San Diego couple takes in Arabs, Iranians

Mumtaz, Ghassan, Bahram

“What! An Arab in this house? You’ve got to be kidding.”

Startled expressions all around the card table made me forget what was trump. I had not expected to break up the game when I mentioned that we were expecting a guest the next day.

“How many oil wells does he have?” “What will you do with his harem?” “Where will you stable his camel?” Good-natured jibes popped like grease on a griddle. In the sting of their humorous spatter, I began to doubt the wisdom of allowing the twain to meet. East and West, eyeball to eyeball, right here in my own house.

At the school where my wife taught English, the counselors were forever trying to persuade teachers to take in foreign students. They called it “total cultural immersion.” Housing foreign students was a problem for the school, even though the students were quite willing to pay for room and board. Some could just not find housing with American families. “The perfect couple,” the counselor had called us. “With all that extra room, too.”

Three extra bedrooms to be exact, and a very empty family room, since our three sons were scattered all over the world. Two weeks had passed since our talk with the counselor. Everything was ready for our guest.

He arrived the next day. When the doorbell rang, the last thing I expected to see was a tall, red-haired fellow, built like a football lineman, with fair skin. Not my idea of an Arab at all. “I, Ghassan,” he announced with eloquent economy. I opened the door wide and put out my hand, but he didn’t see it, I guess. He followed me down the hallway toward the room we had prepared for him. “Like diz,” he said, looking around, “but where TV?”

Hmm...he’s direct, I thought. Well, no problem, we had an extra one in the other room.

If I had met him on the street, I would have taken him for an American student at first glance, but his neat sport coat and tie, his brightly polished shoes with inch-high heels gave him a foreign look, and he reeked of strong-smelling aftershave lotion. I noticed the heavy gold ring on his little finger. There was definitely a strangeness about him that went beyond his heavy accent.

“Cloz.” He clipped the word and swept his hand up and down his body, then pointed to his one suitcase at his feet. “Airplane steal cloz.” He held up a thumb, then his forefinger, and indicated his bag. “Two,” he said. I nodded to show I understood. Poor kid. He probably had missed one of his bags at check-out.

“Sure. We’ll go get it at the airport tomorrow. It will be okay,” I reassured him.

“No okay!” It sounded like a command. His chin lifted in what I came to learn later is a typical Arab gesture of negation. “Airplane steal cloz. Trouble.” It was a firm assertion.

Trouble for whom, I wondered, but smiled and nodded without arguing the matter. “Okay, Ghassan.” I tried to put as much hearty welcome into my words as possible. “Would you like a…” I had almost said “a snack,” but thinking of the language barrier, quickly changed it to “some food?” Much later I was to learn that he would have understood our English word snack, for in Damascus, Ghassan’s hometown, there are many “snak” shops.

“Food.” The way he said it was a definite assent, and he emphasized his agreement with a single downward nod.

“Come.” Our dialogue was beginning to sound like something from an old Tarzan movie. He was on my heels all the way to the kitchen.

I opened the refrigerator and gestured toward some fruit. His chin came up in that singularly distinct movement of denial. He bent down and looked into the box, then pointed to a squat bottle of fruit juice on the top shelf. “Sure,” I agreed, and reached for it, but he was too quick for me. He grabbed it and tipped it toward his lips without touching the rim. I had never seen anything like it before. He didn’t spill a drop, but it disappeared down his throat in gulps. Poor devil. He was thirsty, I thought. Must be all that heat and sand over there where he comes from. I realize now my own ignorance of his country, but my own education was to come later.

“Zank you, sir. Go room now.” His accent was gutturally deep, his movements precise, and he had such an erect posture that I almost expected a click of his heels and an about-face. Then he surprised me. He shoved out his hand toward mine. We shook hands for the first time. He headed back down the hallway toward his room.

He remained there throughout the day. I looked in on him once to find him bolt upright in a chair in front of the television set I had brought from the other room. He was watching a rerun of I Love Lucy with somber eyes, then suddenly threw back his head and chuckled. He turned toward me in the doorway. “I like Luzy. Luzy crazy lady. See Luzy Damascus TV.” I was amazed. Later, hearing his deep-throated chuckle again, I thought, Good for you, Lucy.

In succession, Mumtaz, a fellow Syrian, came to join Ghassan, and Bahram, a Persian, came, too. “Not Iranian, but Persian,” he emphasized in almost perfect English. Iran is a political designation, he told us, and he preferred being called Persian. He spoke Farsi, while the two Syrians spoke Arabic, so when they wanted to converse, they resorted to English.

When Bahram arrived, I mentioned the Shah to him and was surprised to see my wife shaking her head at me in negation behind him. Bahram politely explained that his family had sent him from his country, purposely, because he had fallen into disfavor at the University in Tehran. He was a second-year student in architecture and quite an accomplished artist. He had slides of a huge mosaic he had worked on for the university’s dining room. He enlarged the projection to show us the details depicting some of Iran’s history. In the lower left-hand corner there was a figure holding out a rice bowl. Bahram explained that it was his way of protesting for the poor in his country. Since the Shah was scheduled to visit his university and was expected to view the mural, officials at that institution had sent him home to his parents. Besides, Bahram wore a six-pointed star on a gold chain around his neck. He was Jewish, he explained, and a minority in a land of Muslims.

We learned that many of the Persian students at my wife’s school were neither enamored of the Shah nor of the reactionary revolutionaries who were then operating more or less covertly for his overthrow. A revolution is not a simple matter of an either/or situation, especially for those caught in the middle. Many of our students fell into the strange dilemma of being persons without a country. Their families, foreseeing the fomenting of the revolution, were sending their older children out of the country to schools in safer parts of the world.

The counselor at school had advised us that “cultural immersion” meant the students should see American families as we really are, that we should not change our lifestyle for them. That suited me just fine. I wouldn’t try to change their ways if they respected mine.

We usually enjoy a small glass of wine for dinner each night. We had believed that all Muslims abstain from any alcoholic beverage, so we had stocked fruit juices and soda for them in the refrigerator. Ghassan surprised us by saying he would enjoy a glass of wine, too. When he raised his glass, he and Mumtaz exchanged a few short words in Arabic. Mumtaz remained silent for the rest of the meal. Bahram refused the wine.

Later, it was Bahram, whose English was better than the others, who told us that within Islam there are sects, differing opinions, traditional and “modern” Arabs. Even though Bahram was Jewish and there was no injunction against his drinking wine, he abstained unless it was a special holiday. But he explained that Mumtaz and Ghassan were in disagreement against the Koranic injunction against strong drink. Since the distillation of alcohol came after Muhammad, some Muslims drink it, saying that the Koran only forbids wine. Others drink what they please. But in one thing they all agreed: pork is unclean.

Aside from questioning if a dish had pork in it (and we do not eat pork in our house anyway), they were too courteous to refuse whatever my wife served at the table. Well, Ghassan would sometimes say that he preferred this to that dish. We came to admire his honesty. One day he told my wife she served too much khabesa, which is as close an approximation to what he said as I can come. As in Hebrew or Yiddish and German, the “kh” sounds like the “ch” of the chutzpa or nacht or the Scottish word loch. It sounds like a slight clearing of the throat, and we heard it many times when the fellows spoke Arabic. My wife calls it by its technical linguistic jargon form: “The unvoiced uvular fricative.”

Anyway, we took khabesa to mean something good-natured like “garbage.” Our own sons were not above telling her such things, and we were used by this time to Ghassan’s joking with us. Well, when Mumtaz found out what we had misinterpreted as “garbage,” he was thoroughly shocked, even though we kept insisting we knew Ghassan was kidding us. He explained that khabesa means stew or mixed-up dishes. I suppose it’s the Arabic equivalent for Mulligan stew or hash. Mumtaz was as proper as Ghassan was fun loving, and remained so all the time he stayed in our home. Anyway, my wife quit serving casserole dishes.

Since my retirement, I had adopted the nightly chore of starting dinner. I rather like working around the kitchen. Usually, one of the students would help me. One day Mumtaz came home with a kitchen marvel, a machine that did everything. “Now you see and taste real Arab food,” he said. Such a flurry of grinding, chopping, pounding, mincing, and rolling! When my wife came home that evening, it was as if Aladdin and his magic lamp had spread a feast fit for royalty. In the center of the dining room table was a huge, flat meatloaf made of lamb. Mumtaz called it kibbeh. Next to it was a dish of rice with bits of meat and onion; a salut made of soaked, cracked wheat, with chopped parsley and mint, crowned with short, stiff inner leaves of lettuce to be used as scoops for carrying it from bowl to mouth; and with it all was a rice-water and lemon drink, curiously refreshing.

Because so many Arabs use communal bowls, the salad was passed around so each of us could take a piece of flat bread and deftly (well, not so deftly in my case) twist some vegetables and meat within and pop it into our mouths. Before dinner was over, I managed to catch on. The Arabs used their right hands only for eating, with their left hand resting on the edge of the table or in their lap. I had heard about this custom, as their left is used for personal bathroom duties. But I had noticed that they had used both hands when they prepared their food. Ah well, customs really have no rhyme nor much reason, sometimes. I’m sure they noticed some discrepancies in some of the things we take for granted, too.

After dinner that night, Mumtaz, our genie of the kitchen, boiled up some powdered Turkish coffee, carefully skimming the foam three separate times. Then he whipped it up to a froth with a little whisk, and carefully ladled it into some wine glasses with a bit of foam on top for each of us. We sipped the sweetened tar-black stuff, and afterward the fellows took their fingers (right hands only) and wiped the sediment from the bottom of their glasses.

Near our home was a delicatessen that carried foodstuffs familiar to Middle Eastern persons. Whenever the students would put on a dinner for us, out would come the black-and-gold embroidered tablecloths they had given us for gifts. They said our white tablecloths reminded them of funerals! And always there were elaborate bouquets of flowers on the table. “As necessary as food,” they told us. Mumtaz said that his mother brought fresh flowers home every day from the market with the day’s supply of food.

For breakfast they usually took a glass of black tea with lots of sugar, a handful of sour black olives, and a piece of pungent white cheese. They bought these supplies at the delicatessen. Once or twice we joined them, but preferred our orange juice and Danish with coffee, although my favorite breakfast, at least for a while, was the baklava that Ghassan’s parents brought with them from Syria when they arrived for a short visit. There must have been 20 pounds of the pastry in a white box with curlicues of Arabic inscription on the outside. Inside, wrapped in waxed paper and Arabic newsprint, were diamond-shaped pieces of toasted, crispy layers of phyllo leaves, filled with crushed nuts, cinnamon, sugar, and drizzled all over the top with honey. I could not get enough of the stuff. After that batch was gone, I used to buy triangular pieces of it at the deli, but it never tasted as good as the Syrian kind.

Life was not all dinner parties. Problems rose to plague us as the weeks went by. Often my wife and I would lie awake discussing their strange ways. Soft voices from their rooms told us they were probably talking about us, too. They had discovered the discos. Many times they brought their dates home. That was fine with us, but the dawn departures were not. For one thing, it was disturbing our rest, and for another, our house was beginning to resemble a motel. We wondered about the extent of our parental duties, so my wife discussed the matter with the school counselors. After all, they were living under our roof, and although they were not exactly children, we felt some moral responsibility toward them. They were far from home and parental advice. All were from upper-middle-class backgrounds, experienced in the privileges that money buys. Mumtaz’s father was a government official; Ghassan’s family included doctors, engineers, and other professional people; and Bahram’s family owned building-supply stores. Like any other young men far from home, they were making the most of their freedom. What bothered us was their interpretation of the freedom that girls in the United States enjoy.

Then it happened! We had been asleep one night when we woke to hear the doorbell ringing incessantly. I turned on our bedside lamp. The clock read 2:30 a.m. “Are you going to answer the door?” my wife prodded me. I fumbled for the robe and slippers. Accompanying the bell was knocking on our front door. Loud. Insistent.

I switched on the outside porch light and opened the door to see a crowd before me. Between two police officers was Mumtaz. Behind him, Ghassan and Bahram were standing with more officers. I could see the green-and-white squad cars at the curb. Across the road, my neighbor’s light came on. “Mr. Krueger, do you know these three men?” The officer’s tone was professionally authoritative.

Yes, I assured him, they all lived with us, and I asked what they had done. He ignored my question.

“Can you communicate with them in their native language?”

“Well, no, but at my wife’s school there are…” His eyebrows shot up as if he questioned my intelligence in allowing persons with whom I couldn’t speak to live in my home. “They speak English, officer.” I tried to make my voice reassuring.

“Well, not very well, sir. Fact is, they don’t make much sense. Maybe we should come in and talk about it.”

My wife was right behind me in her robe and led the crowd into the living room. The officer who was doing the talking told us there had been some trouble at the disco that night — a fight in the parking lot. By the time the police arrived, Mumtaz’s car was in no shape to be driven home. It was still there, tires slashed, windows broken. It probably should be towed away as soon as possible.

“These three were mixing it up with a pretty rough crowd.” I felt as if I were being lectured about my delinquent children, as he told us their choice of companions was questionable. Others had taken chains and tire wrenches to smash the car. Witnesses said our three students were victims of what looked like a gang fight. He suggested we inform school authorities of the incident first thing in the morning, as it probably wasn’t over yet. There might be revenge repercussions from gang members.

I looked at Mumtaz’s torn jacket; Ghassan’s face was bruised; and Bahrain’s shirt was torn and his hand was bleeding. They were all uncharacteristically quiet while the officers were there, but as soon as they left, all three started talking at once.

INNOCENT! COMPLETELY INNOCENT! They had protested to the police, but they had been ignored. Crazy American policemen! Crazy disco club! And those crazy donkeys, those stupid guys who had jumped on them and had beaten them for no reason at all! Worst of all was that crazy, crazy American woman. A bad, bad woman who did bad, bad things. So bad that if they spoke of it in front of my wife, her face would turn red, her hair would turn white, and she would cry in shame at such vileness. They had to fight for their very lives! And their car! Completely wrecked by those ignorant donkeys who jumped on them!

My wife made us some coffee and assured them that they could speak freely in front of her, that she wouldn’t be shocked, but just please, tell us what had happened. Finally, the story came out.

They had taken one of the girls out of the club for a ride; she had suggested they pick up some other girlfriends. According to Ghassan, the girls had been “joking” them (he meant teasing). He made his hand go back and forth in a gesture by now familiar to us; it meant playing them for fools, a complaint they made often about American women.

In their countries, introductions are made through mutual friends or families. Going anywhere on the spur of the moment with members of the opposite sex was unheard of. American women were loose-moraled, they claimed, and yet, we had noticed, they certainly made capital of the “new” morality. Their scorn was mingled with envy of the freedom that American youth enjoy. It led them to erroneous ideas about the girls they met. We had tried to explain that just because a girl worked as a waitress in a café, coffee shop, or cocktail lounge, she might not be quite as “free” as they imagined. Working in a public place did not mean she was a prostitute.

But the height of immoral behavior to them was a couple who lived together without legal or religious ceremonies, and sometimes with full approval of their parents. This they just could not understand. The trouble this evening had been their attempts to go beyond a point the girls had in mind. In fact, they had headed the car toward the beach when the girls started protesting vehemently. So, obligingly, they had turned around and returned to the disco.

Once there, the girls abandoned them. Soon some friends of theirs approached Ghassan’s table and invited them out into the parking lot — a scuffle ensued inside the club and the manager asked them all to leave. They carried the fight outside, where several interested bystanders encouraged both sides. Ghassan, Mumtaz, and Bahram had practiced their savate, foot-boxing, and had gotten in some good kicks before a couple of other men had brought them down with flying football tackles. (We had watched them in their exercises of savate, and Bruce Lee himself couldn’t have done better. Their agility amazed us — the quickness of movements and their ability to move on one foot while jabbing and thrusting with the other rivaled a dancer’s grace, if that dancer had decided to try to kill someone with his feet. The thing we had noticed about the Syrians we had met through the school was their amazing physical well-being. They were strong, tough people with logical minds that served them well in argumentation. They had an incisive way of getting right to the point of a discussion, and a stubbornness in their conviction that they had an insight into human affairs the rest of us lacked.)

While they told us their version of the story, we heard overtones between the lines. Cultural conflict again. The girls had laughed at “bad” stories, at “bad” words, acting like men among men. They obviously were “free” American women, free for anyone. Didn’t I agree? All the time they talked they addressed their remarks to me and ignored my wife.

From their conversation, we gathered that Arab parents recognize their sons and daughters as sexual beings, and even make open references to the “facts of life,” while encouraging their sons to remain “moral,” and making every effort to insure their daughters remain “a closed garden.” Mumtaz’s quaint phrase had a biblical sound. We were getting used to his aphorisms, but we sympathized with his perplexity in the matter. “A rose whose petals have never been touched smells more fragrant,” he once told us. Another time, he said, “A flash of lightning does not satisfy a man’s thirst.”

“Tell that to Ghassan,” I advised, but he said something about each man being his own master.

And so that night their education and ours continued. We have traveled enough to know that the world is no longer a costume ball, but wearing American-made jeans does not forestall cultural shock. Nor did the students’ acceptance of our hospitality mean they fully accepted our values. They tolerated us, politely, and there was certainly genuine affection that had developed between us, but we saw that night that their older, far more conservative, traditional way of life clashed with our American ways.

They questioned us. “Why your sons leave this house before they marry?”

“It’s the American way,” we explained. “They wanted to try their wings, to make their own way in the world, to be independent. And most American parents encourage this.”

“Why you not retire, too?” they wanted to know of my wife. It was the American women who perplexed them most. “Why you two not travel now, enjoy life. He retire; you retire, too. Spend time with husband.” This was an obligation for a wife, as they saw it.

She tried to explain that we did travel — during summer vacations when she wasn’t teaching. She liked her career, and the extra money was good, too. She would continue working as long as she was able.

We tried to explain that it was common for American husbands and wives to have friends together, but also separately — colleagues at school, for instance. Just because the teachers, male and female, met in the teachers’ lounge didn’t mean it threatened our marriage, nor was she abandoning me. Such is the American way of life — men and women socializing and working side by side, but usually choosing partners, two-by-two, just as it has always been since the beginning of time.

Ghassan surprised us by speaking. He was the silent one. “Those nice words,” he said to my wife. “But I not believe you in this thing. I think maybe you like other American women. You maybe like men too much. I see you with other teachers at school, men and women, make jokes together. Maybe some day you go away, leave this good man here home alone!” His voice had been rising as he warmed to his subject.

If it hadn’t been for the astonished drop of her jaw, her eyes and mouth in round O’s of disbelief and bewilderment, I would have laughed. We’ve been married for a long time and have weathered all sorts of storms together. We looked at each other, I shook my head. No use arguing with them. They just didn’t understand. My wife is stubborn, and long years of teaching have made her patiently persevering. But patience can be drawn thin sometimes. The hour was late. She was tired.

She got up to leave, trying to act dignified in her robe and fuzzy slippers. “I’m going to bed,” she announced, tying her belt in a double knot with an authoritative snap. “Good night.” There was a finality in her voice that was familiar to me; I had heard it when she used to argue with our sons. It meant, No more; this is it; I’ve had it!

For a woman to turn her back on an Arab is the ultimate insult, and Ghassan wouldn’t let it go by. “So, no answer for me, huh, American woman?” he called to her retreating back. “You run away now, huh? I think maybe you know what I say is true, huh?” He was shouting now.

She had stopped dead still in the doorway of the kitchen. The rigidity of her back spoke her annoyance, if not to them, then to me. I recognize her fighting stance, after all these years. She turned deliberately to face him, then retraced her steps slowly until her face was inches from his. “Shut up! You don’t know how ignorant you are. You are an ignorant brat!” Each word was spaced emphatically.

He laughed up at her. “Oh, now you show us real American woman, huh? Maybe you like go disco, too, huh? Maybe you drink wheesky, smoke hashish, too, huh? Maybe play with other men, huh? Make face like doll, huh? Real American woman. Say it! SAY IT, AMERICAN WOMAN!”

The other two stared at him in disbelief. He had gone too far this time in his forwardness. Ghassan, our favorite, turning on us this way. What was this minor Oedipal comedy/drama being played out in our kitchen, I wondered. What was wrong with him? In ludicrous succession, I saw images of middle-aged temptresses, Delilahs with graying locks, Salomes of motherly girth, gyrating under disco lights as fast as arthritis and low-back pain would allow. I was about to interfere but her recovery was quick. “DON’T YOU DARE TALK LIKE THAT TO ME, YOU ROTTEN KID! Where is your respect?” Her voice rose indignantly, but he stood and faced her down.

“Americans rotten! Americans rotten…”

As if he had spit on the flag, she just stared at him. Then she raised her hand and let him have it, right across the mouth. He moved, and so did I. Mumtaz and Bahrain made a grab at Ghassan. But he shook them off. “Now you show us real American woman, huh? Slap man, huh? Now you go slap husband, too, huh? Maybe you slap him when we not here? She slap you, Carl, this good American woman? I leave this house now. No woman slap Arab man, EVER…”

At this effrontery, Mumtaz tried to put his hand over Ghassan’s mouth, but got a push that sent him sprawling on the kitchen floor. Bahrain was yelling something I couldn’t understand, and he made a grab for his friend. He got a good kick in the ribs from the flailing Ghassan. He doubled over, holding his sides. Mumtaz was back on his feet, shouting loudly something in Arabic. “Do something! Do something!” I could hear my wife above the noise.

It was either me or the police, I thought. Blessed are the peacemakers. I did the only thing I could think of. I reached over and opened the drawer where we kept the butcher knives. I drew out the largest one, held it high over my head, and yelled, “ASSALAAM-ALAIKUM!” It caught them all by surprise. The scuffling stopped at once. Ghassan’s face went white. He must have thought I was coming to defend my wife’s honor. After all, he had insulted her. It was the only Arabic I knew, and they had taught it to us: “peace be with you.”

I brandished the knife above my head, twirling it round and round. I hadn’t studied drama in college for nothing. “Waalaikum-Assalaam,” the response came from Mumtaz. (“And peace be with you also.”) It was almost a whisper. I motioned them all toward the family room. They moved ahead of me like a herd of sheep, my wife’s fuzzy slippers making scuffing sounds across the floor. I indicated the couch, and the three students sat down. My wife headed toward her chair.

Ghassan was slumped in a corner of the sofa. I could see his face was red and he was biting his lips. Mumtaz and Bahram sat with bowed heads. I sat down in my chair. It probably was the only custom we had that they totally approved of, I thought. They’d told us that when their fathers and mothers sat in their salons, they had their chairs that none of the children dared usurp. They employed many French terms, and Ghassan’s family spoke French as a second language. The French influence in Syria was strong in the Arabic countries, and still remains so in many ways.

“So, you don’t like us anymore?” I directed the question to Ghassan. He didn’t reply. He looked directly at me, then away. “Do you want to leave this house?” I persisted. “Since you so strongly disapprove of us, our customs. Or maybe you think we haven’t treated you fairly. Or maybe you just don’t understand Americans. You don’t understand us, is that it?” Mumtaz started saying something, but I raised my hand to silence him. “I’m not talking to you two now; I’m talking to Ghassan.”

Perhaps it was my tone, or even the words themselves, for he looked at me again, in surprise, it seemed to me. Then I saw the tears in his eyes. He remained silent. “Well, whatever you think of us, we cannot help being what we are: Americans. Have you ever thought that we consider you different, too? Has that ever entered your mind? But that doesn’t mean we don’t respect you. We aren’t trying to change you.”

The three of them sat there. I glanced over at my wife and saw, to my surprise, that she was crying, too. I thought of the go-rounds we used to have when our own three sons were home. A generation of difference can make for problems, too. There had been some shouting, some arguments, some differences in values. Times change and people are sometimes slow in changing with them. The thought of it made my eyes mist over. Damn it! I couldn’t break down, too. After all, I had assumed command of this outfit. It was up to me. “You know what I think? I don’t think you are an Arab, Ghassan, or you either, Mumtaz. You aren’t Arabs. Where are your tents, where are your camels? How about your oil wells? We Americans know all about you, and you just don’t fit the picture.

“And how about you, Bahram? Are you really Persian? Where are your funny shoes and hat?”

Ghassan spoke first. “Don’t joke me, Carl. You know I Arab. You know Mumtaz Arab. And you know Bahram. Why you joke us now? We don’t joke you, Carl. We…” He stopped and looked away, biting his lips again.

“You know what I think you three are?” I looked at the three of them, sitting where so many nights our own three sons had sat with us. What lessons were they learning now, I wondered, and were they hard lessons to learn, too? “I think maybe you’re three jinns.” (I used the Arabic word for magic spirits who can transform themselves into any shape or character they wish in the twinkling of an eye.) “You are three jinns who have come back to make life miserable for us, just to cause us trouble and make our hearts ache. Is that what you are? Three jinns, playing tricks on us? Tell us who you really are.”

It was Bahram who rose first. He motioned Mumtaz to his feet, and then Ghassan. They looked at each other, then at us, and moved like a consolidation of tribal sheiks in jeans to position themselves in front of my wife and me as we sat in our chairs looking up at them.

Bahram spoke, “You know us now, Carl. You too smart for us. You are right. We are jinns. We come back to you, but not to make trouble. No, never. We come to you because you open your house to us. You open your hearts to us.” He put his long arms around the other two. “What can we say to these people here? This man and this woman, huh? Say it, now.” He pushed Mumtaz forward.

“I sorry, Carl. And I sorry to you, too,” and he bowed to my wife.

“I sorry to you both.” Ghassan looked directly at us, then smiled.

Bahram stood in the middle, his arms around his companions. Then he said, “Come, my brothers, say hello to your Mommy and Poppy because we have come home again.”

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