat a colonial power. Named twice in the Iliad and three times in the Odyssey it is the fifteenth poorest country in the world, which is why, I imagine, my driving school pupil Yonas is here, living in the UK.
Yonas a farm worker, made his own odyssey here by way of Italy where he lived and worked for a while to earn the fare for the last leg. I suspect he made the same perilous voyage over the Mediterranean that sometimes ends in terrible loss of life.
Like all the Ethiopians I know, Yonas is a dignified, intelligent and proud person. He works hard, when he can find work and lives in an uninspiring tower block named Scargill Heights. Sometimes I wonder, waiting in the car park for Yonus, if Arthur Scargill has the lifetime use of an apartment here along with his Barbican pad, courtesy of the Mineworkers Union.
Certainly, Arthur would not share Yonas’s views. In one of our discussions he berated the Italians for being a work-shy lot then offered his opinion that we were an idle lot too. “Welfare, it is no good,” he opined, “it makes the British very lazy people.” Perhaps this judgement has been coloured by personal lack of qualification for welfare hand-outs or maybe he had been reading a Conservative manifesto pamphlet that had been pushed through his letterbox.
Yonas is quiet and I don’t like to pry but occasionally during a driving lesson events cause him to open up, to reveal fragments of his life. One day I was covering the emergency stop routines. To teach this it helps to add urgency by asking the pupil to imagine a child suddenly running out in front of the car. Often it helps to make the exercise more real in the pupil’s mind to make the imaginary child their own.
“Do you have any children, Yonas?” I enquire.
“Yes, a son,” he replies.
“How old is he?”
“His name is Louis, he is now seven years.”
“Okay, Yonas let us pretend Louis is the child and you have to stop as quickly as possible.”
We do the emergency stop a few times with Yonas picturing his young son running out in front of the car. I congratulate him on his performance that he stopped well before hitting his son.
“You will be able to tell Louis that you nearly ran him over today!” I joke.
“I cannot do that Sandy, my son he still lives with his mother, my wife in Africa,” he answers in a voice tinged with sadness, “I have not seen them for three years.”
Like many people I worry, I have opinions about Britain being able to cope with immigration, the practical problems of sharing our land, our lifestyle with foreigners. But this is Yonas my friend. He loves his country which he describes as a place of beauty. His family are real people with the same dreams and desires as we all have. There is no easy answer to all of this.