Tribes in Taxis by Shafina Ahmed

My father tells me before he became my father, before he became America


A native New Yorker, & former social worker, Shafina Ahmed is a Muslim-Bengali American writer/poet. She has performed in several poetry stage & TV productions with the Full Circle Ensemble; Astoria Stand Up – Harmony & Dissonance Sessions; & “Around the Fire” QPTV with Frank Robinson. She has featured at various poetry venues in NYC such as Nuyorican Café, Union Square Slam, Great Weather Media, Wordat4F. She currently co-curates Poets Settlement monthly Reading/Poetry Series in Brooklyn, and the storytelling series How To Build A Fire. In 2014 she was published in Full Circle Anthology and in 2018 'Miscellany' by RunAmok Books and is currently working on a chapbook of poetry and prose.

in his motherland Bangladesh he was the son of a poor illiterate farmer

with eleven children to feed.  My father learning at a young age

how to harvest onions, cabbage, potatoes, rice; cilantro & cauliflower 

rotting quickest and the most. My father gave up on farming because half 

your harvest rots before market. ‘quoor laab? Koo-no laab nai.’ What’s the 

 point ? There is no point. I tell him feeding is important. 

He says if you want to eat you go to Amerikini. ‘This is why I came to 

 amerikini - to eat. Not to feed.’

He decided he would go to school.


His dreams of fat bellies in America, this is my father Abdul Malik Ahmed, 

simple complexities I understand and don’t understand because we come 

from the same bellies, the same hunger, the same mati /earth , ma mother. 

My father comments on our female taxi driver, says it’s history we’re 

witnessing a woman drive a taxi to make money, hard work only a man can 

do in America. My father is impressed, says she is brave, my father knows 

how hard America makes people who are born of palm leaves, rivers, 

sunlight.  America turns you into steel, concrete,         distance 

National anthems songing into sad ballads and lullabies, ‘Amar shonar 

bangla ami tumai Balo bashi’ oh my beloved Bangladesh how I love thee.


I smile at him, tell him in Bangla “I traveled halfway around the world drive 

manual stick shift cars into Morocco Spain Italy France . Am I not brave?”

My father says that’s a different kind of brave, ‘You are American born free 

to explore the world,  free, she is immigrant, working, orphaned from her 

motherland, she will always be far braver than you.’ 

He then asks the driver in English one of his favorite questions ‘what 

 country you are from? 

She answers in a soft accent “Columbia.” 

My father looks at me confused I tell him “South America Babasaib.” 

Before the Alzheimer’s my father would’ve told you he was once a teacher 

of geography and commerce.  Now we are Gypsies, Immigrants in a cab

on our way to his cancer radiation treatment, in hopes of re-harvesting

the land of my father and our fathers and our fathers and our fathers

before us.

The Acentos Review 2019