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  • Rock Wednesday
  • Keija Parssinen (bio)

It was my mentor and friend Mohammad Dossary who guided me to Texas, as that was where several Saudi employees of ARAMCO, the Arabian American Oil Company, had already received schooling, including Mohammad himself. In fact when I arrived in Austin, in 1962, Mohammad was still enrolled at the university, and for a time we lived under the same roof, in a boardinghouse run by a matronly woman named Mrs. LeeAnn Brown. If Mrs. Brown felt any animosity toward Arabs, it didn't show; she went out of her way to make Mohammad and me feel welcome, preparing lavish dinners for us, doting on us as if we were her own sons.

One evening in late fall of my first year of undergraduate study, I descended Mrs. Brown's staircase whistling a jaunty tune, something I'd heard on the country and western radio station that she frequently left playing in the parlor.

On the landing I ran headlong into Mohammad, who was in the final year of a master's program in geology.

"Ghassan! My advisor just informed me that a chapter of my thesis is going to be published. I'm in a celebratory mood. Let's go out!"

"Congratulations, my friend," I said, slapping him on the shoulder. "Where shall we go?"

He smiled, then turned on his heel and headed back down the way he had come. I trailed after him, and we found our way to a bar off of Guadalupe. He ordered a Coke for me and a whiskey, rocks, for himself. As we sipped our drinks, he peered at me over the edge of his glass.

"Tell me, Ghassan," he said. "What is it you hope to achieve during your time here in America?"

"I want to earn my degree and make the company proud."

"Which means you want to make the Americans proud, since it is their company."

I hesitated, not sure what he was getting at. I took a sip of my soda, looking as thoughtful as a man can with a straw between his lips. [End Page 217]

"Come now," he continued. "It's not a trick question. It's not a bad thing to want to make the Americans proud, no matter what Nasser says. I myself want nothing more than to please the Americans. You know why?" I waited, knowing he only hesitated to create a sense of suspense. "Because I want to be president of the company one day, the first Saudi president, and the only way to do that is through the Americans. So while I'm here, I'm not only a student of geology, but of what it means to be an American. One thing that I've noticed, both here and back at home? American men like to drink; the Aramco bosses like to drink. So," he jiggled his tumbler, ice clinking against the glass, "I've decided to imbibe, for professional reasons." His eyes blazed, as if daring me to question his logic.

"What does your father think of your decision?" I asked.

"Ha! Our fathers need not know everything we do."

"Aren't you worried about losing your way?"

"Here's what I want you to understand," he said, swigging the last finger of liquid from the glass and placing it on the bar with a definitive thump. "When you're here in the States, you can drink whiskey and go dancing, even date an American girl. But you must always think of it as research, as professional development; not a lifestyle.

"When you get back to Dhahran, your American boss will like the way you use American slang. He'll feel comfortable inviting you to his house, to his parties, because he knows you're not against having a sip of liquor every now and again. It's all about appearances, you see? He'll believe you're not so different from him, that you've Americanized, because the Americans feel their culture is superior to Saudi culture, and it is only natural for a Western-educated Saudi to want to Americanize. As a result of your Americanizing, they'll treat you well and...


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pp. 217-233
Launched on MUSE
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