The owner of my building is this swanky, skinny, tall Arab man.
He’s the only man I know in the neighborhood
who speaks English and he’s very protective of me,
always making sure everything is well with me and my house.
I met him in the little store in our neighborhood the other day.
Check it out:
Me: [after lots of greetings in English and Arabic…] Abu Salam, are these all your kids?
Him: Well, parts of them.
Me: Wait, what? [I do a quick count: 7.] How many kids do you have?!
Me: [gagging] Wow! Well… how many wives do you have?
Me: [You gross, dirty, old man.] Ah!
Him: In our religion, you can’t play around, so you have to enjoy it to its maximum. This is what we like to do in the Arab countries.
Me: I’ve seen this, yes.
Him: I was in America for 20 years and I had 20 girlfriends, but that’s all nothing. We like to have the kids. It’s what we have to do if we’re going to take over the world… Aaahhhh, gotcha!
Me: [Sure…] But really? Four wives? Don’t they fight and get mad at you and each other?
Him: Always. But I don’t care. I’ve got lots of kids. And they live in all different buildings.
Me: Yeah, but man… I can’t even handle one boyfriend.
Him: [Laughing] Are you sure it’s not the other way around?
Me: [smiling] Heeeeeeyyyyyy…..
He gives me a wink, pays for all the candy his kids, ages 10 and under,
stuffed their fists with, and ushers them out the door.
I just love when people explain how their lives are
influenced by their religion.
“In our religion, you can’t play around…”
He’s talked with me before about how there are so many rules and procedures
you have to follow if you’re going to be a faithful one.
The prayer times, the feasts, the fasting, the donations,
always giving relatives jobs and money,
trying to outweigh all your bad deeds with some good ones,
and the list goes on.
One time I remember looking at him and saying,
“Wow. You must be exhausted.”
He said he was.
That’s hard not being really sure—you just have to have the faith,
because maybe it’s still “not enough.”
What most surprises me about my encounter with Abu Salam is that “enjoying”
his religion “to the maximum” is having multiple wives and many children.
Very opposite of my thoughts, feelings and understanding.
Quite recently I was approached by an older woman,
covered in black, missing some front teeth, reeking of garlic and body odor.
She, in broken English mixed with Arabic,
asked me if I would be her husband’s second wife.
I politely declined, not believing my ears.
After a few minutes of arguing with me, she accepted my refusal,
but begged me to marry an Arab.
I always tell them that I can’t— I go for the academic:
“Marriage is already hard enough, I think I should stay in my own language and culture.”
This does nothing.
So I try this:
“Sweetheart, I can’t, because my dad wants me to marry an American.”
And it ends there, minus a few “inshallah”s [God-willing].
Lucky for me, saying that my dad’s told me to do or not do anything,
is like the wild card in Uno: it trumps all.
But I don’t know… I think we look kinda cute together…