For as long as he can remember, Arabian American Asim Abraham has been instructed to never express his feelings or ideas to anyone-ever. Raised as an American until age eight, when he relocated with his parents to his home country of Arabia, Asim struggled to learn about a new culture where regulations robbed him of everything, including the ability to speak his mind. For the first time in his life, Asim felt alienated from everything, everyone, and even himself.
With the intent of teaching others about the vast diff erences between America and the Middle East, Abraham shares the poignant story of his life as he travels between the free United States and Saudi Arabia, where life seemed to become more complicated and darker with each passing year. As he embarked on a coming-of-age journey between the two countries, Abraham details how he witnesses the impact of the Gulf War, views the thin line between dreams and reality, and manages to find his path in life despite enduring years of suffering, low self esteem, and imprisonment of his ideas.
Alienation not only offers one man's compelling glimpse into life in the Middle East, but also shares his important message for both worlds about acceptance, love, and peace.
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AlienationMy Life in Saudi Arabia and America
By Asim Abraham
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Asim Abraham
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEarly Life
Bringing me to life was a big step for my parents. They had tried several times before; during their fifth try, things went right at last. I offer my story as a little bit of history for myself, my children, and everyone who listens to it or reads some pages. I've put my strength into spreading my story so that others may understand the unusual things in the life of a person who sacrifices his life for everyone he knows.
My name is Asim Abraham. My dad named me. He was once a history teacher, but his career flipped to the other side of the equation once he decided to complete his master's degree. The school where he studied told him that it was impossible to complete a study in history, so he had to change his major. He decided to go into psychology, thank God, as he did great in it.
My dad called me Asim because he loved ancient history, and he loved one of the men in the AD 800's, and it means "the protector", "the guardian" in Arabic. I guess dad wanted me to protect the world when I grow up. Moments after Mom delivered me, Dad entered the room and told her, "We're going to name the boy Asim." Then he gave her the reason. Mom never said anything about it.
I come from a noble family from the Arabian Peninsula, and I can trace my lineage back to the pure Arabian roots of this tribe. This tribe came from the far south of the Arabian Peninsula, where the real pure Arab comes from. This tribe had been living for thousands of centuries, but our branch had left the south and headed north to the Arabian Peninsula, where they settled down and then spread all around the country. The culture and traditions for this tribe are very simple and pure for anyone that comes to them as a peaceful man who means no harm.
At that point, they welcome him and sacrifice a sheep, which they eat as a sign of welcome and to make him feel that he's one of them and won't be afraid. Everyone in the Arabian Peninsula knows we are a peaceful people, so we stayed without anyone ruling us for a long time.
Our family is a very large one, and we are estimated at three thousand people at least, both men and women, with 97 percent living in the countryside. The other 3 percent are divided, with 2 percent living in the city and the other 1 percent in the western region. We live in the big city, the capital of Arabia. We sometimes go to the countryside to visit our relatives there, but we barely stay there for twenty-four hours. Believe me, that's longer than you might think.
My parents are from the same family. They are closer than close itself. They are cousins, and that makes our familial relations more complicated than ever. The extended family matters are not doing well at this time and had not been doing well for some time before. As for me, I don't believe that anything is going to happen between my parents, including separation or anything like that, no matter how bad things get.
Let's start from the time I was swimming in my mom's womb. During this journey, I enjoyed every moment I lived in it. According to my mom's story, I was going to finish the seventh month, but the doctors got me out. The beginning of my story didn't end there. I stayed at the nursery for nearly a whole month because I was so small.
Now, let's jump from the actual birthing process and look at my first instance of bad luck in life—the place of my birth. You'll see here that I'm the brother of the worst chance in the world, and I could get a Nobel Prize or a Grammy for all I've endured. During my mother's pregnancy with me, my parents were in the States, but my grandmother on my mom's side got sick. They flew back to Arabia to visit her, worried that she might die. The night after my parents arrived in Arabia, Mom's water broke, and she brought me to this crazy life. Why couldn't she wait until she'd returned to the States or at least until she was in the airplane? That way, I could have taken the nationality of the country in which I was delivered once we'd crossed its borders. But as the saying goes, God works in mysterious ways.
I was born on October 15, 1981. I weighed 1.65 pounds, and my height was around 7.87 inches.
After my month in the nursery, my family and I flew back to the United States so my dad could continue his master's degree studies, where he was learning to teach students how they could understand the emotions of teenagers. A year or so after my birth, my brother, Ray, came to life on a Christmas night.
Ever since I opened my eyes to this world, I saw what was just in front of my eyes. Dad was a skinny guy without much meat on his bones. His skin was a dark tan skin, and he stood five foot and eleven. From an early age, I was aware of my dad's quick temper; we tried to keep quiet most of the time.
Mom, on the other hand, had a fit body; long, black hair; and a light tan skin. And Mom always has her beautiful smile that shone like the sun; she was the opposite of my dad in everything. She was calm and understanding most of the time.
As for my brother, Ray, he was chubby with dark hair and hazelnut-colored eyes. From an early age, my brother barely talked. I don't know why. We always called him "Silent Ray." Even with me, he barely talked. And when he did talk, his voice was sharp and annoying most of the time.
We stayed in the States for about eight years. I remember some glimmers of that time. I enjoyed it. I remember times with Katherine, our babysitter, and the neighborhood boy, who was older than Ray and me. He was very kind and nice with us. He didn't have any siblings he could play with, so he took us under his wing as his little brothers. We saw in him our big brother but with a different skin color and looks. Ever since we were very young, we called him "big brother."
The school where I attended kindergarten was so large that I would sometimes hide for a long time. No one could find me because of my small body. The playground was surrounded by a high fence so no one could climb it to escape from school. At recess, my parents would come by the fence to check on me. My little brother would be resting on my mom's shoulder. We would stay at school until three o'clock, but from one until three, we took a nap to rest our bodies from all the work we had during the day. There was lunchtime and some breaks between lessons.
I remember one day when Ray and I were on our way to the playground; we were around four and five year olds at the time. We saw our neighborhood big brother sitting on the stairs of the building reading a story. Once he saw us, he greeted us with a nice, warm smile. We returned the greeting.
"Asim, where are you going?" Big Brother asked.
As Ray and I approached him, I replied, "We're going to play at the playground. You wanna come with us?"
Big Brother closed his story and stood on his feet and hugged me. "I'd be happy to," he said. We went together to the playground, and played on the swings, slides, and other playground equipment. We had a great time.
I have another memory of Big Brother. One December night, Dad took us to the basement of the building that we used to live in to let us play with our bicycles instead of going out in the snow, where we might catch a cold. When we got to the basement and turned on the light, we found Big Brother sleeping on a long couch near the washing machines.
Dad couldn't stand the sight of that little, cold boy sleeping like that, so he took off his coat and covered Big Brother with it. Then he woke the boy to see if he was all right and ask why he was sleeping on the couch and not in his bed.
Big Brother woke up in fear. "Who's there?" he said quickly. "I didn't do anything."
Dad sat on one knee next to the boy and spoke to him in a calm, gentle voice—I can almost hear it even now. Dad said, "Son, what brings you here? Is your dad taking late shifts again?"
Big Brother sat on the couch and looked into my dad's eyes for a moment, trying to see what was behind those eyes.
Big brother hugged Dad tightly and started crying while saying, "Tonight will be his fourth night out. I'm afraid and hungry."
Dad calmed him down and then said, "Come with us. You can sleep in the boys' room. After all, you're a part of the family and my kids' big brother."
Dad looked at me and gave me a sign that I knew meant I should get closer and take Big Brother by his hand, and I did. Both Ray and I took our big brother's hands and guided him to our apartment, just a couple of meters from the apartment he lived in with his dad. Once we entered the apartment, Mom welcomed us with a concerned look on her face. Once she saw Big Brother and his situation, she took the boy's hand and guided him to the bathroom without hesitation. She gave him a warm shower and some clean clothes, and then she revived him with warm dinner.
Dad came after us a couple of minutes later. Mom and Dad talked, but I didn't understand anything of what they said because they were talking in another language that I've never heard it before. They were talking in Arabic. At that time, Ray and I knew only English.
Big Brother stayed that night with us, but we woke up the next morning to a hard knock on the door. The whole family, including Big Brother came out of our rooms to see who had come at this early hour. Dad opened the door, and there stood Big Brother's father, a look of concern and fear on his face. Big brother's father was in his midthirties. Well-built and huge, he used to be a construction worker. Once his eyes rested on his own son, he let out a sigh of relief, as if the weight of the world had been swiped from his shoulders.
Dad said, "Dear neighbor, the next time you're working a late shift, you can come to us at any time and leave your son with us. He'll be safe with us, and we'll take care of him. And you won't have to worry about your kid anymore."
"I don't know what to say," replied Big Brother's father. "I'm ashamed of the things that you've done for my son and for me as well. I don't want to put so much weight on you or your family."
Mom approached the door and said, "There's nothing to be ashamed of. I'll be like a mother to your boy. He's one of our family now, and so are you."
Dad added, "You heard the lady. You can't argue with that. She gave you the green light to leave your son with us any time you want. He'll be all right with us."
Big brother's father didn't say a word he was so happy. Then he looked at his son. They locked eyes for some time, and then he said, "Thanks for everything you've done. I have to go now; I can barely stand on my feet."
Dad said, "Go and rest. Your son will be here when you wake up. You've no need to worry, my friend."
Ray and I used to play all the time, but when it was time to watch ThunderCats, we took some biscuits with us, sat in front of the TV, and watched it very silently. After that, we watched more cartoons, including Batman, Superman, and He-Man. We used to have a nice collection of action figures, ranging from Lino and Captain America to Spider-Man, Hawkman, He-Man, and many more. But I wanted to have the car of my dreams, and, as was true for any other kid in my age group, that was Knight Rider, the black Pontiac Trans Am from the TV series of the same name.
Mom said, "If you want me to buy it for you, you must behave and listen to what I say."
"Yeah, Mom, of course," I assured her, "anything for you."
I was around five or six years old, and Mom took my word on that. She started putting me to the test to see if I was up to keeping my word. The first thing she asked was that I make my bed. I did it for a week, and she was impressed. Then she told me to clean up after watching cartoons. My brother and I were little bit messy. We left crumbs of biscuits after we were done watching TV, and Mom always cleaned after us. But now, she wanted to teach me, as well as my brother, a lesson.
A week later, Mom fulfilled her promise and bought me the Knight Rider car. When I saw the car really resting in my hands, my happiness was more than words can describe, suffice it to say the feeling was awesome in every way. After that, Ray and I always made our beds and cleaned up our crumbs without Mom needing to tell us to.
* * *
That summer, my parents took us for a three-week tour around several countries in Europe. I barely remember anything from that time, but I remember the heavy snow and how we would wear layers and layers of clothes just to keep us warm.
Mom said that we went to France, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, London, and finally Spain, where we spent most of our time. Mom and Dad loved Spain for many reasons, one of which was that they managed to find some decent food to eat. They didn't know what to eat in Paris; they hated the French bread so much.
Dad wasn't a big fan of pasta or spaghetti, but Mom was his opposite. She loved Italy, especially Venice.
Greece, however, was their biggest surprise. There, we stayed in a small cottage on the beach and ate only seafood, fresh from the sea, for three days.
Switzerland was known as one of the most desirable places to visit, especially on my mom's side. Mom enjoyed it, but as she recalled, there wasn't much to do, only sightseeing and that was all. You couldn't buy most of what you'd come for, so we instead enjoyed the views for two days and left to another country.
London wasn't a pleasant part of the journey for many reasons. I guess the main reason was the accent of the locals, and Dad didn't find the atmosphere that he'd hoped for. He'd thought that, because the Londoners spoke English, they might be like Americans in their way of treating him, but that soon proved to be wrong.
* * *
I remember one summer day, shortly after my parents had bought me a three-wheel bicycle. My new bark was dark blue, with golden stripes on its side and chair. I used to either ride it alone or with Ray sitting in the backseat. But that day, he wasn't there. Instead, I was riding alone, and when I drove near one of our neighbor's house, their little girl came out. She was also riding her bicycle, which was similar to mine, only it was pink color and had a Barbie image on it.
Anyway, the only time I saw that girl was when I took my bicycle outside to play. We would race and drive around the neighborhood. That day, we rode near some new houses that we had no idea about. We started to chat on our way, but we got close to the fence of one of the houses. Without any notice, a large bulldog leaped out of his wooden house and attacked me.
The bulldog was huge. His head was taller than me when I stood on my feet. The dog crashed into my bicycle and flipped me over, but the crisis didn't end there. I became a prisoner under my own bicycle, and the dog climbed on top, putting all his weight on top of me. Thank god, there was a small space that I could hide under it, but the dog's saliva was dripping on my face.
The girl who was with me started to scream and tried to get the dog off of me, but she couldn't; it was a scary, large bulldog. She ran as fast as she could to ask for help from the neighbors. While I was under my bicycle waiting for my end, I heard someone shouting from a far distance. I turned my head to see who was shouting, and I saw a woman in her late fifties heading in our direction with a stiff look on her face.
The old woman came to me and pulled the bulldog by his collar. He was so heavy she could barely drag him away. Thank God, she was the owner of that maniac dog. The girl who was with me appeared in front of me seconds after the owner pulled the dog away; she helped me flip my bicycle on its wheels so that we could run away. It was a scary, near-death experience at that early age; I guess God wanted me to live longer and to see many other things in this life.
* * *
When I was in first grade, our teacher was Ms. Mary, a nice-looking lady. With long blond hair and a fit body, she looked like a model than an elementary teacher. But in reality, she was very sweet with all of us. She taught me how to be a nice, understanding person; to be clean; and to talk only when there was a need to talk.
A very important thing happened that year. I had a girl who covered my back all the time. Her job was simple. She had to paint or draw every picture we were assigned to do during all our lessons. I never loved painting or drawing anything.
One day, the unpredictable happened.
I was standing next to the girl telling her what color I wanted her to paint a particular part of the drawing when Mom stepped into my class and saw what was going on. Mom rushed into the class and took the drawing. "Do your work on your own," she told me firmly. "Depending on other people to do your work is something wrong. We're going to talk more about this when we get home."
Another thing that happened that year was that we had many parties. For one of the parties, each one of us was to bring something to class so we could enjoy it together. I don't remember what the occasion was, but what was important was that it was a party.
I brought a large blueberry cheese cake. The class was split into five girls and five boys, and with Ms. Mary we were eleven, but there were only ten pieces. Each one of us took a piece, but I couldn't eat mine. I felt badly for Ms. Mary because I loved her so much. I went to her and gave her my share.
She refused to take it, but I insisted. She had a condition. Ms. Mary said, "I'll eat it, if you'll agree that we share it together."
I felt proud and said, "Yeah, that will be great."
We ate it together; the feeling that I felt it at that moment was sweet and warm.
* * *
Second grade wasn't far different from first grade. Ms. Mary was still our teacher, and we understood her now better than we had the previous year. I managed to make some friends. But we were kids, and things of importance to us included comics, cartoons, and action figures.
During one of the lessons, I was reading a new Batman comic; one of my friends brought it to school. I opened the comic inside my desk and took it slowly out so I could read it, resting it on my lap.
I think Ms. Mary asked me a question, and I didn't reply to her. Seeing that I was distracted by something besides her lesson, she walked to my desk and stood next to me, looking at what I'm doing. She stayed standing there for two or three minutes; I felt that the room was quieter than normal. I looked up and saw Ms. Mary standing next to me, hands on her waist. She looked upset.
I lowered my head in shame, closed the comic, and shoved it into my desk with disgrace. "I'm sorry, Ms. Mary," I said. "I'll never do it again. I promise you."
Ms. Mary gave a slight sigh and said, "Look at me, Asim."
I raised my head to look her in the eyes. She put a warm smile on her face and said, "I'm glad that you know the mistake that you've made. I'll overlook it this time, but next time, I'll take the comic, and you won't be able to get it back till the end of the school day."
I nodded my head to show acceptance and understanding. Ms. Mary brushed my hair with her soft, gentle hand, as a mother to her son, and then went back to continue her lesson. Ever since that day, I never read any comic in class, no matter how tempting it was; I took them with me to recess and ready them there.
Excerpted from Alienation by Asim Abraham Copyright © 2012 by Asim Abraham. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Going through Changes....................11
Losing Faith and Disbelief....................35
Career and Responsibility....................49
Marriage and the Deep Rabbit Hole....................57
Freedom of Speech and Human Dignity....................107
A Letter to My Son....................115