Intriguing title! “How can a person be a taxi?” you might ask. I wondered also. This is the title of a 2006 children’s book by Deborah Ellis. It is dedicated “To those we keep in cages”.
Diego lives in the poorest country in South America — Bolivia — and until his family got on a trufti (bus) to travel to the Saturday market with other farmers, his father was a cocoalero (coca farmer) and they lived on a farm with chickens, a small vegetable garden and many, many coca bushes. Their bus was stopped and searched by the police and packets of coca paste (used to make cocaine) were found taped under their seats.
Diego and his mother, now joined by a little sister, Corina, have spent the last 4 years in San Sebastián Women’s Prison in Cochabamba while his father is across the square in the Men’s Prison. Diego, now 12 years old, helps his family buy food and blankets and wool for his mother to knit things to sell by being a ‘taxi’. He is not a prisoner so he is allowed to leave the prison to run errands for people and they pay him. He is a business man: he negotiates his pay before accepting the errand, he gets a receipt, he is fast, and reliable. He is a taxi.
Diego’s parents have to pay for everything. All the government provides is the guards. Diego’s parents have 13 more years to serve. Diego’s life in the prison is precarious but when he gets an opportunity to leave to make more money than he could with a year of ‘taxi’ jobs, he enters a completely new world of danger from which he may never return.
I love books that give children a glimpse of what it is like to be a child in a different part of the world with a different landscape, language, situation and possibilities. I love books that have a glossary at the back so that new language can be used in the book and children can check their meanings out to fully understand and broaden their knowledge of the world. I love books that are about real children in real situations. I love books by authors who care about the plight of children who don’t have the privileges that most of our children in North America have and care enough to bring them to our attention so that we can become more compassionate people and try to create change in the world. This is one of those books. Deborah Ellis is one of those authors.
I Am a Taxi is the first book in The Cocalero Novels. * * * * *