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.