January 18th, 2018
“Can you help me with this?”
Bashar asked me that, as he brought his laptop into the room. I had just finished reading a story with Bashar’s younger siblings: Muhamed, Nisrin, and Nizar. Bashar is a high school student, and he is much older than most of the other children. The oldest boy in the family is Hussein. He is also in high school, but I am not sure what grade he’s in.
Bashar sat down next to me, and showed me his homework. He needed to complete an online worksheet about civil disobedience.
I thought to myself, “Cool! I know something about this shit!”
In a burst of enthusiasm, I told Bashar that I too have participated in civil disobedience. We looked up the photos from the demonstration at Creech AFB, and I told Bashar the strange, twisted tale of my arrest. Bashar was interested, but perhaps a bit confused by my account of the events in Nevada. I asked him if he wanted to use my story in his homework assignment.
Bashar shook his head, and said, “No, we have to write about one of these people”, and he pointed at a short list of names of civilly disobedient persons. The list had Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi on it. Hell, these were the apostles of civil disobedience. I am just a rank amateur. The folks on the list are way out of my league.
Oh well, Bashar and I worked on explaining the life of MLK. I tried to tell Bashar some facts about Martin Luther King. He kept telling me, “I know.” Really? Then why am I helping you with this? Maybe the “I know” response is an adolescent thing. At my age, I am fully aware that I don’t know much of anything, and I am at peace with that.
We got briefly sidetracked in our work. Bashar asked me, “You know Arabic?”
“I know a little bit. I studied Arabic in the Army, but I can’t remember many of the words any more.”
Bashar told me, “I have that problem too. I am forgetting Arabic. It is seven years since I speak Arabic all the time. Mostly during that time I speak Turkish, and now English.”
I tried to tell Bashar about my son, Hans, who fought in Iraq. I attempted to talk about Hans in Arabic. I told Bashar that Hans killed a man during the war. Bashar listened and paid attention to what I said.
Then Bashar smiled and said, “You speak good Arabic.”
I shook my head, “Just a little.”
Bashar told me something about the fighting in his native Syria. I didn’t quite understand what he told me, but I gathered that it was nothing good. It bothered me. Bashar has gone through some horrific experiences, but he is still optimistic about his future. I wish that I knew more about his past, so I could understand who he is now.
Bashar’s mother brought me hot, sweet tea.
Bashar asked me, “You like tea?”
“Yes”, I replied as I drank some of it.
“You want more?”
I told Bashar, “No, that is enough for now.”
“But you say that you like it.”
“I do, but I can’t drink any more right now.”
We worked some more on his homework assignment. I tried to explain to him what civil disobedience really meant. He understood, kinda sorta. We need to have a much longer conversation on this topic.
We finished the worksheet. Bashar smiled.
“That is good. Very good.”
“Well, I have to go home now.”
What is it with the tea?
“Uh no. I really am full.”
Bashar shook my hand. “Thank you for your help.”
I told him, “I’m glad to help you.” I meant it.
“Maybe next time I write about you.”
I said, “Yeah, maybe. It’s okay.”
We shook hands again.