Twitter was buzzing yesterday when the New York Times Magazine released the online version of its Rihanna cover interview.
Written by filmmaker and artist Miranda July, the story was bookended by July’s interactions with her Uber driver, Oumarou Idrissa, who coincidentally had also previously met Rihanna while working.
It turns out his meeting Rihanna was far from the only brush with fame he’s had. Idrissa says he has worked on a Beyoncé music video, driven the Kardashians around town, and met countless other celebrities, all while also coaching youth soccer and sending money back to his 21 siblings in Niger.
As noted in July’s piece, Idrissa immigrated to the United States from Niger about 10 years ago. He first lived in New York City in a studio apartment with 11 other people while being paid a little more than $US3 an hour to shovel snow — the first snow he’d ever seen in his life.
“You have to do what you gotta do to survive,” he told us.
But he couldn’t stand the cold, so he moved to Los Angeles.
He started playing soccer in the park with strangers and they were impressed with his skills, so they introduced him to some college coaches. A coach at Long Beach City College was interested in having him join the team. Idrissa got a job coaching and refereeing kids.
He was able to start playing soccer for the college while also supporting his family at home — he has 21 siblings in Niger. Things were looking up, but then he faced some immigration issues when his student visa was denied because he’d overstayed the first one, he said.
“I was kind of like hiding every day,” he said of the time that followed. “I’m worried I’m going to get deported. I can’t sleep at night. I’m thinking, They’re coming, they’re coming, they’re coming.”
But those worries dissippated when he got married and obtained a green card. The marriage didn’t last, he told Tech Insider — but now Idrissa is a U.S. citizen.
Things got even more interesting when he found a job opportunity on Craigslist to become an Uber driver. Now he drives UberX and UberBlack — UberBlack is the highest ranking and is often used by the rich and famous — and meets plenty of celebrities while driving his car. He also tells us he attends parties with some of them, which is where he met Rihanna and the Kardashians, who he says are “very friendly.”
“When I drive, sometimes my client wants me to come in with them so I can wait for them,” he said. “So then I go in and some people think I’m rich. I get them to think I’m a basketball player. It’s funny sometimes.”
He does have one horror story about his time as an Uber driver.
Once, a famous former basketball player tried to stiff him for a $US534 ride after asking Idrissa to drive him around for seven hours one night. He told Idrissa he’d pay him cash, then said he didn’t have any.
He offered to pay Idrissa the next morning on the way to the airport. But then, Idrissa went to pick him up and he never showed..
“I text him, I call him, he don’t answer,” Idrissa said. “He said, ‘Brother, I’m sorry, I’m gonna call you in 45 minutes.’ He never called.”
But Idrissa’s friend had a plan. He texted the athlete and told him he’d report the incident to TMZ if he got stiffed. It took two months, but the NBA player eventually sent Idrissa the money he owed him, he said — and then the check was bad. Eventually, though, he got the money.
“He’s like a multimillionaire basketball player,” Idrissa lamented. “But sometimes you meet good people.”
Most of the time, he said he doesn’t even realise who the famous people in his cab are. The security guards accompanying his clients are the only way he knows for sure that they’re stars.
He met Rihanna one night when he was driving another client to a party. He was having a rough night after one rude customer got mad at him for saying the man looked African.
“I said, ‘Man, you look just like one of us,'” he said. “He didn’t like that.”
Then, later that night while he was waiting for another client to leave a party, he met Rihanna.
“[Rihanna] was very nice to me,” he said. “She was welcoming. She was smiling. One of the best — I will never forget that. I love Rihanna. I wanted to scream, ‘I love you.'”
But he didn’t.
“You don’t want to react badly,” he said of meeting celebrities. “You just try to play cool.”
Idrissa doesn’t drink or smoke, but he sometimes goes to clubs and parties. He’s also a political junkie. He watches CNN, the BBC, and his Twitter feed for news every day. He’s also really into “Ellen.”
“She can turn anything positive,” he said. “It’s her personality. She can go to any country in the world and people will love her.”
Idrissa has also worked as an extra. After people told him time and time again that he should be a model, he signed up with a casting agency. He says his first job was appearing in the Jay Z and Beyoncé video “On the Run Part II” as an extra in the bank and strip club scenes — if you watch the video, none of the extras’ faces are clear, though. He also says he appeared in the recent movie “Straight Outta Compton.”
“I was on the set with [Jay Z and Beyoncé] for a couple of days,” he said. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe where I am.'”
Despite his interactions with the rich and famous, adjusting to life in the U.S. has been difficult at times for Idrissa.
When he was young his mother taught him never to look his elders in the eye when he talked to them. In America, though, failing to maintain eye contact can be seen as a sign of disrespect. He didn’t realise this and it actually cost him a job once.
“The guy said I didn’t look him in the eyes,” he said. “I didn’t know. It’s still hard for me to look somebody in the eye for 10 seconds. I feel like I’m disrespecting that person, especailly if they’re older than you. It’s just like, you know, difficult.”
He also didn’t speak any English when he first arrived in the U.S. but he picked up a lot from watching TV and talking to people. But when he was attending classes as a college student people weren’t very patient with him and sometimes mocked his accent.
“In my film class and criminal justice, I could not talk because they’d laugh,” he said. “They’re so ignorant. Sometimes you just think, ‘What kind of friends do these people have?'”
Idrissa knew he was going to be featured in July’s Rihanna interview when the New York Times called him for a fact check last week.
“I didn’t know it was going to come like this,” he said. “It was surprising, but it was good.”
He hadn’t told anyone about the interview yet when I talked to him — “who would I tell?” he asked.
“They don’t even know the New York Times,” he said. “But they know Rihanna.”
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