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Ollie the cab driver

| Monday, February 24, 2014

The night was hazy and slightly dull. My friend and I were receiving attention from all the wrong sorts at a random party. We needed to blow that popsicle stand — quick. In typical Smick/Domer style, my friend hit up her beloved cabbie, Ollie.

“He’s teaching me French,” she said. The two of us are planning to move to Paris post-graduation, so any opportunity to practice the language is too welcome. The smiling driver said he would be happy to help us out in our bilingual endeavors. In the 15 minutes back to Le Mans Hall, I discovered that Ollie was from Rwanda. His schooling from kindergarten to high school was in French.

Although his easygoing personality was likeable enough, he earned the position of my friend’s favorite cab driver because they had exchanged life stories. Once she revealed to him that she had arthritis, Ollie offered to drive her wherever she needed to go. Although most Notre Dame fans trek from one parking lot to the next on foot, my friend’s autoimmune disease has made her averse to walks of over a few blocks. She was a committed tailgater and Ollie had her back.

A semester later, on my allotted biannual outing, I found myself off campus again without a ride home. I called up Ollie and our chat picked up where it had left off. He had no memory of me, but I knew him and asked questions over a thumping T-Pain and Chris Brown song.

On my ride to Stadium Club, Ollie revealed that he was six when the Rwandan Genocide occurred. Although both of his parents and most of his extended relatives were killed, he and his younger brother managed to survive by staying with their grandmother. The Rwandan Genocide, which ended after three months in August of 1994, killed 800,000 men, women and children — roughly three quarters of the Tutsi population. In 2009, Ollie left his country to get an education in the States.

For those of us who are not majoring in peace studies, the genocide feels far away and yet, I have a classmate whose parents were killed in the Rwandan Genocide as well.

Now, 26-year-old Ollie attends Southwestern Michigan College and is studying pre-pharmacy. The cab driver has a year and half left to complete his degree, and he is considering med school.

I have a habit of making my Inside Columns really preachy. To continue the trend, I encourage members of the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross campuses to get to know the person who is getting you home safe — you might just learn a thing or two.

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About Rebecca O'Neil

Senior news writer for Saint Mary's College and news editor for The Observer

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