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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Profile: Emmanuel Nyemb, taxi driver

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Nyemb, 45, was born in Cameroon, on the west coast of central Africa. He's been driving a cab in Atlanta since the mid-'90s — and has had his fair share of experiences both in his native land and behind the wheel.

When did you come to Atlanta?

I came here in 1991. I came to go to school.

Did you finish your degree?

No. I had to call it off. Because of some family obligations and financial constraints, I had to look for a job.

What kinds of jobs were available to you?

At that time, the only job I could get was driving. I was delivering newspapers for a while and then I started driving a taxi.

Job opportunities are better here than in Cameroon. Unemployment is up to 40 percent in Cameroon. An education will not guarantee you a job. And here, although I could not do exactly what I wanted, I got a job to pay the bills. That is the big difference.

What are some of the cultural differences?

In Cameroon, people live in a family-oriented society. People help each other and you can stay at home until you decide to leave, even if you have a wife and children. People try to help one another.  Here, you are on your own. If you don’t make it, you get evicted. And the food was also a new experience for me.

Talk about some food from Cameroon.

Cameroon is a very diverse society with about 132 languages for 15 million people. Each language belongs to a specific tribe each tribe that has its own food. It was very diverse and we ate lots of vegetables. No meat is exempt in my tribe.

What were some interesting kinds of meat that you would eat in your tribe?

I don’t want to offend some people … but we ate from porcupine to elephant.

Tell me a dish you would make from porcupine.

A porcupine will go by itself, but the method you use makes it is unique. In my tribe, we use a specific tree. I don’t know the name in English, but we call it “MBongo.” The bark of that tree, when dried and grounded like coffee, can be used to cook things like fish or any kind of meat. It is very unique and you can add tomato, garlic or onion.

That is the main ingredient in our tribe. And you can use it to cook bush meat.

What’s that?

Bush meat is like … I guess what you call here a "game animal" — wild boars and antelopes.

And would you catch them yourself?

People set traps in the forest to catch them. They are not good shooters in my tribe, but they can set traps very well. It’s not difficult to catch an elephant, but it’s difficult to find one. They only come by the village every three or four years.

Have you ever personally hunted an elephant?

I have never hunted anything in my life, but I have killed snakes. I killed a viper. Just like any other snake, I killed it with a stick. And then I cut of its head with a machete.

I was told if a snake comes close to you, you have to kill it or it will hurt you. The Chinese or Koreans had won a contract to build a road, the main road joining the two big cities in Cameron, and so they were demolishing everything: big trees, huge trees. And every time they came through, something would come out like rat or a snake or a turtle, and it was a good way to catch some food.

So you killed the viper and then you ate it?

Yes. It is very good meat. It’s a cross between a chicken and a fish but better in taste. It is an acquired taste; you would not understand it.

How long have you been driving a cab?

I have been driving a cab for 13 years.

And what’s that experience been like? Do you enjoy driving a cab?

I have come to a point where [driving a cab] barely pays the bills. I am used to it, but it is no longer easy and it’s no longer fun. It is really hard out there.

How much can you make on a good day?

Anything above $150 is a good day.

What expenses do you have?

In our case, you have to pay the company $80 a day. Right now, we pay between $20 to $25 for a gasoline a day.

So if you make $150, you’re basically taking home probably about $50?

Yes. To really call it a good day, you have to bring home $100. We work seven days a week, so if you can bring in $75 to $100 a day, that’s a good day. Between $500 and $700 a week is a good week.

What’s a bad day like?

A bad day can be nothing.

Have you seen it this bad before?

I’ve seen it this bad only in 1997, during the summer. But that was it. After that, things picked up really well. This year has been a tough year. I will have to work longer hours.

Have you ever had any weird rides or crazy experiences?

Yes. The one that was really weird was when I was kidnapped.

Somebody called a taxi. I came by, and he told me he was an architect. A few minutes later he asked me to stop and pick up his friend. Then, maybe 20 minutes into the ride, I realized I was being robbed. He pulled out a gun, which was a machine gun.

He told me that if I made any sudden moves, they would shoot me before they got arrested.

After like, three hours, it was 7:30 at night, and they took me into northwest Atlanta. They took my car keys and threw them into the woods, and they told me I had two minutes to run before they caught me. So I walked away to a pay phone, and I called my brother. And my brother called the company, and they sent someone to pick me up.

One time I was robbed by three young girls We drove from Buckhead to Jonesboro Road. Then they pulled a gun and a knife and took my money.

Do you carry any weapon with you at all?

No. I don’t believe in that. They give you a false sense of security. I believe with some luck, they just might leave you alone.

Do you think it’s safer in Atlanta or Cameroon?

Definitely in Cameroon.

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