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A wild ride: Operator flees war in Afghanistan as a child, now drives trains on Ottawa's troubled transit system
At the controls of the new Alstom trains on Ottawa's Confederation Line.
OTTAWA - Walking through the big, double connected multi-million dollar train Khyber Yousafzai drives every day for OC Transpo, you might think he's just another train operator who loves his job.
“Driving a big expensive vehicle? It’s fun”, he said.
But you never know who’s driving you home. Everyone has a story.
Yousafzai arrived in Canada as a 10 year old boy, fleeing war-torn Afghanistan.
His father was murdered when he was just six years old. His sister and mother were both beaten for leaving the house to buy the family food.
First it was the Mujahedeen. Things got worse when the Taliban took power.
He remembers desperately searching for his father as a six year old. He says the family never gave up. His father managed to get a note to the family, saying he might not be coming home. His body was found a short time later.
As he drives thousands of commuters in the sparkling new Alstom Citadis trains through the new tunnel, deep under Ottawa’s downtown, he feels a world away from his homeland, and the pain his people still suffer there.
“Back in Afghanistan you’re living day by day. You don’t know if you’re going to make it the next day.”
He knows all about the frustrations transit riders in Ottawa have been facing. He and his colleagues have often faced their wrath personally.
But he has a different perspective.
“Every day I think I’m in heaven”, he says of his job, and his life in Canada.
“There are problems here, I know. It is a new system. But there are bigger problems out in other countries. I came from that. I know it. That’s why I’m very grateful to be here”, he said.
“Eventually it’s going to start getting better. I know we are going to get through this and we can regain the public’s confidence”, said Yousafzai.
Even on bad days on the transit system, he thinks about what he left behind as a boy, and how far he has come.
“Now I’ve got myself a house. I got married. My mom’s living happily, my sister is living happily. Everybody’s safe”.