I didn’t know where she was going, but knew she needed a ride and when I picked her up she seemed very grateful. Smiling broadly, she bobbed her head up and down in a friendly sort of way. We proceeded with hand gestures and nods and eventually I got her home. She knows the word "thank you" for sure, and thanked me again and again. Then she gave me a phone number in spite of the fact that we have absolutely no way to converse...I think she just wanted to make a connection.
I was so touched by her circumstances, I wrote about her in a blog that week. Since then I have been back to her house with a couple of Arabic-to-English dictionaries and flowers and have taken her to a big international grocery store 17 miles from her home so she could buy the foods she is used to cooking.
So when I went to pick her up another day for a trip to the grocery, she looked puzzled. She called an interpreter and spoke Arabic hurriedly into the phone. The woman told me Rehab didn’t know why I was there. HMMM.
Well, that made sense. I thought she understood, but really had no way to be sure. The interpreter went on…”she doesn’t need to go to the grocery,” she said. “She wants you to teach her to drive.”
Really? I thought. Teaching someone to drive is not a very difficult task. If the student is careful and doesn’t stomp directly on any of the peddles, it can be achieved without loss of life. But, arm a Syrian woman who has never driven an automobile with an eight-seater behemoth of a van, (seriously, it has to be 20' long) being taught by an English-speaking teacher and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
She proudly produced a learner’s permit. Who knew that Indiana had permit tests in Arabic? Not I. Some gentleman had taken her out for four one-hour sessions and she was beyond ready to go again—like a 15 1/2 year-old who excitedly jangles the keys in front of her parent saying, “Can we go? Can we? Can I drive? OK? Can I drive? Huh? Can I?” In fact, Rehab needs 50 hours of driving experience to take her driver’s test and get a license and she is—putting it mildly—very excited about it.
Off we went. I took her to a large high school with big parking lots, assuming that the students would all be home in the summer. What a laugh! There were kids everywhere, running on and off the tennis courts into the road, emptying from busses and lining up to get back on busses.
And, in the midst of all this was Rehab, piloting her big tan van around and around the school, pulling into and out of parking spaces. (And colliding constantly with the imaginary cars that were parked in the adjacent spots.)
I want to stop right here and let you soak in the impossibility of this scene. Rehab barely knows what ‘STOP!” means, much less, “swing out to the left and pull straight into the parking space so you don’t hit the other cars.” There was much nodding and drawing on paper of cars on the road and what would happen if she did this or that.
I think I’m pretty tough, but an hour and a half of this was exhausting. Then she said, “Rehab home?” (as she grasped the steering wheel and pretended to turn it toward the street.) “No, Rehab,” I said with a firm smile, shaking my head vigorously. “You are not ready to drive on the road,” which clearly meant nothing to her. So I took the keys, opened the passenger side door and stalked around the front of the van to to make it very clear we were going to exchange places and I was going to drive home.
Rehab is a wonderful woman, full of love, a great cook and some day she'll make a proud and responsible American citizen. She is, however, a terrible driver and I’m not quite ready to die for the Syrian Refugee Driver Training cause. But I will be back, and I will be back and back again until I get her ready to face the impenetrable gaze of an Indiana Driver’s License Examiner. And, by that time, we will both have learned a lot.