Sunday, March 08, 2009

An early phone call from Irving, TX

I was awakened early this morning by a call from Irving, Texas. Most people – me included – cannot find this hamlet on a map. The voice at the other end of the line was weak and hesitant, but clearly the voice of Hisham, my former Sudanese student now living in Texas with his sister for a year. I had met with him over tea back in November before his move. He was terribly excited. I had advised him on the nature of Texans: They’re very friendly, but proud people. Good barbeque. They see themselves as an independent people and state and more unique than anyone else in the country.

I offered to connect him with some of my Texan friends, should he need connecting. After he left, I never heard from him again…until a week ago or so when he called me early in the morning. We spoke only 5 minutes, like this morning.

He reported that life in the United States was not what he had expected. For one, he was in a small town called Irving, which was far away from the big city. It sounded like he was in the countryside and away from civilization, computers, the internet, even the phone.

-He had met some friendly Mexicans and migrant farm workers

-He had not really made any new friends and seemed hopelessly lost

-He asked me for contacts and promised to call back the next day; he didn’t

In this morning’s talk, I asked him to email me. “I have no internet access,” he replied.

Are you close to a library? “No, not really. And I have no car.”

Is there a bus? “No.”

Can you walk there? “Yes, but the closest one is about 40 minutes away by foot. And my laptop is broken.”

Hisham—spend all day at the library, ok? Go in the morning and come back in the afternoon.

“What jobs can I do? You said I can teach Arabic. How?”

Go to a University--Any university and see if they have a Middle East Studies program. If they do, then teach Arabic there.

“Do I need qualifications?”

If you do private tutoring, no.

“How much should I charge?”

Between $20-$30.

I gave him the website as a helpful resource. “Everything is by email now. What is your email account?” I asked.

“Ah…I don’t remember. I think it is inactive,” he explained.

Then, open a new one. Here—take my email address.

“gmail? What is gmail?”

Google. Google!

“Ah—yes, google. Thank you. I am afraid you are busy?”

If I am busy, I would not answer you. If I am busy, I would tell you I must go. If I am busy, I would say to you—never call me again. You are too polite.

“I learned politeness from my Japanese friends.”

Then, you learned from the wrong people. You cannot afford to be too polite in America. You must be persistent and push, push push!

“Ok, sorry, this line will be cut off in 1 minute.”

Email me and I will connect you with my friends in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone in Irving.

No response. The line went dead…

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