Life in America

Indecent Conversation

What I like about the USA is the diversity of people you see there. The following short and weird conversation took place a couple of years ago. I wrote about it on my blog, but was shy to publish it not just because of the conversation itself, but also because of what went through my head at the time.

One day at Starbucks, I sat on one of those big tables that seat about six people. I was working on my laptop. A middle-aged woman sat on the opposite side of the table and as soon as she opened her laptop, she started a conversation with me:

Woman: Are you writing a book?

Me: No, I am working on my dissertation.

Woman: I am writing a book. It is difficult to concentrate in public, especially when you are writing something inappropriate.

Me [not paying attention what she meant by inappropriate]: What is your book about?

Woman: It is a novel like Fifty Shades of Gray. My husband told me to write about the events that happened when we went to Las Vegas and Reno.

Fifty Shades of Gray was the bestselling book at that time. Actually, it was a phenomenon not just a bestselling book. Everybody was talking about it in America. I did not read it, but one of our lab mates during our weekly meeting told us what it was about for whatever reason. As I mentioned, the book took unprecedented publicity.

Of course, after she said “It is a novel like Fifty Shades of Gray. My husband told me to write about the events that happened when we went to Las Vegas and Reno.” My brain, sort of, switched off because I cannot recall what she said next or even what I said.

My conservative self felt uncomfortable and I did not want to hear any more. Because of the way she dressed and how open she was about the content of her book, I was afraid our conversation may lead to something I do not like. I thought she might invite me to go with her, we will meet her husband and I will be involved in a Ménage à trois (I learned this from Seinfeld). I thought they wanted materials for their book and this will be it. All this went through my head, seriously. That is why I don’t recall what she said after she mentioned Reno.

I looked at my watch and said, “I have to meet someone. Nice talking to you” and I had the fastest exit from Starbucks. All these weird thoughts popped up in my head without even reading Fifty Shades of Gray. What thoughts would I have had if I read it?

This was one of the weirdest conversations with a stranger I had.

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Culture

It is okay to smile to strange children in Jordan

While taking my order, the barista got distracted when she saw the baby girl in her stroller accompanied with her father. “So cute,” she said. The father then sat near my table with his daughter. He looked American. I wanted to chat with him, but didn’t know how to start. Later, the barista came to his table and started smiling and baby talk with the baby girl. I then saw her carrying her and leaving the table. She took the baby to show her coworkers the cute baby. I smiled. I was behind the father so he didn’t see me. Luckily, he looked okay. It seems he is not new in Jordan.

When he stood up, getting ready to leave, he looked at my table so I asked him “Are you an American?” I know it is not the best first question you ask a stranger, but I didn’t know how else to start our chat. When he confirmed, I told him I lived in the States. He asked me where I was. I told him I went to grad school in Columbia, MO. I learned that he went to school in Kansas city. It was important to tell him about the culture in Jordan regarding kids. I told him that I saw the young lady took his baby away. “It is normal here,” I said. He smiled and told me he got used to it here. We talked how it is not okay doing such thing in the USA but here it is fine.

This reminded me of something I did back in the USA when I offered to give a ride to two kids.  Luckily, they refused and I didn’t know why back then 🙂

I was happy to talk to an American here in Jordan.

Fiction

The Gift – Short Story

“In the name of Allah.
I ask Allah for forgiveness.
I ask Allah for forgiveness.
I seek Allah’s protection from the rejected, Satan.” Abdel Nasser chanted with a heavy breath after he suddenly woke up from a terrible dream.

“In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”
I ask Allah for forgiveness.
I ask Allah for forgiveness.”
He chanted again after he took a long sip of water while he is still on his bed.

It’s been years since the last time he saw this same dream. He couldn’t go back to sleep, the call for Fajer prayer had started and it was too loud to force himself to sleep again.

It was the coldest winter since he left Baghdad, ten years ago. Yet, he woke up drenched in sweat. He hates it when he dreams. Nothing good comes out of dreaming, he believes. He daydreams most of the day though, but it is these night dreams that he hates. He knows exactly what he wants to dream about during the day.

Abdel Nasser left Iraq, hoping he could forget the past and starts a new life in Amman. To his dismay, he found that his past is part of who he became. He is now who he is because of his past. Abdel Nasser believes he is not the person who he used to be. He doesn’t like his new self. He grins whenever he hears somebody says ”What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.“ He doesn’t believe in these sugar-coated quotes. He is still alive after what happened to him, but definitely not stronger. No one knows about his weakness though, he never show it.

After he drank water, he looked at his phone to check the time. It was 5:30 am – February 27th. He felt a sudden sense of sadness after he woke up terrified. It is most probably because of the date. February 27th 2000 was the happiest day of his life.

He went to the kitchen to refill the glass of water. He then went to the living room and sat on the sofa. He laid back and looked at the small wooden box he placed between the books on the bookshelf. The wooden box was the most valuable item to him. He was too afraid to smuggle it through the Jordanian custom when he left Iraq. After he settled in Amman, he asked his cousin in Baghdad to pay someone to smuggle it for him.

When he arrived Amman, he hated it. “It is just not like Baghdad” he used to say. Unknown to him, he found that Jordanians were very welcoming to the Iraqis. He heard from some Iraqis in Jordan that most Jordanians love Saddam Hussein and many consider him an Arab hero.

In the past ten years, Abdel Nasser didn’t take any action to change the course of his life. He didn’t fall in love or seek a wife neither did he visit his hometown again. “I will let destiny take its course,” he convinced himself.

He grabbed the remote control and turned on the television. The TV became his companion on his solo life. He kept the channel where it was on mute. “She would have been 17 today,” he thought. February 27th 2000 he remembers this day crystal clear. He remembers every detail of that day. A shy grin started to appear on his face. His mother and the in-lows were with him in the hospital. After five years of marriage and trying to conceive, he couldn’t find a better name for his daughter other than Hiba (a gift from Allah).

To be continued …