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The drama of Maha and Khaled in Al-Kitaab

For all you slacker terrorists studying Arabic from Al-Kitaab fii Ta’allum al-’Arabiyya, the translated stories from each chapter.

CHAPTER 1 — “I am Maha”
“My name is Maha Mohammed Abulaal. I am Egyptian. I live in New York City in the Brooklyn area. My father is Egyptian. He works at the United Nations. My mother is Palestinian. She works at NYU. I am a student at the same university and I study English literature there.”

CHAPTER 2 — “I am very lonely”
“My father is a translator. He specializes in translation from and to Arabic, English, and French. My mother is an employee in the admissions office at NYU. My father is always busy, and my mother is also busy at work during the day and busy at home in the evening. My aunt’s name is Nadia, and she lives in Los Angeles, California where she works in a bank. I am an only girl in my family, and I am truly lonely.”

CHAPTER 3 — “My father’s extended family is big”
[Showing photographs] “My father’s extended family is big. I know my relatives from photographs and letters. This is my uncle Mahmoud and his family. And this is my uncle Adel and his family – my uncle Adel is a big officer in the army. And this is my uncle Ahmed and his family – actually, he is the son of my father’s uncle. My uncle Ahmed is a teacher in the political science college at Cairo University and now he teaches at Al Ain University in the UAE. And this is my aunt Fatima, her husband, her son, and her daughter.”

CHAPTER 4 — “How do I memorize all the names?!”
[Showing photographs] “This is Samia, the daughter of my aunt, Fatima… she’s a childhood friend. And this is Khaled, the son of my uncle, Mahmoud, my classmate from elementary school… he was in fourth grade and I was in the first grade. Here is the wife of my uncle Ahmed… uhh… her name is… her name is… actually, I don’t remember the names of all members of my extended family. And I don’t know how to memorize all of the names before traveling to Cairo!”

CHAPTER 5 — “I don’t like New York City!”
“I don’t like New York City very much because of the crowds and the weather – the weather is very hot in the summer and the humidity is high. It’s very cold in the winter. The best season, as far as I’m concerned, is autumn. Sometimes, I feel lonely in this big city. My mother and father are always busy, and I have only one friend. Her name is Laila, and she is American of Tunisian descent.”

CHAPTER 6 — “I am Khaled”
“I am Khaled Mahmoud Abulaal. I am a graduate student at the College of Commerce at Cairo University. I graduated two years ago and I now am studying to obtain a Masters in Business Administration. I have class only three days a week, and I don’t teach because the graduate students in our college don’t teach; thus, I only go to college on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays.”

CHAPTER 7 — “I am the oldest”
“My father works at the Ministry of Economics and my mother, may she rest in peace, was an employee at the same ministry. I have three brothers. I am the oldest. Adel is a student in high school, Walid is a student in his first year in secondary school, and Abdul Moneim is a student in his second year in junior high. My grandmother has lived with us since my mother, may she rest in peace, died in an accident three years ago.”

CHAPTER 8 — “The future of commerce”
“After obtaining my high school diploma, I wanted to enter the College of Literature like my uncle Mohammed, but my father refused that. He wanted me to enroll in the College of Commerce like him and my mother did because literature, in his opinion, doesn’t have a future and the future is in commerce. So I entered the College of Commerce as he and my deceased mother wanted, and I succeeded, thank God, and got very good grades throughout the years thanks to God and thanks to the help of my father with my studies.”

CHAPTER 9 — “My grandmother wakes me up at 6:30 am”
“On the days I go to university, I leave the house around 10 in the morning, but my grandmother always wakes me up at 6:30 to have breakfast with everyone. After that, my father and brothers leave the house and I sit in the veranda and drink coffee and smoke some cigarettes away from my grandmother’s sight and I read the newspapers. My lectures begin at 3pm; thus, I am able to study in the library for two or three hours beforehand. Then grab some lunch. After lectures, I go with some fellow grad students to the club to play chess, my favorite hobby. Then, I return home and help my brothers a little in their studies. Other days, I go to the club in the morning and study at night. As for Fridays, there is a special program.”

CHAPTER 10 — “The house of the extended family”
“Thursday night, it’s possible for us to stay up late to watch TV or to go out with our friends; thus, I wake up late on Friday. Breakfast time, thank God, is at 10am. I leave the house with my dad and brothers for prayer on Friday at Al Hussein Mosque. Then, we quickly return home to catch lunch before the soccer game begins, which we often watch on TV on Fridays. On days when there are no games, I nap for an hour and a half or a couple of hours after lunch. As for at night, it’s not possible for us to go out because our house, since my grandmother has stayed with us, has become the house of the extended family; every individual of the extended family comes here every Friday. Actually, I love my extended family but I enjoy sitting with my friends more. You know what I mean?”

CHAPTER 11 — “I feel shy sometimes”
“Most of my friends right now were my classmates in secondary school. Two of them graduated from the College of Literature, one from the College of Pharmacy, one from law school, and another from the College of Tourism and Hotel Management. We sit together once a week to talk about what’s new and to talk about our love lives. I’m feel shy sometimes because I don’t have romantic experiences like theirs. When I was a third year student I met a second year student and we went out together many times. Then she cut off the relationship after she got engaged to an engineer who works in Saudi Arabia.”

CHAPTER 12 – “The most difficult decision of my life”
“My name is Mohammed Abulaal. Of course you all know a lot about me from Maha. I graduated from the English literature department at Cairo University where I was appointed as a teaching assistant. After my Master’s I obtained my Ph.D. from UCSB. After obtaining my doctorate in comparative literature I decided to stay here. Of course, it was the most difficult decision in my life as here I am far from my family and my friends. The last time I visited Egypt was three years ago when I learned the news that my brother Mahmoud’s wife died. It was a very short visit, and Maha and Malek didn’t travel with me. This time, we will go together and will remain in Cairo for two weeks. Malek and I took our vacation this year and Maha will miss a week of her classes plus four extra days off.”

CHAPTER 13 – “Why did I decide to stay in America?”
“Why did I decide to stay in America? When I came here 15 years ago, I hoped to finish my studies and return to Egypt, since I loved my job at Cairo University and I was also writing articles in the magazine Al Masrah. But after obtaining my doctorate, I thought that very successful opportunities were here in front of me, so I decided not to return. Malek encouraged me in this decision because she was happy here. But I did not find a suitable job and I also was not able to return since the university dismissed me, but returning meant failure. Thank God that I was finally appointed as translator at the United Nations and began to settle down our lives, but I continue to feel like a stranger here.”

CHAPTER 14 – “I hope we don’t leave this house”
“Egypt… I don’t remember very much about it. When I came to America, I was 10 years old. I don’t remember what our apartment was like in Egypt. Last year, we rented a small apartment in Brooklyn. This year, we rented a house in the same area that consists of two floors and in front of it, there’s a small garden. It’s not big and it doesn’t have a swimming pool like Laila’s house, but it’s beautiful and I feel very comfortable here. On the first floor, there is the foyer, the living room, the kitchen and a small bathroom. On the second floor, there is a bedroom and a room my father converted to an office, my bedroom, and a bathroom. I hope that we don’t leave this house for a few more years and move to another place like what happened before.”

CHAPTER 15 – “I’m not Egyptian and I’m not American”
“My friend Laila is the only person that I talk to about everything and she is who understands how I feel. I feel like I am not Egyptian and I am not American. My mother permits me to wear what I want like as if I were an American girl. But she does not permit me to go out except to visit Laila or with a group of classmates. She determines the time when I return home and she gets angry if I’m late. I don’t have a boyfriend like my classmates or like Laila. Laila’s father is Tunisian and her mother is American. The two of them have a business where they work. The two of them are busy with it, but they own their freedom. Laila studies in the anthropology department but we share our studies in some topics. She doesn’t know Arabic because she was born in the U.S., but she hopes to study FusHa at the university.”

CHAPTER 16 – “A letter from my uncle”
“Last night, a letter from my uncle Mohammed arrived that says that they will arrive in the middle of next month, and for about three weeks. It’s necessary for us to begin preparations now for their visit and arrange the apartment. It’s necessary to buy some new bedsheets and towels and repair the second bathroom. And it will be necessary for me to move into Adel’s room so my uncle and his wife can take my room because it’s the biggest one. As for Maha, she will sleep with my grandmother in her room. She was still little when she came last time … I think that she was thirteen. Will she still remember me? I wrote her some letters and she sent me some pictures which she drew. I wonder if she’s changed her life in America?”

CHAPTER 17 – “May you be blessed every year!”
“‘May you be blessed every year!’ Last night was the first day of the month of Ramadan which we’ve be began preparing for many weeks. We gathered all of the extended family for Iftaar like we prepare to do every year. My grandmother supervised in the preparation of everything. My aunt Fatima and my uncle Adel’s wife were preoccupied since the morning cooking. The wife of my uncle Ahmed – who arrived from Abu Dhabi three days ago – prepared qamar ad-deen and kunafah. The programming during Ramadan is different from the other months in the year as folks wake up late and sleep little after dark. After Iftaar we watch a soap opera on TV. Then I stay up late and leave with my friends to Al Hussein or to the café until As-Suhour. After As-Suhour I read the newspapers and go to sleep. But it seems that I will not be able to stay up late and leave with my friends this year.”

18 – “The important opinion is Khaled and Maha’s”

“I have many friends here, but it is difficult to consider relationships with them as true friendships like my friends in Egypt. Perhaps because it means that friendships here are different. Relationships here handle problems by calling over the telephone, or through cards over the mail, or by electronic letters – e-mail. Perhaps because the friendships in Egypt are part of my youth and my dreams. I feel sometimes that I want to leave everything here and return to Egypt. Maha’s future after graduation keeps me busy. Mahmoud hinted in his letter that he wants to speak about her to Khaled. Khaled is a smart guy and has quality morals, but Malek doesn’t welcome the idea. I told her the same that I told Mahmoud – that the important opinion is Khaled and Maha’s, who don’t know anything about the subject.”

CHAPTER 19 – “What do they mean by the word ‘appropriate’?!”
“Time flies – we travel after only one week. My dad wants to me to help him in the selection and purchase of some gifts and my mom wants me to help her in the house. And she wants help in some of the travel arrangements. It’s necessary to meet with my professors so learn of the assignments that I will miss. I will take some books with me to Egypt until I am able to resume my studies after we return. It is necessary to buy some dresses because my mom requested of me to buy some appropriate clothes for Ramadan. I don’t know what they mean by the word ‘appropriate’?! Don’t the girls in Egypt wear pants?! Ugh … when will my mom and dad stop giving me advice on my behavior in Egypt as if I were still a little girl!”

CHAPTER 20 – “Oh God … how beautiful Jerusalem is!”
“I was delayed a lot because I was busy with travel arrangements. Thanks be to God, everything has been prepared and we will travel tomorrow to Cairo. I am Malek Taaher Darwish. I am Palestinian from Jerusalem. I was born in and was raised there, then my family and I moved to Egypt in the year 1967 and the family was separated. My brothers moved to America. My uncle Tawfiq moved with his family to Lebanon. My only sister moved to America with a permission from the son of my uncle, may he rest in peace. After obtaining my high school diploma, I entered Cairo University, and there I met Mahmoud and we married after graduation. My extended family now is the extended family of my husband. Sometimes I feel when my husband speaks about his childhood that my childhood was taken from me. I dream a lot of the place where I played and ran in. I dream of a homeland like every person in the world. It’s true that I own an Egyptian passport, and I love Egypt a lot, but oh God, how beautiful Jerusalem is!”

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