Editorial Note #1: This article was originally published in 2011. I am currently on holiday and unless titled Dispatches, then what you are reading was scheduled for publication in advance of my departure.
As most of you know, I was born and lived the first years of my life in North Africa where mama and baba were working at the time. In preparation for my daily travels, I used to lay out baba’s largest map which covered the entire floor of our living room. I would “travel” on my tricycle across the globe in that way, talking to myself and making up imaginary friends as I went and with whom I would have adventures.
Mark was my friend and we met while I was in Europe. Mark was my height and he too had a tricycle. I would tricycle sometimes three times around the globe until I reached his home (Europe, any part of) where he would join me.
We went to Turkia together and made fun of the name, asking if we wanted it mashwi (grilled) or ma’li (fried). Then there was the one time we went to Amrika and met white people. They too were our height and had tricycles but we never let them travel with us. They always wanted to eat hamburgers and we wanted ma’looba. Mark was nice and never argued with me. He was also a Transformer and he was able to do magic tricks when he wasn’t saving the world.
Mark was my first crush. I loved him for his very large brown eyes and softly feathered brown hair. He was polite and never spoke back to mama or baba, which made for lovely dinner time.
We belonged to a club (as in country, not ‘up in da…‘). Often times I would take Mark with me in my pocket – one of his hero superpowers, to shrink himself into a very small Mark so that I could carry him with me and tell him my secrets and share with him my dreams.
At the club one evening, I didn’t feel like playing with the other kids and so I sat and had a lovely grownup conversation with The Man At The Front Entrance. He wasn’t a bouncer exactly, more like a valet and a welcoming committee rolled into one.
He was black (like Sharon whom I lovingly call ‘Brownie’ and who calls me ‘Miscellaneous’) and he was my friend. He always asked me about Mark. On this one particular evening, when I was no older than four years old, we had the following conversation that shaped the rest of my life:
“Alhamdulilah, he says Salaam!”
“Say Salaam back.”
“You can say it yourself – here…!” and I took Mark out of my pocket.
“I’m teaching him Arabic!”
“I see it’s coming along very well.”
“It is! Mark’s really smart because he’s a Transformer and he’s from EUROPE!! But he eats ma’looba!”
“Transformers are smart.”
“Mark has a question for you!”
“Mark wants to know why you’re brown and what it means!”
“I’m brown because Allah made me brown.”
“Why didn’t Allah make me brown?”
“Because Allah made us different colors to add variety and fun to the world.”
“But are we the same? Mark wants to know!”
“We are the same.”
“So can I be brown?”
“If you sit in the sun long enough, maybe.”
“And can you be pink?”
“I already am. Look…”
…and with that, my friend turned his hand over and showed me his palm which was as pink as my own.
“Heeeeeeeeeeeey! You’re brown and PINK!!!! LIKE A RAINBOW!!!!”
“That’s right. There’s parts of each of us in one another.”
“Mark says thanks for your answer!”
“You can tell him he’s welcome.”
“I will! I’m going to get an orange Mirinda, do you want one?”
“I would love one.”
“Can Mark and I have a hug?”
“Of course you can.”
“Mark loves you.”
“Please tell Mark that I love him too.”
Photo courtesy of FowlerFellow.