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Big cities are full of interesting people, and our Uber drivers on a recent trip to D.C. were among the best.

We walked 10,000 miles, it seemed, but sometimes we just needed to get a ride. It was raining one day; a few restaurants were too far from our hotel. Other times, my feet just hurt, and I wanted to sit.

We’ve been to New York City and hailed the yellow taxis, but we’d never used Uber until now. The company didn’t exist the last time we went to a big city. There’s also Lyft, but my husband just used the Uber app on his phone.

The first driver was Carolyn, a fun, talkative D.C. native who had moved away but came back to her hometown. She had several kids and also worked at Costco, and she talked about how she didn’t drive aggressively because of all the road-rage incidents.

One of our drivers was deaf. A 50-something man with salt-and-pepper hair, he showed us his cellphone when we got in to confirm we were the correct passengers and where we wanted to go. He gave us a thumbs up twice. I felt bad that I couldn’t even remember sign language for thank you, which my 17-month-old granddaughter knows.

Ahmed was passionate about us enjoying our time in D.C. — and our lives. He was fervent, not just making conversation. I told him we had just celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary, and he said he’d been married for 30 years. “Every day is the first day. Every breakfast is the first breakfast,” he said. Life goes by so quickly, he said. We must enjoy every moment.

Another driver, Efrem, took us from a restaurant to our hotel in the pouring rain and got as close to where we were standing as possible. He asked us to guess where he was from. I said, randomly, Trinidad. Nope. My husband guessed Tunisia. The driver said my husband was on the right continent, so my husband thought a second and said, “Ethiopia.” The man was shocked. “Yes, that’s right.” He high-fived us (at a stoplight). He was 28 and had come to the United States when he was 12. His mother and siblings had won the “immigration lottery,” he said. His father still lives in Ethiopia.

His goal is to work with kids, start a program for orphans, he said.

When he dropped us off at our hotel, he said, “Read C.S. Lewis. Do you know C.S. Lewis?” We told him we knew the author’s work. “He’s a Christian — C.S. Lewis,” Efrem said.

Our driver John also grew up in D.C. He talked about football, and I asked his favorite NFL team. He jerked his cap around, showing the Dallas Cowboys star. His whole family loves the Redskins, so he rebelled early on.

Octave, a driver who took us to meet our friend Linda, my mom’s childhood friend, was interested in politics, and he got so excited when he found out I work for a newspaper and my husband, a former newspaper editor, teaches journalism.

The last one, who took us to the airport to fly home, was Faridun, a nice 20-something-year-old from Tajikistan. He had just been home because his brother, who also lives in D.C., got married. It was a weeklong event, he said, as is their custom. He talked about how close he and his brother are.

His brother is trying to get his new wife to the United States, but the immigration “is harder now,” Faridun said. “He calls her like 20 times a day.”

Faridun was 16 when he followed his brother to the United States. His mother wants to come here, but his father has a job and friends and doesn’t want to leave. Faridun thinks if his brother and new wife have a baby, the men’s parents will come to the U.S. For Faridun, he believes he is too young to marry, yet.

This young man said there is only one other Tajik at his university, and they are friends. But in the city, the population from his country is increasing, he said.

He co-owns a pizza restaurant and wants to open some of his own.

No matter what country the drivers grew up in, no matter how different their cultures, at the end of the day, they were more like us than different — they loved their families and were working hard to have a good life in America, and they enriched our trip with their humanity.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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