Six months ago, Caity and Avery were nothing short of exasperated with several people as they prepared to leave. I remember both of them just repeating, “It’s awful, Phil. It’s absolutely awful.” This morning, I finally got a taste of what they were talking about. I guess it can’t all be peaches and cream, right?
Here’s the set up: three days ago, I showed my landlord my fully packed house. I had moved two couches, a table, a dresser drawer, and several knickknacks into a smaller room. I was giving them all of that stuff. (They do not own any couches. They sit on their floor.) I was also giving them their very first refrigerator. Giving them these things was my way of passing it all on to someone who could use it and who actually needed it. When I showed my landlord everything, you could tell he was shocked. He and his wife asked me multiple times if the stuff in that room was theirs, as if I were going to suddenly change my mind and give it to someone else. It was like they were shocked that I was giving them anything. I told my landlord that I would lock the room up for them when it came time for me to leave. I also told them I would clean the house – mop it and everything. They were upset I wanted to do that and told me not to worry about it. They didn’t even want me to throw out the trash I had collected. Allal was insistent I let him do that himself.
Okay, fine with me. The next day, he shows up with several bags from his house and all of their meat from the Eid slaughter. They basically started moving in before I left – cleaning the whole house, cleaning out the fridge, going through trash to see if I’d thrown away anything they could use. Meanwhile, the kids ran around my house, and I did not feel comfortable with them rummaging through my things. I don’t know why it ate at me, but it was sort of like, “Can we please wait until after I leave before we do this? This is ridiculous.” There was no way explaining my frustration would make any sense to them. They saw what they were doing (cleaning the house, etc.) as a way of helping me and making sure I did clean by myself.
As the day went on, I kept kicking Abdelqader out of my room until Allal, in an attempt to show me he would discipline his son for doing wrong, started beating the daylights out of him for not listening to me. After that, I just sort of let Abdelqader do whatever he wanted. I wasn’t going to watch him get beat again on my account. Meanwhile, one of the sons, Mohamed, went through the things I’m bringing with me back to America and kept asking, “Can I have this?” No, Mohamed, you have an entire room full of stuff I’m giving you. These are my things, and it’s incredibly rude of you to even ask me or even touch any of it.
So, this morning, Mohamed comes over by himself. I open the door at 8:00 a.m. already annoyed that he had woken me up. He insists his dad is on his way over, so I let him in to wait, but he goes right to my room and starts playing with my camera and flashlight. I tell him to wait outside my room for his dad, but instead, he grabs the camera and runs off. I just sit there rather than chasing him just trying to take in what the heck is happening. Really, Mohamed? Really?
I walk into the other room where he’s going through all the things I had given his family. The camera and flashlight has disappeared. I ask him where it is, and he runs off, shutting the door to my house.
Dilemma: Mohamed appears to have stolen my camera and flashlight. I stood there perplexed. If I complain to his father, I know he’ll get the daylights beat out of him, and I don’t want that. I also know there’s a risk that if I get into an argument with Allal about it, I could severe my relationship with this family in my final days in site. Also not what I want. But if I don’t complain, I let him get away with stealing. For a moment, I consider, “Well, you are American; you can afford to buy a new camera and a new flashlight.” But on principle, he still stole, and that’s not okay with me. So I decide, nope, it’s their culture, and if they want to beat their children over stealing, that’s their prerogative. I can’t just let Mohamed get away with this. Not when I already gave their family so much. I ring up Allal and his wife answers, and I just say, “Your son came to my house this morning, and he has my camera and flashlight.” Allal then gets on the line and says something I can’t understand over the phone and then hangs up. Alright. That was solved. I guess.
Twenty minutes later, Mohamed shows up at my door empty-handed insisting he didn’t steal anything. “Where‘s my camera,” I asked him. He walks into the room where I put the things I’m giving his family, opens up a drawer and shows me that he put my camera and my flashlight under a blanket in the drawer. Okay, so, you didn’t technically steal it. You hid it hoping, what, that I would forget about it, so you could “steal” it later? I asked him why he did that, and he lies to my face and says he didn’t do anything and that he doesn’t know how the camera got there. Then, he tries to change the subject, “Oh what’s this, Fouad,” he points at some dental floss. Nope. Not changing the subject. I start shaming him left and right and in the middle of shaming him decide that I don’t care, that I like him too much to stay mad at him. I smile slightly and tell him to get out of my house and tell his father I would see them tomorrow and not beforehand.
Ten year-olds will be ten year-olds. I don’t think this story is unique to this culture. But I do understand now why Caity and Avery were exasperated and so ready to leave when the time came. None of this changes how much I care for Allal or his family. I suspect when I have lunch with them tomorrow, today will be forgotten. No harm done, right? It’s too important to me that I say goodbye the right way. On the other hand, not every goodbye can happen the way you wish it would, can it?