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2004-01-24 - 3:20 p.m.

Azz (pronounced Oz) is a very interesting man. He's lived in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, as well as Baghdad, back in the 80s during the Iran/Iraq war.

"I will tell you something," he said, leaning towards me. "I was working in a hotel in Abu Dhabi, a 4 star. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Kuwaiti Minister of the Interior came to stay at the hotel. His whole entourage came with him. I grabbed his suitcase and thought it was very heavy, but I realized that he had just moments to flee, and all of his things must be in this suitcase. He had only the one. I brought it up to his hotel room to unpack it for him, as they do in 4 star hotels, and I saw it was filled only with whiskey. Only whiskey he brought with him! At 7 in the morning, I saw him drinking. Ya! I saw it with my own two eyes, drinking. At 7 in the morning! Surrounded by women. These men, powerful men, they can do things like this. I could not, they would throw me in jail. In the United Arab Emirates, there are many states, and each state has different laws. In the state Abu Dhabi is in, no Muslim can drink, it is haram (forbidden). They will throw you in prison for a few days and then deport you, and authorities in the country you land in will arrest you there when you get off the plane. It is true. Not even time to collect your things, they deport you. I used to take the expensive taxis to Dubai. You can drink there, in the state that Dubai is in. Do you know why I would take the expensive taxis? Because the cheap ones would bring me to the jail and get $100 reward. They can smell the alcohol on your breath. One day I thought, forget it, and I took the cheap taxi. I noticed he was not driving me to my home. I asked him to stop, and he would not. He said it was a shortcut, but I knew. I said I would get out even while the car was still going. He let me out. God was on my side that night. I would have been deported! Do you know why I had to take the taxis? Because no one in the Emirates can drive unless you are a citizen. You cannot become a citizen unless you have lived there for 100 years! They also would not let me study there. Why not?! My money is good. These countries, they have a lot of money, but no brains.

I don't like the Saudis. I think America should forget Iraq, and invade them! The Saudis have ruined the Arab world. All of their money. They advertise jobs for us and our young Moroccan women go there for one or two years thinking they will have a good job, but they end up being slaves. They return to our country crushed and without ambitions.

Morocco is in the 15th century. The king there is only 32. 32! Look at his picture! You see him? And all the ministers are family members. It is like this all over. No democracy. I can drink in Morocco. I can smoke hashish. The monarchy there, they think to give us what we want. Drinking and hashish. The idea is that they give us these freedoms, and we will leave the government alone. But there is no democracy. I was an English teacher in Morocco in the 70s. I came back in the 80s to study. I got zeros in all my classes. A zero in English grammer! And I was an English teacher! Do you know why the zeros? When I was studying in France, I would buy a lot of books. I thought to give them to Moroccan students when I returned. But they did not like that. Three years I was studying in Morocco, three years I got zeros. One day a woman said to me, your kind doesn't belong here. They want people to drink and smoke and keep their heads down. Not read books and lift their heads up.

I came to America and I got my citizenship here. And my American passport. I want to return maybe to the Emirates and make a lot of money. It is all tax free there. It would be easy to make money with my American passport. There was a Lebanese man there, he came to the Emirates and they treated him like dirt. Then he went and got a Canadian citizenship and a Canadian passport, and went back, and they treated him like he was a boss or something. I will return to the Emirates with my American passport and be treated better. Before, I was nothing. I was an Arab, and not an Emirati. Now I will have an American passport. It is true. That is what I am thinking of doing."

This is a paraphrase of several different conversations, but all these things he told me. Sometimes he would lean over and whisper to me, even though it's just the two of us, in this locked room with 7 printers, as though he was letting me in on a secret about the passports and the Kuwaiti minister's drinking. Unfortunately our last day working together is Monday, and then he's on vacation. He's going to Morocco. "I will tell you something. I would not go back to Morocco if it was not for my mother." It certainly puts a new light on my big idea to study abroad in Morocco. He also has the habit of telling me something once and expecting me to remember it. I ask him a question about a printer and he sighs and says, "I told you this already, three days ago." It reminds me of when I was learning Arabic and our Arab teachers would get so frustrated with us. We'd learn the word for spider (ankaboot) and then three months later we'd hear it again. One of us would ask what ankaboot was and the teacher would sigh and say, "You took this word three months ago. Already you had this word three months ago. I remember it." Maybe that's an Arab trait, and they expect everyone to be detail oriented. In any case, I don't mind working with Azz when he gets frustrated with me, since I've been through similar. I really enjoy working with him, actually. I'll miss our conversations when he goes on his vacation to Morocco.

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