Flashback Friday: An honest taxi driver

Last week, I told you about the time we got ripped off by a wicked taxi driver in Istanbul. To even it out a little, today I'll tell you about the time a taxi driver went entirely out of his way to be scrupulously honest.

It happened in Hama, Syria (the town's 13th-century Noria waterwheels are pictured above), in the spring of 2005. We had been traveling around northern Syria for a few days and decided to stay the night in Hama on our way back down to Damascus. On this particular leg of our journey, our party consisted of Jeremy, me, my little brother (Steven), my dad, my mom, my mom's friend, our friend, and our friend's friend.

My mom's friend, Steven, my mom, my dad, me, and Jeremy in front of Krac des Chevaliers, a Crusader castle, outside of Hama.

We arrived in Hama by service (microbus) in the early evening, and immediately set out to get something to eat. The eight of us formed a rather unwieldy group for getting transportation around town, so to get to a restaurant for dinner, we ended up splitting into two groups of four and traveling in separate taxis. There was a bit of confusion involved in flagging down two taxis and coordinating who would go in each one, then telling one taxi to try to follow the other, to a restaurant none of us had ever been before (a place called, inexplicably, Dream House).

The taxi that I was in got to the restaurant without a problem, but Jeremy’s taxi got lost and took another minute or two to show up. Finally, the taxi pulled up, everyone piled out of the small car, the taxi drove away, and we all went in to the restaurant to start ordering some food. We were exhausted and famished after a day of traveling, and very happy to be in a clean restaurant that had some quasi-Western food on the menu. Not that I have anything against falafel, but sometimes it's nice to eat something different for a change.

(However, we have learned over the years that just because a restaurant in the Middle East has lasagna [or, as it is usually written, 'lazania'] on its menu, doesn't mean you want to eat it. A friend of ours - an Italian, actually, which makes it even worse - ordered 'lazania' at an Italian restaurant in Lattakia and got pasta with ketchup.)

A good forty-five minutes into the meal, Jeremy looked through the restaurant’s front windows and noticed one of the taxis that had dropped us off pulling up in front of the building. Immediately, he called our attention to it and asked, “Did someone leave something in the taxi? The driver just came back to the restaurant.”

Then, in a moment of simultaneous sickening realization and immense relief, he discovered that yes, someone had forgotten something, and he himself was that someone. The taxi driver came into the restaurant with Jeremy's camera bag. Inside were our two cameras - both our digital and video camera, each worth about $400 - as well as Jeremy's passport, thrown in for good measure, I guess. Apparently, in all the confusion of getting a taxi and finding the restaurant, Jeremy had left the bag on the seat.

What amazes me about this story is the extra effort this total stranger put forth to be honest. He could have found the bag, decided we were long gone, and just kept it for himself - after all, it had been almost an hour and we could have been gone from the restaurant already. And who knows how far across town he was when he found the bag? Instead, he went out of his way to come all the way back to where he'd dropped us off, even though it had been difficult to find in the first place, and bring us back the things we'd left behind.

Of course, Jeremy offered him money for returning them, but the taxi driver refused. We were so relieved and so grateful. A friend of ours left his video camera in a taxi in Beirut, Lebanon earlier that same year, and never saw it again. At the time, all of his Syrian friends chided him, saying, “If you lost it in Beirut, it’s gone forever. You should have lost it in Syria – then someone would have returned it!”

As we saw first-hand, this turned out to be very true.

Happy Mother's Day to me

Feeling better by comparison