Mohamed and the American Tourist – Short Story By Rachid Khouya
Smara, Morocco, June 20, 2013
Mohamed was a high school student. Like many other students of the village, he used to go to school only because his parents wanted him to attend school so that they could talk about him in front of the neighbors, friends, and relatives.
Despite his poverty, his father wanted him to learn English after having met an American lady when he was fighting with the French Army during the Second World War. Si Brahim still regrets that golden opportunity, as he had not been able to communicate with that American lady he had met during the wartime.
His ex-colleagues often mock him. Every evening when they meet him near the mosque, they remind him of the American lady whom he loved when he was young and how stupid it was for him to lose her because of his “stupidity and illiteracy”, as he says.
Thus, the father swore that his son must master the English language. He insisted that Mohamed must study and learn English fluently with an American accent. But Mohamed was not the boy who could achieve his father’s dream. The boy had serious problems with the language of Shakespeare, but he used to tell his father that he speaks English better than the other children of the village.
Si Brahim’s family lived in a small village that was famous for its traditional Quranic School. Students came from all parts of the country and the world to learn the Quran and Arabic language there.
The village was also famous for its natural beauty, greenness, rivers and hills; it was always spring. “Our village is a little paradise on earth”, Si Brahim said repeatedly to his children.
One day, a tourist arrived to the village. He was an American who had converted to Islam. He came to the village to learn Arabic and to study the basics of Islam. As Mohamed was talking with his father near his home, the tourist, whose name was James, arrived and went on telling them:
James: “Asslamo Alikum brothers”
Mohamed and his father: “Wa alikom Salam”
James: “I am James. I am from America, and I am here to learn Arabic and Islam. I am Muslim now. Can you please help me?”
Mohamed: “Sorry, I don’t speak English. Do you speak Arabic?”
James: “No, I don’t speak Arabic. That’s why I am here: to learn. I need a teacher too”
The father was looking at his son and the American while they talked, feeling the memories of his youth flowing inside him. The pictures of his American girlfriend started to pass through his eyes and mind. All that the father understood was “America and Islam”.
The father looked at his son and then he asked: “What does he say, dear son? What does he want?”
Mohamed: “I don’t know dad. He does not speak Arabic. He speaks only English and the English he speaks is not like the English we study at school.”
The father was so irritated as he understood and discovered all at once that his son was a liar. The son used to tell his father that he speaks good English and that he is the best English speaker at school and in the village.
Without paying attention to the presence of James, Si Brahim took off his sandals and he beat Mohamed on the head. Mohamed escaped leaving his plastic sandals behind.
The father: “You are idiot like your mother. All what you know is bread and lies. While students learn English, here you are talking only about Arabic. If I married the American lady, I would never have seen you and your mother. Idiot. Damn the day I saw your mother.”
As the father was screaming loudly, his daughter Fatima came to see what the cause of her father’s madness and screaming was.
The father: “Fatima, Fatima, come dear. See this man? See what he wants. We do not have men in this house. The boy we send to school turned out to be a stupid donkey. What a shame!”
Fatima had left school after getting her high school degree because her father refused to let her go study at the university in the city. In her village, girls should not go to university. They must stay at home learn how to cook and how to take care of their husbands and children.
Fatima: “Good morning, Sir, Can I help you?”
James: “Yes, please. I am James. I am here to learn Arabic and study Islam. I am Muslim.”
With a big smile in her eyes, Fatima looked at her father and started translating what the foreigner was saying. Si Brahim felt happy and proud of his daughter. Then he said: “No problem dear, you can help him if you want. We are all Muslims and we must help each other. He is now one of us”, he laughed.
Fatima: “Well, of course, I can help. We can all help you as dad says.”
After some six months of studying Arabic and the basics of Islam at the Quranic School and with the help of Fatima at home, James changed his name. He is now called Abdo El Hadi.
He married Fatima and they started living together as two birds in a nest of love and respect, while teaching and learning from one another. They bought a small house near the mosque.
Every Friday, Mohamed visits his sister and her husband to eat couscous together in a weekly meeting that all the members of the family attend, including the father.
One Friday, as they were eating, Mohamed looked at Abdo El Hadi, smiled and said: “English is very important. It gave us a good Muslim and a good husband for my sister.”
The father laughed loudly with his mouth full of couscous. It was hard to see his teeth and tongue. He coughed and said: “This is life. We should never get irritated when something bad happens. I still remember our first meeting with Abdo El Hadi when he first came to the village.”
He stopped for a while to let everyone go back to that first meeting, then he continued his speech laughing, “Hahahaha…If Mohamed spoke English, James would never be Muslim and he would never have married Fatima, and we would never be here together eating couscous.”
Everybody burst out laughing, except Mohamed who replied to his father: “You keep shooting me with your words dad. Thank God that you had not married that American lady. James would have never met us in this village.”
Abdo El Hadi: “Well, thank god. God knows what is best for us all. Things will always be as God wants, not as we want. This is life.”