A ten-letter African country
By Mehdi Nasrin
August 14, 2000
One of my college courses was "philosophy of biology". I could
never overcome the urge to skip it. I did not attend even once. At the
end of the term, half an hour before the last class, I was sitting in my
room trying to find a ten-letter African country whose fifth letter was
G, when somebody knocked on my window. I drew the curtain aside and saw
my Arab friend, Ahmed, standing behind the window on the emergency exit
stairs. I opened the window for him.
"Don't you want to get your door bell repaired?" asked Ahmed.
"The landlord has promised to fix it one of these days."
"I've heard that more than ten times. It's okay for me, but I don't
think it makes a nice impression if a chick comes to your room through
"I don't think it's a problem. Nowadays everything works under
I sat on my armchair again, put my feet on the table, and continued
my struggle with the crossword puzzle. He was surprised. I don't know exactly
why. Was it my feet on the table or my threadbare socks? In any case, I
realized he wanted something from me.
"I came to your room at ten o'clock. Where were you?" he asked
after a brief hesitation. It was a good subject to start a conversation,
but I was sure my absence was not important to him.
"I had to go to the washroom," I said. "You know those
things are not very patient."
"There's a washroom at the end of the corridor. May I ask why you
walk ten minutes each time to go and do your business in the department's
toilet? I don't think it's because of hygiene."
Of course it was because of hygiene.
"It's because of psycho-hygiene," I answered. "When you
take exams and professors put some nonsense numbers on your papers, you
become upset with your department. You can't break the windows every day,
but you can shit there, sometimes more than once a day."
He nodded. "I see, but I don't think it's a good solution."
"And I don't think you are here to change my excretion habits."
"You should come with me to that philosophy of biology class."
I immediately put the crossword puzzle aside and said, "If you
find a ten-letter African country for me."
"It's good for you too. The professor is going to talk about the
"Its fifth letter is G," I said, knowing that the class was
only good for him because he was an observer, not a registered student
for that course. "Is observing all you Arabs do?"
He opened the refrigerator and said, "Keep your racism to yourself."
The word "racism" reminded me of Moses.
"So the Jewish girl is in that class too."
"I told you, it's for your own good. Come to class," said
Ahmed and drank some orange juice.
Naturally the attempt to unite a Black twenty-year-old Arab boy with
a White twenty-year-old Jewish girl was more interesting than finding a
ten-letter African country. I took the crossword puzzle once again.
"For me, going to that class is like flying a kite in a cellar,"
I said without looking at him.
"For me, going there without you means that I'm kissing her ass."
Okay. Now it was a matter of conscience. I took off my underwear and
said: "Please give me one of those T-shirts, and please leave some
orange juice for me."
He passed a green T-shirt and said, " It's admirable that what
you wear isn't important to you ."
I couldn't find any road to the Promised Land in his comment, so I imagined
he wasn't flattering me. I fastened my belt and took a sip from the glass
of orange juice Ahmed had given me. I was tying my shoelaces when he asked
"The war has entered its sixth day," I answered without looking
"Then be hopeful. Even God rested on the seventh day," he
I was happy for Ahmed and his beloved. In contrast to my beloved and
I, they at least had one thing in common: a God not strong enough to work
more than six days a week.
"If she asks you to take her somewhere for your honeymoon, where
would you go?" I asked as we were leaving my room.
"I don't know.. I guess a Moslem Arab man and a Jewish Dutch woman
must spend their honeymoon in Madagascar."
Now I was really happey. This time for myself. I returned to my room
and wrote M, A, D, A, A, S, C, A, R in the crossword puzzle. G was already