3rd episode

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third episode of years of no decision

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3rd episode

  1. 1. 7But it was at this time that I was finding it especially hard to survive at University.My brother Abdul Salam and his family had been forced to leave their home inJaffa as a result of Zionist pressure against the people of the city. He was rescuedby my other brother, Qassim, who came by boat from Khan-Yunis to salvage whathe could, suffering terrible seasickness. I had counted on my two brothers to meetall my financial needs — now the elder brother had to leave everything behind.Our family property in Jaffa and Abu Swairih was confiscated by the Zionists. Wewere all in trouble. Facing up to our grim financial situation the three “founding members” ofthe Students‟ Organisation now got together and decided to spend the summer inChicago looking for work. We were told that this industrial city; the “Windy City”,had more opportunities than any other place. Some American classmates scared usby saying that the city was known for the many crimes committed in it and called itthe city of the gangsters. However, this did not change our minds. We wrote to allmembers of our organisation informing them of our endeavours with the Arabgovernments. We explained that these would take a long time to come to fruitionand suggested they join us in Chicago during this summer and also look for workthere. Many came. Later on, my classmate Salam decided to go to New York. On arrival many of my colleagues started looking at the job advertisements‟in the Chicago Tribune. One advertisement was very tempting. It invited studentsto sit for an examination and, if passed, they would join a big firm and make 97dollars or even double that amount every week. To all of us that was too good to betrue. One of us did sit for the exam, passed it, and received a cable for training thefollowing day. The same ad appeared in the Tribune the following day. We all satfor the exam. We all passed and received the same cables, and joined for training.We had our breakfast in the firm then turned to the Training Centre. Only then didwe realise what it was all about. We were to be trained as salesmen of the Filter Queen‟ vacuum cleaner. Theinstructor explained to us that everyone should go carrying a machine from houseto house, knock at the door, and when the lady of the house opened the door heshould smile. When he was allowed to enter, and before starting the demonstrationof
  2. 2. Years of No Decisionthe machine, he should admire the place and the good taste of the lady because thatpsychological move would encourage the lady and help the salesman. Theinstructor added that even if the door was slammed in our faces we should take it„with a smile‟. I doubted that I could succeed in this kind of work and had to quit after thefirst breakfast and first lesson. Other colleagues continued for the three days oftraining and tried to promote the sales of the „Filter Queen‟ without success. We allreturned to square onelooking for jobs carrying with us what little experience we had gained since ourarrival in the „Windy City‟ while hunting for jobs and facing many difficulties andwe would tell each other: „Keep smiling!‟ I started working as a pipe welder in a factory making army beds. TheAmerican boss, a patient and friendly man, taught me how to do it. It was easy andI grasped the knack without much difficulty. Of course, I spoiled many pieces ofpipe before mastering the job, but the boss was very understanding. The onlyproblem was its effect off the eyes. The boss warned mc about this and asked me touse the special mask all the time. The mask covered the eyes and face. I worked forone month and then decided to quit. I remember that my superior was sad to seemc leave them. He was familiar with the difficulties of the Palestinian students inAmerica and appreciative of my work. I ended up working in a factory cutting iron bars into different sizes. Theincome from this job during the summer was more than enough to cover myexpenses and college fees for a whole year. The work was very hard and I was notused to it. It was also a very hot summer. There was another machine in the factory used for making screws. It hadmany gadgets hut was very simple to handle and, also, very safe. No one workingon it would leave it for another machine. I asked Sam the foreman to let me have it.He promised to write to me any summer that particular machine would heavailable. Sam was an American of Italian origin. He was in his late forties. He washusky and looked like a rustler. He would move all day in his navy blue safari suitto watch the work with a big Havana cigar in his mouth. He would always look atthe counter in every machine to make sure that the right production was made. Butwith time and the tolerance and understanding of my American boss I gainedexperience. It was very dangerous, and I had to be alert all the time. The machinethat weighs four tons and that comes down to chop the iron bars needed muchattention. When it cut the bar you had to push the piece which the machine hadalready cut out of the way to
  3. 3. Boy with a Hornmake room for the following one. If you failed to synchronise your handmovements with those of the machine it would chop your hand or fingers off. One evening a student friend of mine, Jalal came to see me. He had met anAmerican girl. They had become good friends and then he had fallen madly in lovewith her. She wrote him beautiful love letters in green ink. She ended every letterwith a request. “Please send some money for Wanda‟s‟ food.” Jalal told me thatWanda was his girlfriend‟s dog. Every time he visited me, Jalal, who had no work,asked me to read the love letter he had received. Naturally I used to read it withmuch interest. After showing me each letter Jalal would say: “She said so and so and Ibelieve her. What do you think?” I would answer: “Since you believe her why askme?” Whenever she wanted money for “Wanda” Jalal would come to me for aloan. I never rejected his request, for I knew that one day he would pay me back.This was my weakness— I could never say no to a man who was a stranger in aforeign land, because I had also passed through this experience.One evening Jalal while walking on West Windsor Street in up-town Chicago washit on the head by a gangster. He was robbed of his watch and the little money hehad borrowed from me for “Wanda” and he was taken to hospital where hereceived seven stitches. I went to see him and assured him that, since the policehad arrested the criminal who came from a rich family, Jalal would himself he arich man soon. The court would compensate him with a huge amount of money,but he should not waive his rights in the police station or in court. He said: “Never.” The following day two pretty young ladies visited Jalal in his room. Theygave him back his watch, money and other personal things the gangster took fromhim, and apologised for what happened. They asked him to go with them to thepolice station in order to sign a paper and waive his rights. Sure enough, Jalal went. When I saw him that afternoon he told me what hadhappened. When I criticised him severely for waiving his rights, he answered backsaying: “The girls entered my house. I had to be kind and hospitable to them. Don‟tforget I am an Arab!” He was emphasising the traditional Arab hospitality toguests. It was almost the last I saw of him for when the summer was over; we allwent back to our colleges. Fareed Khoursheed who was my neighbour in the Nuzha Quarter in the cityof Jaffa and who was with me on the ship got his degree in engineering. His cityand home having being taken by the Israelis,
  4. 4. Years of No DecisionFareed got married and resided in Washington D.C. In December 1984 1 attendeda reception given by Farouk Taji, a leading businessman, and saw Fareed there. Itwas a pleasant surprise for both of us. We had not seen each other for over twentyyears. We reflected on old memories all evening with mixed feelings for both ofus, like many others, had ended up without either home or country. Like manyothers, we feel like exiles and, despite success, long to go home.8I finished the requirements for my LL.B and graduated, but did not know where togo. I was a man without a country. Since no opportunity beckoned, I decided towork for my Master‟s degree. I finished that at Boston University Law School inone year. Then I was again faced with the same problem. What to do? Where togo? Again, I had no answer and little advice to give to Sabri, Uncle Mustafa‟s son,who came at this time to study medicine in the States. He was followed by hisbrother Mahmoud. Sabri became a leading doctor in Hollywood. Mahmoud abusinessman in the same State, California. I decided to work for my Doctor‟sdegree. I was offered a scholarship from the University of Pennsylvania andregistered for that degree at the University Of Pennsylvania Law School andresided in Philadelphia. A few months later I received a letter from AmbassadorFarid Zeineddine, the Permanent Representative of Syria at the United Nations,asking me to see him in his office in New York. I learned that my friend and classmate, Salam Dajani, who was working at the U.N. information department hadrecommended me to him as a research officer. I was happy to meet the Ambassador hut I explained to him that it would bedifficult for me to work with him since I was a candidate for my Doctor‟s degree. Iwould have accepted his offer had it not been for my new commitment. The lawschool required one year‟s residence. He came up with a suggestion. He said he would arrange with the Presidentof the University to have me reside half of the week in Philadelphia and the otherhalf in New York and to extend the time of residence for two years, not one. Thiswas an unprecedented arrangement made by the university as a courtesy to theGovernment of Syria. I was now happy. I was studying for my Doctor‟s degree. I liked my job. Itwas certainly very different from the previous summer work in the Chicagofactory. It was a little funny that at almost the
  5. 5. Boy with a Hornsame time I received an invitation from Sam, the American factory manager, towork on the screw machine. Sam fulfilled his promise but that was a little late. Iwrote to him thanking him for his courtesy. The minute I walked into the United Nations building in early 1952 Iremembered Fans Bey El-Khouri and how he had taken mc to the session that hadso impressed me. Ambassador Zeineddine, an able statesman and brilliant diplomatic, had ahigh regard for me and gave me the authority to participate in U.N. debates. Istarted practising my academic knowledge at the United Nations. My favouritesubject was the item called international Covenants on Human Rights.‟ The factthat the people of Palestine were deprived of exercising this right made it of specialinterest to me. I finished my J.S.D. degree in 1958 and started lecturing as part of my workat many American universities on Arab problems — Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria,Oman and Palestine. In the five years I did this I visited many states and got toknow more about the American people. I owed a great deal to Americaninstitutions and hoped one day that the good-hearted Americans would understandour cause and apply their great traditions and values to our problems. I felt that thevalues of Presidents Washington and Jefferson should be the guiding star of allAmerican behaviour and practice in the world, because it was those values that hadmade America great. In 1959 the Jordanian Ambassador in Washington, Madhat Juma‟a, receiveda cable from Samir Bey Rifai, then Prime Minister of Jordan, offering me a job inJordan‟s Foreign Service with the rank of Counsellor. The Prime Minister met meonly once, hut my name had been suggested to him by my good friends AbdulMonem Rifai and Zaid Rifai. The first was Samir Bey‟s brother and the second hisson. Both later became Prime Ministers in Jordan. I received this offer at a time when Arab differences were reaching at theirsharpest and I was not in a mood to work for any government. But I was mostgrateful to the Prime Minister and to my friends for their thoughtfulness. I askedfor more time to think the matter over. I then consulted my brother Qassim and myfriend Ambassador Zeineddine; both encouraged me to accept. Qassim had beenthe one to encourage me to work for my Doctor‟s degree. I agreed to join the Jordanian Foreign Service. My first assignment was theUnited Nations. In less than a year, however, there was a change of government inJordan. The Rifai government was replaced by Hazza Majali‟s government.Subsequently I was
  6. 6. Years of No Decisiontransferred to Amman. I met the new Prime Minister and he was kind to mc. He said that he hadtransferred me because he wanted to reinforce the Division of his Foreign Officeconcerned with international conferences. I-k added that he wanted me to attendevery Arab international conference on Palestine. In less than two years in 1961 1was transferred hack to New York to be the second man in the U.N. delegation.Ambassador Abdul Monem Rifai, a very able and experienced diplomat was itshead.9One evening in 1961 after the General Assembly adjourned I went home for adinner party there in honour of a visiting colleague from Jordan. Ten couples hadaccepted my invitation. Before going up to my apartment I passed by my privatemail box in the building and found a thick letter awaiting me. It was from mybrother Qassim who, as a rule, did not write long letters. This time it was very longand I wondered why. Should I read the letter or keep it until my party was over?The guests would arrive in a few minutes. I decided to read the letter. It started with some unusual observations about my childhood. Its memorieswere most pleasant to me and I love them. Oassim mentioned my school and thenight of the ambush when I took my horn and went with Uncle Tewfic into thefields. He mentioned the horses I loved. Then he spoke about my mother. 11crspecial love for mc, being the one son who never saw his father. I started thinking again about the reason for all this history. Why now‟? The letter continued saying more about my mother, explaining many littlethings I had almost forgotten. I started to worry about her. I didn‟t want her to diewhile I was far away across the ocean. I wanted to see more of her. When I reachedthe last two pages 1 felt that all the emphasis was on the last few days and what mymother was doing. Qassim was apparently coming to the end of his narrative. Ireached the conclusion that my mother was no more, he was giving the newsgradually so I would not have a shock. And by the time I reached the last line ofthe letter I realised that our dear mother had had a stroke and passed away. Headded: “I am writing this to you immediately after the funeral. Mother and ahaemorrhage. After a few hours she had a stroke and died. He could not speak aftershe had this stroke. She kept looking at me and saying: MMMMMM‟. I did notknow what she meant. She
  7. 7. Boy with a Hornpointed at the dress she was wearing which you had brought her from the UnitedStates of America. I then realised that she meant YOU. I said to her: you meanMuhammad?‟ She had a big smile off her face and answered with a nod sayingyes‟. I told her not to worry. I know it was your hope to see Muhammad married;He will get married this year. I promise you ‘She had the same big smile on herface and looked happy. A few seconds later she died.” Before I had folded the letter, the door bell rang. I left the letter on my bedand rushed to open the door. My guests were arriving. I showed them allhospitality. Oriental music was playing all the time. I asked the ladies to choosean‟ other records they liked. They were very happy, laughing and chattering at thetop of their voices. They had a very good time and thought I was the happiest ofhosts all that night. We had dinner which my cook Elizabeth had prepared. I hadpromised my guests and a few friends to take them to see the sights of GreenwichVillage, so they could see what kind of place it was. We stayed there till late. We came home at 2.00 a.m. All my guests left, except for my friend, theguest of honour, Hasan Ibrahim, later Foreign Minister, who was staying in myapartment that night. I said “good night” to him and we retired. I saw the letter still lying on my bed. I could not control my emotions anymore. The memory of my life with mother came back to me in one second. I criedand my guest heard me. He came rushing out. He could not understand what hadhappened. Then he saw the letter lying on my bed and read it. He was both sad andastonished. He could not understand how I had been able to control myself all thattime. Six hours of acting. Hiding my feelings to make my guests happy. how couldI have done it. He asked. I asked him to forget it and go to sleep. I stayed up by myself. Lying on mybed. I was looking at the ceiling and reflecting on my childhood, youth andmanhood. I saw her there all the time. I saw that great woman who had devoted herlife for the sake of her children and for my sake in particular. I had never seen myfather. I had lost my country and now I had lost the dearest person in the world —my mother. All night long I reflected on my memories of mother. Now she was no more.I felt so lonely and so discouraged. Not having attended her funeral I could not believe that my mother wasdead. Why I was not asked to attend mother‟s funeral is another story. Accordingto the Moslem religion the dead should he buried as soon as possible, usuallywithin twenty-four hours. For me to come from the United States together with theformalities and
  8. 8. Years of No Decisionprocessing to enter my own town would have taken a long time. And it had beenmy mother‟s wish to he buried quickly, because she was very religious.The last time I had seen mother was in 1960. She was everything to me. My fatherhad died when she was very young and beautiful. She never married again. Shewould look at me when I was a child and say “this will be my man. She iseverything to me.” She would then hug me and kiss me. I remembered her warmthand genuine love. I was so attached to her and was with her all the time. While sitting toprepare something for the house I used to put my head on her knee. She would startsinging so I could sleep. Her songs were always very sad. Many times her tearswould drop on my cheek. They were hot. They would wake me up when they fellon my cheek. I never knew what made her tears drop. But I do remember she wassinging something about life and her own destiny in particular. Many times shewould hug. Squeeze and kiss me. When I came to the United States I wrote my mother many letters. Heranswers were full of wisdom and encouragement. She was always telling me howto endure difficulties. In one of her letters she said that nothing was impossible.“Anything others can do you also can do.” Now it is my desire to visit my mother‟s grave in our family‟s cemetery. Iwant to walk in that cemetery and feel I am walking in mother‟s funeral. I want tosit by her grave and recite phrases from the Quran. I want to sit in that quietness ofthe grave for an hour or more. But even today, this is impossible. My homeland isoccupied by Israeli forces, and even the cemetery is not quiet any more. I cannotcross to that part of the occupied territories. The Israelis are there.

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