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This (may I say) hideous portrait of me commemorates my first meeting with Samir.

Who knew that applying eye makeup was one of the unique challenges of old age?

Samir is very bright, very focused, very… fierce in the sweetest way imaginable.

Lois Lane had described him as struggling with conversational English, but he’s actually pretty fluent. Vocabulary words are missing here and there: Exploit, prejudice, secular, profit.

Lois Lane had also told me he speaks Urdu, which had me expecting someone of Indian descent. (A bit bizarre in Algeria, I had been thinking, but hey! Indians are the shopkeepers of Africa, and they are everywhere.)

But Samir’s native dialect is Amazigh.

He’s a Berber. He comes from Batna.

As an icebreaker, I had Samir show me the photos on his phone and tell me the stories behind them.

His father. His brothers. His mother, his sisters, his aunts – they wore hajib.

“Here, we are building a house,” he narrated. “In Algeria, we build from stone. Not like here where you build from wood –“

“Right,” I said. “You live in a desert. No trees!”

He looked at me a bit oddly. “I do not live in a desert. There were forests in Batna. But they were all destroyed in the war.”

Oh. Right-t-t-t-t! Batna was the center of the Algerian resistance in the war against French colonialism.


Samir speaks French, but he hates the language. He hates France!

He also speaks Arabic.

His tutoring objectives are laudably specific: He wants to get high marks on the TOEFL exam so that he can enroll in a top PhD program. His field is electronic engineering, and he already has a masters degree from the university in Batna.

Forgive me for preening here, but he’s so-o-o lucky to have me as his tutor since reading comprehension is a huge part of the TOEFL exam, and I am like a whiz at teaching reading comprehension. Honestly. They should bottle me.


I got home and thought about poor Imaan. Who hasn’t posted a selfie on FB in weeks but who has effected a rather drastic name change: Now, she’s posing as “Angelina.”


I wrote her a little note: Are you okay? I’m worried about you.

And got this note back replete with typical Imy effusion and hyperbole: Ohhh I'm so glad to ask about me I lost ur number and I told Lois to say to you text me you can't imagine how much I miss u and I wanna see you I love u


“Maybe she had to use her money for an – ahem! – procedure,” said Lois Lane when I filled her in on this exchange.

“I know what ‘procedure’ you’re talking about, girlfriend, and I’m pretty sure it’s against the Moslem religion,” I said.

“I think so, too, however given her situation…”

Lois Lane is just convinced that Imaan has gotten knocked up.

But I had that conversation about sex with Imaan. Imaan is not one to go in for casual sex. The only way Imaan would have gotten pregnant is if she’d been seduced by the patriarch of that dreadful host family she lives with or by someone at Island Empress. Or gotten raped.

I think it’s far more likely that she mouthed off to her manager at Island Empress once too often and got fired.

Anyway, I’m gonna do coffee with her next week. See what’s up.


I spoke with Samir a little bit about Imaan, too. Talked about how bright she is but how few resources she has, how anchorless that leaves her. Mentioned that I had been trying to get her to go to the Peekskill mosque.

“It’s just a train ride away –“

“But there is a masjid here in Poughkeepsie. On Main Street.”

Right, I thought. That place that looks like a crackhouse. Always hood rats hanging out in front. It’s right next door to a low-rent tattoo parlor.

“Is that the mosque you attend?”

“Yes,” Samir said. “It is a very good place. Many Moroccans. Their wives, their children, too.”

Samir is religious. Like Imy, he won the green card lottery. His patron here in the States is an Algerian who came over in the early 80s and worked his way up from day-laborer to owner of the seediest gas station on Main Street, the fuel ‘n’ go attached to the convenience store where the Twinkie packages all expired in 2016, but there are 10 different brands of 40-ouncers in the broken cooler.

“I respect him, but he sells beer,” said Samir, shaking his head.

“Well, he kind of has to,” I said. “He doesn’t make any profit selling gas – do you know that word, ‘profit’?”

“Muhammad is a prophet,” Samir said, frowning.

“Different word!” I said. And wrote the word down on one of my omnipresent Post-its. “Look it up!”

Samir consulted the e-dictionary on his phone. “Ohhhhh!” he said.

“No money to be made in selling fuel after you pay purchasing costs and taxes,” I said. “Gas station owners make their profits off what they sell in their convenience stores. And no convenience store is going to stay in business in New York if it doesn’t sell alcohol.”

“Ah!” said Samir. He frowned and shook his head.

Anyway, I got Samir interested in meeting Imy.

No, not a LUV connection.

But as someone of approximately his own background and from approximately his part of the world who desperately, desperately needs some kind of help. Imaan is a flighty girl, she lacks Samir’s focus, and she’s not gonna survive this Amerika thing without some kind of assistance.


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Every Day Above Ground

September 2017

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