I think I’ve always wanted to be a taxi driver, but if I think about it I think it’s absurd, for I grew up in the middle of the countryside not knowing what a city, a road or even a vehicle was.
In my earliest memories are not my parents or where I was born, only the isolated camp for orphaned children we didn’t know I was in eastern Cambodia.
The Khmer Rouge (Khmer Krahom in the Cambodian language) taught us about the greatness of Pol Pot even though, due to our young age, we did not understand what all that monserga was about.
Our teachers were teenagers who simply repeated like parrots what their immediate leader, who was no more than twenty-five years old, had taught them. In those early days I never saw an adult person.
The lessons we received were accompanied by frequent physical punishment and little food. Hunger was part of our day.
As for the place that served as our bedroom, dining room and classroom, it was a bamboo shed open to the four winds, which was raised one metre above ground level to avoid flooding during the monsoons.
Having known nothing else, I didn’t miss a family, a more decent home or a better life.
That time ended when Cambodia was invaded by the Vietnamese army and the grandiloquent Khmer Rouge fled like rabbits leaving us alone. When we saw the Vietnamese soldiers arriving, we feared the worst until, behind them, friendly nurses appeared to take care of us and feed us as no one had done before.
A few weeks later we were transferred to an orphanage in Phnom Penh. Climbing onto the branches of a champa tree in the garden I saw different vehicles circulating along the street and asked an older boy about a noisy “tuk-tuk” tricycle. “It’s a taxi,” he clarified. So I decided I was going to be a cab driver.
Divergent story: I think I always wanted to be a taxi driver.
It took me almost twenty years to achieve this, and my happiness knew no bounds when I first got behind the wheel of my tuk-tuk. On that glorious day I also discovered that I loved to constantly go from one place to another taking clients with whom I liked to chat and get them to tell me a little about their life.
But the best came when I started meeting foreign tourists who didn’t complain about the hefty price I charged them and gave me generous tips.
I found it strange to see for the first time people with white hair and wrinkled skin. The fact that there was nobody like that among the Cambodians was due to the fact that the Khmer Rouge had murdered the entire adult population.
Sometimes I wonder if my father would have been a taxi driver, too.
DIVERGENT STORY, by Nando Baba