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The international students

He got the mike, saying ‘I’m Salem from the United Arab Emirates’; that was the first time I saw him, and that took place during the orientation for the international students. We were the only two students from the United Arab Emirates. If someone looked at us, there would be no one who would say we were from the same country – he was a giant black man with frizz hair wearing old long rolled t-shirt. After orientation was over because of his weight we walked very slowly talking with him about several things and then everyone returned to his way.

I used to see him at the university sometimes; he was almost always in bad mood with the same T-shirt that I always saw him in. His eyes were always almost closed, and it seemed that he never woke them up in the morning. During that semester I took class dealing with race and racism, and the instructor asked us to interview two people and write about their perspectives about racism. The first person that came up on my mind was Salem; I did not know why, but maybe because he was rather mysterious to me and I wanted to communicate with him further doing the assignment and writing the paper.

I got his phone number from the university phonebook. When I asked him about being interviewed, he didn’t hesitate and agreed saying “cool, Saeed”. I went to his apartments; I remember it was Saturday afternoon. Sitting at his computer and asking for five minutes, he was screaming filthy words in English and Arabic. He took more than that, and then said “let’s start. ” I asked him what he was just doing and to whom he was addressing those words? Embarrassedly he answered: “Nothing. I was playing a fight online, every Saturday twice a month we all fight together”.

He was too much excited when he talked about online fights, and for a while I even thought he was waiting for me simply to be asked to teach me how to play it or to see him playing. I think he was spending too much of his time playing that game, his Pepsi’s cups were everywhere in the living room. I started my questions asking how old he was and how the people identified him. He answered: “I’m twenty one, and the others usually identify me as an Arabic man”. I expected him to response that he was black. He had dark black skin with frizzy hair when I first saw him.

I did not recognize him as Arabic as he seemed to me as an African man. I did not tell him about my thoughts toward his answer that time because I had not known him very well. Have you been experienced problems with the race in your life? Yes, for two times and both of them in the USA. What happened to you to say that? Before I came here I was in Washington, I just came to the USA at that time. I used to go by bus, but the weather was terrible, it was raining and was too cold outside. I was wearing sandals in that weather. People in the bus asked why to wear sandals in such weather?

I said I used to wear sandals in my country. They asked me where I was from: I told them I was from the United Arab Emirates. Something happened to them – one of them got out the bus, and the other two girls changed their seats. Do you think racism exists in the USA only? No, but it differs from place to another. In the UAE all people are Muslims, and their religion encourages them to be equal and some people think that we have to be equal. And the other thing is the economics; in the UAE all people are close to each other in how much do they have money. For example, the poor people in the UAE are middle class in the USA.

I think his thoughts were too generalized and he even exaggerated when saying “the poor people in the UAE are middle class in the US”. He was very upset telling me his stories and responses. Are you penitent because you came in the USA? “No, I got the freedom instead”, he said holding his “hooka” and smiling. Salem is a nice guy, but he cannot take care of the responsibilities that he has such as studying. He got warning from his scholarship because of his low GPA. I don’t know how is he doing right now, but I guarantee that he will not graduate from the university unless he changes his life style and takes care of himself.

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