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Monday, January 08, 2007

Memories of America

I came of age in America and it’s neither feasible nor proper to capsulate my life there in one or more posts. When I returned home after an eight year sojourn, a part of me stayed there and a part of America came back with me. With every “American” movie I’ve seen since, with almost every song, a powerful yet tender nostalgic wave would take hold of me and I would race backward in time to a particular moment deeply burned in memory.

When recalling my adolescence in Tartous, or further back my childhood in Lebanon, mainly my obsessive desire to go to America comes to mind. My father came back in 1966 with pictures from Washington D.C. and New York. I would stare at them for hours. I would ask about every little detail in the visible landscape. I grew up learning and eventually knowing more about the United States than many Americans knew then or even now. It was only a matter of when, and as soon as I had my first chance at sixteen, I crossed the Atlantic. The happiest surprise for me was that I could apply for a driver’s license, my first. A few days after my arrival, I became the proud holder of a restricted Louisiana license. In an old white Dodge van and for three summer months I lived my dream wide and far and managed to visit twenty two states and filled my eyes with wonder and magic. I returned home for my last year in high school (Bacalorea) but for the next twelve months I was in a period of waiting. Nothing, absolutely nothing, would stop me from heading back there when the time should come.

And, I did just that and celebrated my eighteenth birthday in Lafayette, Louisiana, the only place I truly call home after Tartous. The University of Southwestern Louisiana is my Alma Mater. I studied and later taught at this wonderful school where the good times always came first. I followed the Ragin Cajuns Football team in many of their away games and was a loyal, although a little intoxicated fan, always. I even attended Basketball games to support the home team although this particular sport never appealed to me. Through my college years I kept moving from one apartment to another, from one trailer to the next, perpetually stalking a cheaper rent. I lived in white middle class neighborhoods and at the northern edge of town, near the railroad, where everybody except my roommates and I were black. I got along with everybody on both sides just fine and there are still people there who call me “friend”. I remember spending evenings downtown in black bars where nobody, eventually, minded me. I also remember boasting about it to my white American friends and cherishing the looks of shock and disbelief on their faces. The music was much better there, the dancing chicks hotter and the beer cheaper, what else would a twenty year old college kid want from life.

I have to really squeeze my brain hard to come up with some disquieting or disturbing moments. The 444 day hostage crisis at the American Embassy in Tehran (1979 -1981) was probably the low point. Every foreigner then became a damn foreigner at best or a fuckin’ Ayranian at worse. To me, America lost its innocence then. It was and still is very difficult, if not impossible, for some Americans to accept that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Whether a nation is the most powerful or not, screwing others halfway across the world in the name of national security would eventually cause a few of these others to get back at you any way they can. Well this is the only lesson I’ve learned regarding foreign policy (for God’s sake someone explains it to W).

There certainly are embarrassing, yet charming moments. Recently, while chatting with an American cyberfriend (I hope we’d meet one day irl) she told me about the time she lived in the Middle East. Over the course of five years she learned Arabic quite well and found the Arab obsession with her apparently well proportioned and dazzling behind extremely amusing. As she became fluent with the language she would shock the young men who would be openly and loudly discussing her ass without the slightest hint that this American lady understands Arabic only too well. A friend of mine and I were those poor Arab kids one night in Lafayette. We were grocery shopping late on a Saturday when two beauties walked in, a team of mother and daughter, stunningly sexy in tight jeans. They had nothing better to do that evening except driving a Tripolitan and a Tartoussi crazy. We were hot on their trail between the aisles, following them like a pair of hounds and graphically discussing various parts of their anatomies in loud Levantine Arabic. I don’t think we left any part, any fold, any feature of their great bodies without fully analyzing its virtues and what we would like to do with it. Finally at the checkout where we were truly alone, the four of us and the cashier, the mother spoke. In a tantalizing Lebanese accented Arabic, she smiled and looked straight in our eyes and suggested what the two of us should do with ourselves later after we got so HOT. They walked out swaying their beautiful behinds and disappeared in the night. My friend and I, too embarrassed to even look at each other.

The skills I’ve acquired and honed in America, in addition to my higher education, not only came useful later in life but were in fact complementary colored threads in the tapestry of my character. I was introduced to astronomy by the curator of the Lafayette Natural History Museum and Planetarium, a student pilot at the local flight school where I worked. Since, astronomy had become one my greatest hobbies and pastimes. My friend Rick and I would drive in his old Toyota pickup out to the levee by Henderson. There at the edge of the bayous at dusk, we would settle down for a nice and long evening. With a simple, but adequate telescope, we would sit for hours observing the heavens while sharing a gallon of the cheapest Louisiana wine anyone could find. On one night I discovered a wholly new uncharted constellation (remember the wine). Rick thought it’s only appropriate that it should be called after me, thus he gave it the name Assholuis.

I had fallen in love in America and I had said more goodbyes than I care to count. I have remained in touch with many wonderful people but unfortunately lost track of a few, very close and dear to my heart. They’re probably married with children now. To make it easier on myself, I would add that they are fat and ugly too. But truly in my mind, they are stuck in their twenties and look as beautiful and perfect as ever, forever.

In the last twenty years, I have made several trips to America. Although I have been mainly to the west and east coasts, I was fortunate to go to Lafayette on a couple of occasions. I drove back in time, into neighborhoods I practically grew up in. I visited some old friends and learned that a couple had passed away. I even thought that I had seen my face amongst the faces of college students hurrying between classes on my old campus.

Now, I am in a period of waiting again. I know that I’ll be going there one day, but I’d rather wait. Last time I’ve been there, Clinton was still the man. I consider myself lucky not to have been in America during the W years. Sooner or later he’ll be out of the ball game, for good hopefully. It’s hard to imagine that someone worse could take the helm after him. It’s virtually impossible. I look forward happier days blessing America to make that long journey once more, not back in time but deep into my soul.

35 comments:

Arima said...

interesting life you've had AND you get to live in beautiful Tartous! I'm so jealous!

abufares said...

Hi Arima
I think that life is as interesting as the people we meet along the way. In this respect, I'm very lucky indeed.
As for Tartous, the truth of the matter is that anyone who's not really fond and extremely attached to his hometown loses one of the most important aspects of a balanced personality.

Omar said...

While I enjoy your food related posts, I especially like your anecdotal ones. I can understand your love for the US, you only relaize the greatness of it when you drive through it. It's too bad that mroe often than not, W type presidents are in charge.

Back when I was 15, I set a goal for my self to buy a telescope as soon as I graduate and get a decent job. Nothing beats looking up at a clear night sky!

If you happen to drop by the US sometime soon, perhaps you would like you make a detour through Canada..

abufares said...

Hi Omar
I have more family in Canada than I have in Syria but unfortunately never been there.
I owe it to myself that next time I cross half the world I shall drop by. And, when I do, you'll sure hear from me.

The Syrian Brit said...

My experiences of the good old U S of A date back to the early eighties.. I went out there seeking jobs and training, at a time when Syria was almost at open war with the US forces in Lebanon. I went for an interview a few days after a black American pilot was shot down and captured by the Syrian forces in Lebanon. In order to humiliate the Reagan Administration, the Syrians refused to hand the pilot to the American officials, but handed him over to Rev. Jessie Jackson, who was seeking Democratic Party nomination at the time.. Needless to say, the interview came to an abrupt and premature end when the panel noted my nationality..
Nevertheless, it is not difficult to understand the fascination with that place.. I, too, drove through large sections of it, as I was criss-crossing it 'from sea to shining sea', seeking training and attending interviews (although I am sure nowhere near as much as you have done!..).. Its beauty and grandeur are simply stunning..
I must say, though, although I have a brother and a sister there, I am getting less and less keen to visit.. Perhaps a change of administration MIGHT improve things a bit, as you hope.. Personally, I wouldn't hold my breath..

Dubai Jazz said...

Hi Abu Fares, very nice post!
I must agree with Omar, your anecdotal posts are as interesting as the food related ones!
You are gifted with the ability to make people visualize things like in Visual Reality. Among all the American accents I found the southern one the most likable, I therefore developed an admiration to comedians like Bill Engvalls or Larry the Cable Guy. I am thrilled by the fact that New Orleans is where Jazz was originated (remember my nickname!), I am equally appalled by the fact that the sluggish response of W to hurricane Katrina has left wonderful cities like New Orleans or Biloxi in a deplorable situation (no wonder: all helis were sent to Ayrak, and there was enough budget to strengthen the levees).
I have never been to the US before, I wholeheartedly hope to one day. Of course, that would be long after W is gone.

“So bye-bye, miss american pie.
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.”

Anonymous said...

A lot of nice memories indeed! and I tell you what, I was very lucky to have shared "some" of them with you.

Aby Abdo

abufares said...

Hello Syrian Brit
I, too, have permanent family in the US. For the the time being, Zimbabwe is higher on my list of places to visit.
The irony of democracy, if I may say so, is the fact that such nice, hardworking and honest people could end up electing a violent village idiot for president. Foreign policy is so low as a priority for the average American. However, as they may start to learn, they don't live on an island. The historical strategy to meddle everywhere so that trouble never reaches the American shores is no longer valid. I am afraid that the cycle of violence will continue and eventually everybody would be hurt. The fact that Americans call their soldiers "our boys" and those who disagree with them "terrorists" doesn't change any fact or make wrong right.
For the last 50 years the United States government has been directly responsible for the majority of wars around the world. It is behind the largest number of casualties and suffering amongst the different peoples, religions and races.
Meanwhile, still a very small percentage of Americans realize the devastating consequences of their government's actions. It seems that this number is on the rise. Hopefully one day Americans would tell their government that "enough is enough".

abufares said...

Hi Dubai Jazz
New Orleans was my favorite "large" city while I lived in the US. I don'r remember missing a single Mardi Gras or any of the great bands that came to the Super Dome.
The South is certainly the part I love most. The people are warm, hospitable and friendly. Despite their early suspicion to anything foreign or new, as soon as they drop their shields, they are indeed wonderful folks.

abufares said...

Abu Abdo
We have certainly shared so much in the US - Good & Bad I may add. However, these memories live forever. Our paths crossed while living there and look at us now, you in Australia, me back where I belong, and we are still the best of friends.

Shannon said...

Abufares, I'm with Omar, I also love your anecdotal posts. It's always intersting to hear an outsider's perspective on your own country, and too often (since I work with immigrants), hear negative stories. Of course, with the current administration, I can't help but have a negative perspective as well...

HOWEVER, As an ESL teacher I must ask- do you speak English with a southern accent?

abufares said...

Hi Shannon
My perspective on America is bifocal. I clearly distingiush between the people and this or other administrations. The American people I've met and befriended are among the best anywhere. Authentic Gold!
Most successive administrations leave plenty to be desired if I don't want to speak outright and say that they are truly hostile the rest of humanity.
As for my accent, and this is true, in my early years I imitated the American southern accent. Later, however, I made a conscious effort to shed it and instead developed a sort of universal, non-commital English accent. I now speak like a non-native English speaker but without any hint of origin. I speak it without inhibition or any intention to sound like somebody else.
I guess that I speak English as I write it. Does that make any sense to you???

Layla said...

so THATS why your English is so good..

abufares said...

Hi Layla

You made me feel like Superman felt when Lois Lane found out that he's Clark Kent :)
I didn't fall out of the sky believe me. I learned English the old hard way.
Thank you for coming over. Hope to see you here again.

Dubai Jazz said...

Salamat Abu Fares, I am not being envious but Mashallah your English is superb! I know of a person who have been to the US and lived there for 10 years (my own teacher at the Uni who has later become my boss!) but their level of proficiency in English is no where near yours.
Keep up the good work...

Abu Kareem said...

Abu Fares,

Loved your post. My first journey to America was also South -Georgia-at the start of the civil war in Lebanon. My return was to the cooler climes of the North-East. I too have a deep appreciation for all that America offered me in experiences and opportunities but the last six years -the W years- have been trying. As you said though, for every action, there is a reaction; people are finally realizing that the village idiot has to go.

abufares said...

Hi Dubai Jazz
I guess an affection for the written word is an asset. Also having some sort of talent is helpful.
I think that we are born with the ability to learn, use and master a foreign language at varying degrees. I know people who have been living continuously abroad but still can't speak, let alone write well.

abufares said...

Hello Abu Kareem
Glad to hear from you. Being there during these previous years is certainly more difficult than I care to specualte. Nevertheless, I always admire my copatriots who persist in any enviornment, despite all.

moryarti said...

My US experience is very limited i am afraid.. I spent a about month there last summer in Manhattan, LA, Vegas, San Francisco, San Jose and hopped around the Bay area ..

I loved every split second of it...

Btw, do you know that I was born in Tartous ? 8)

abufares said...

Hi Moryarti
I have been in of all the wonderful places you've mentioned with the exception of Las Vegas. I would really like to go there one day, but I keep missing my chance.
I loved san Fransisco and it's my favorite place after Louisiana.
So you're born in Tartous. But somehow you've said it as if you were born there but that you are no longer a Tartroussi... That's strange, you have some explaining to do.

Naji said...

Dude... We have to meet one of those days... even if you are a Tartousie...

Robin said...

Hi Abu Fares!
Louissiana, umm, the slow lazy way of looking at life and all the wonderful aromas that so many Americans miss. I'm with you, New Orleans is absolutely tantalizing but the area around Lafayette is also beautiful. The Cajun people have a whole different way of looking at life, a wonderful way, and oh so friendly.
I LOVE this post and you ARE lucky to not have visited during the "W" years, the whole aura of it just permeates all things American and it is NOT pleasant!! Just in noticing, you are absolutely correct, Middle Easterners who come here usually know more about our foreign policy than most Americans do. There is a simple reason, they WANT to know what makes this country tick that affects their lives on a daily basis. Americans on the other hand are mostly consumed by domestic issues, and even in some, only what is in their own neighborhoods! Wouldn't it be GREAT if there was an equal exchange program. For every Middle Eastern student who came here to study, one American went to the Middle East? The only way to get to truly get to know another culture is to dive into it. All these Americans who "think" they know all there is to know (and couldn't care less about learning more) would certainly be in for an eye-opening experience, everything they "thought" they knew would be dispelled. I have a vision of understanding between the parties then, that would lead to peace. And like you, I look forward one day to returning to the Middle East, a peaceful one that hasn't deteriorated the way it has since I was there so long ago.

Karin said...

What a GREAT post dear friend ... marvellous!! I can understand your feelings SO WELL ... especially since I returned to here!
I need to tell you though that, most apparently since 9/11, things changed, drastically! I guess the best way to describe it is, the innocence which made so many things so charming, so incredibly sympathetic, is gone, entirely gone! I am very sad about that and feel that almost on daily basis as things got SO MUCH more complicated and difficult!
On the OTHER hand - judging after my 33-hour bus-ride from California to Nebraska, crossing aside of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and half of Nebraska - this country is SOOOO darn beautiful ... I just wish people around would be a tenth as realistic and openminded as this country is beautiful (NO offense to anyone!)!!!!!!!!
I am so happy you have these fantastic memories ... I HOPE you'll have the chance to return for another time (AFTER W. of course), to look, observe ... and enjoy!
Thanks again dear friend ...and don't worry, I am JUST FINE!!

abufares said...

Naji... I would love to any day... even if you're not a Tartoussi...

abufares said...

Hi Robin

You know that you've inspired this post, right;)
When I was in the States, I always had these discussions with friends. They always showed their disbelief as to how little they know (or up to that moment cared) to what was happening in the rest of the world.
As long as the mainstream media is really in control, and as long as it is biased and guided the way it is, hope for a change is very slim.
Thank you for dropping by.

Angel said...

Dear Abufares,
This is an excellent review in an outstanding post….I loved your expression “my obsessive desire to go to America”… America's image sounds to be the best all over the world…
I honestly never been to the States… A conference in Canada last year showed me that I SHOULD work on a visit soon…. What really chocked me during the 5 years I spent n UK is that 55-75% in UK express a positive opinion of the United States… Majority of people view Americans as "inventive", "hard-working" and "honest"….. Individual liberty is held above the objectives of government…. the concepts of free speech, absolute privacy, and religious freedom embodied in their traditions and their Constitution… the rule of law: the right of accused persons to confront their accusers, the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, the right to refuse admission to government officials wanting to enter your home or office… Awesome landscape… These are just some of the things that have made America unique in the history of the world. I believe they are a direct cause of America's prosperity, security, of what makes America attractive to so many would-be immigrants...

abufares said...

Hi Karin
The American people and landscape are both wonderful. How did it come about that the country is really held in total control by a faceless and ruthless less than 1 per thousand elite is something beyond those who know and absurd to those who don't.
Everybody must wake up eventually. I hope it happens before it's too late.

abufares said...

Hi Angel
Would I consider leaving to the US had I been in my last year of high school today? Not a chance. Even the most delicious plate of salad looks ugly with a fly in the middle. George W Bush did exactly that to the image of America. Modern Historians might be using the term after 9/11 but it's really not that accurate. It should be coined after W.
9/11 itself could not have been planned except by the minds of the like of W. Even at the risk of sounding paranoid I daresay that the whole fiasco smells badly of him and of those who danced on the roof of a building while video capturing the tragedy.
It's funny that people should have such a short memory span...

Dubai Jazz said...

Abu Fares, it would be an honor to meet you in person one day, specially that you are a Tartousi!

abufares said...

Dubai Jazz
The honor is mine dear friend. Please let me know when you're around.
Ciao

Black Hawk said...

Hi again Abu Fares..,
now i have some minutes t reply t this good post...i evoked my mind t remember a question i asked t my grandfather ...that was about 8years ago...in 1999 i guess..anyway..
the question was like this
simply..

(my grandfather is a 80 Syrian man who visited...USA.
Canada..Russia ...Italy.....
Japan..UK..a lot of Arabic countries & europeans..)

what was the best country
u managed t visit in ur entire life ?

he didn't let me complete my question & said ..America with no dout...i spent there a bout 8 years...with my sons..
no one said t me where are u from !?or what are u doing here
in America?!..
Freedom.TECHNOLOGY...respectable ..cool! people..all are reading
working & let u work!
...eager t know & learn..
u will find great universities..progression side by side..with naive..amazing landscapes..and the most important thing!

"they deal with u as a human!"

not like a money MONEYMAKING! like some countries...
...u can say and do what u want!
under the umbrella of law ..all are equal.. and ...&&&&
lots of amazing stories about his travel...
..mmm...i guess he changed his mind after these 7 years...
..hope everything will be ok again..after get rid off this stupid W..
instead of him...i am optimistic t see...the old America again...
...the country of Freedom...hope so...

Yazan said...

amazing.

makes me wonder how I'll feel about tokyo 30 years from now.

your posts truly drive me to make the best out of my 20s. thank you.

abufares said...

Black Hawk
I hope for the same thing.

Yazan
Welcome back.
According to your indirect calculations I should be in my fifties...
Shame on you! I'm not there yet. My next BD is soon. I'll tell you how old I am then.

moryarti said...

I was just born there... moved out when i was 3 months old (or so i was told) :)

abufares said...

That's it Moryarti
You're a Tartoussi for life.
Do you always take things easy?
Do you like to sit in a cafe and watch people go by?
Do you feel suffocated if away from the sea?
If you were affirmative on any or all of the above you're eligible for the passport.