Deborah Oyine Aluh


I enjoyed watching the captivating documentary on unlikely animal friends that aired on Nat Geo Wild. It was mind-boggling to watch incredible bonds form between a monkey and a pigeon, a tiger and a pig, or even a cat and a chicken. The variety of animals from different species forming extraordinary connections and friendships, where both parties benefit, is truly amazing. Humans can also forge unlikely friendships. Despite belonging to the same species, the diversity in terms of race, age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status can make some friendships seem peculiar and unlikely. A hundred years ago, having a friend of a different race would have been considered incredibly uncommon. In this era of globalization and frequent migration, such barriers have largely dissolved. Nevertheless, certain friendships still face hurdles in being acceptable, particularly those involving significant age differences or varying genders. Ageism and sexism can present significant obstacles to cultivating and maintaining such friendships.

The most unlikely friendship I have formed was with an elderly taxi driver whom I called Papa. Papa was probably in his late 60s, while I was in my late 20s when we first crossed paths. Not only did we come from different generations, but we also belonged to different ethnic groups. I vividly recall the day we met. I was moving apartments and desperately needed a taxi to transport my belongings. Among the long line of taxi drivers anxiously waiting to shuttle students and staff off campus, I inexplicably chose Papa. He drove me back to my apartment on campus, which was just a short 3-minute drive away. With a chewing stick in his mouth, he leisurely strolled around my piled-up luggage, appraising the task at hand and calculating how many trips it would take to complete it.

How much you wan pay?” he inquired, peering into my eyes as if searching for something within them.

“How much you wan collect?” I retorted like the typical Nigerian, fervently hoping that he wouldn’t be one of those people who would drag out the negotiation process. Haggling was not my strong suit, and I was far too impatient for it.

He took another stroll around the luggage, still chewing on his stick, before stating the price of 2,000 naira. It seemed fair, yet I couldn’t resist bargaining.

Haaa….you no gree 1500?”

He smiled and slowly shook his head. “The load plenty, I no fit pack am one time,” he explained. “I no go lie you, my daughter.”

Accepting his price, I watched as he meticulously loaded my belongings into his vehicle. His care and precision were impressive as if he had done this a thousand times before. Unlike most taxi drivers, he didn’t rush through the packing process. It was clear that he approached every task with dedication, even mundane ones like moving things. Upon reaching my new apartment, he carefully unloaded everything and even apologized for being unable to assist me due to a recent surgery. After requesting help from the gatekeeper, he ensured that my belongings were carried upstairs. His thoughtfulness surprised me; I hadn’t expected any assistance. It was then that I realized his patience and kindness went beyond just a professional encounter. I asked for his phone number, wanting to stay in touch for future taxi services. This marked the beginning of our unlikely friendship.

It wasn’t long before I required his services again, this time to drive me to the motor park at 6:00 am to catch a bus to the capital city. Papa arrived promptly at 5:45 a.m. and waited to bid me farewell as I boarded the bus. He even called in the evening to make sure I had arrived safely. I was deeply touched by his thoughtfulness. Upon my return from the journey, I brought back some kilishi for Papa, as was customary among friends in Nigeria. He absolutely loved it, and so did his family! We often chatted about our families, and he would often advise me to study hard. As a token of encouragement, he gave me a reading lamp.

Over time, our bond evolved from a professional one to a true friendship. Papa not only provided me with transportation services but also shared his invaluable wisdom during our rides. His amusing stories were filled with profound life lessons that broadened my perspective. It became evident that Papa genuinely cared about my well-being, just as I cared about his. Papa’s wisdom and genuine kindness bridged the generational gap between us.

When the COVID pandemic struck, Papa was devastated. With the university closed and no students requiring shuttling, he faced serious financial difficulties. Throughout his life, he had worked tirelessly to provide an education for his children, believing it was the key to success. Unfortunately, none of them had found employment after completing their higher education, leaving Papa to fend for himself and his family during retirement. He confessed that he never imagined he would still be struggling to make ends meet after retiring. For the first time, I became acutely aware and saddened by the plight of retirees in Nigeria.

After the lockdown ended, I told Papa that I was leaving Nigeria to continue my studies abroad. It was a bittersweet moment for both of us, as we knew that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, but at the same time, it meant being separated by vast distances and uncertain futures. Less than a year after I left, I found myself grappling with the painful reality of losing my unlikely friend. Papa’s passing left a void, but the imprint of our friendship lingers, a testament to the power of open hearts. I am left with cherished memories, as I now understand that the most meaningful connections often arise unexpectedly, transcending age, background, and experiences. Just like the animal friendships on Nat Geo Wild, Papa demonstrated that unlikely friends can be the most transformative, teaching us the essence of understanding, acceptance, and the beauty of diversity in this global village we call home.

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