When Arab Girls Love Black MenbySamuelx©
Loving him is ill-advised, she told herself for the thousandth time as she looked at the picture of herself standing next to the one she loved the most. They were too different, she reminded herself. Yet from the first time she laid eyes on him in that Sociology class in September 2011, she couldn't stop thinking about him. In the eyes of most people, she was strange and she knew it. The quiet and fun Carleton University campus in Canada's capital was quite diverse. Lots of students from places like Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Yet Nabeela Marzuq was painfully aware of the stares she got everywhere she went. Simply because she was a short, slender Arab gal wearing a modest hijab along with her T-shirt and jeans. To most people, she would never be more than that. So many people seem to forget that Muslim women who dress conservatively are still women. Nabeela was used to being invisible, or, to put it mildly, her hijab was visible and she wasn't. Not the person she was underneath. And she was resigned to her apparent fate, until she met...him.
The first day of classes, he showed up late. Tall, dark and handsome. Clad in a bright green T-shirt featuring Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics, black jeans and boots. The sight of him set her heart afire, and she felt her cheeks redden. Of course he had to come sit next to her. She sat alone in a row meant to seat six students, and felt more than a bit alone. She was the only hijabi in class. Her other friend Farah, a tall and slender Somali gal, never wore the hijab. That day Farah wore a red tank top, short black skirt and black leather boots. She sat next to her boyfriend Hoffman, a blond-haired and blue-eyed student from Heidelberg, Germany. Nabeela shook her head at Farah as she gently touched Hoffman, then kissed him right there in front of everybody.
How Nabeela admired and feared Farah's boldness, even though she occasionally chastised her friend for being too upfront about everything. Being female and Muslim meant a life of discretion, that's what Nabeela's mother and grandmother taught her back in Yemen. However, living in Ontario was slowly changing her. Somalis and Yemenis were both present in large numbers among the immigrant populace of metropolitan Ottawa, Ontario. Yet they couldn't be more different, in spite of the relative proximity of both nations and the usually friendly relations between them. Most Somalis living in Canada were living their lives the western way. Very few bothered with wearing traditional clothes from the Somali motherland, and quite a few indulged in western vices like drinking, having casual sex and partying hard. Farah Muhammad, Nabeela's best friend, was such a gal. and she was by no means unique among the Somali people of Canada's capital.
Nabeela's thoughts returned to the towering young Black man who took her breath away. He seemed different somehow, and unlike just about every male student on campus, he seemed to notice her. Really notice her. He smiled politely as he sat just one seat away from her, wished her a good day and asked her what he missed. Her silence didn't deter him, not one beat. He asked her if she was shy and told her that he was new to the school. In spite of herself, she found herself puzzled by this talkative young Black man. He had an accent which she couldn't place. He didn't sound like the African immigrant students she knew, nor did he sound like the ones from the Caribbean. She looked him in the eyes and asked him where he was from. The stranger grinned from ear to ear and introduced himself. Sylvester Vector, from Boston, Massachusetts. He proudly pointed to the Boston Celtics logo on his T-shirt, and she noticed the oversized cross hanging around his neck. So, he was a Christian. Okay.
Sylvester Vector looked at the short, hijab-wearing Arab gal. So she could talk, cool. He was beginning to wonder if she was a mute or if she had taken a vow of silence or something. He didn't know much about Muslims, at least not those Muslims he ran into in Canada. He knew Arabs and other Muslims in the United States. The ones he knew were VERY different from the Canadian Muslims. The Arab chicks he knew in Boston didn't wear hijabs. They wore western clothes, and did all the things that normal western women did. They went to parties, dated whoever they liked, smoked cigarettes, and totally owned their sexuality and were bold and confident women of the world. The Muslim chicks he ran into during his first sixty days in Canada lived as though they were still in the Middle East or Africa or wherever the bulk of them came from. Wow. It's almost as if the clock had stopped for them. Oh, well. Whatever floats their boat, he thought. Different strokes for different folks and all that.
Sylvester was quite surprised when the young Arab woman sitting one seat away from him smiled shyly and introduced herself as Nabeela. He smiled politely, and refrained from shaking her hand. From his time among the Canadians, he learned a bit about the cultures and norms of Middle-Easterners. They weren't a touchy-feely group, especially the women. He seemed to be in for an afternoon of surprises, for the young Arab woman extended her hand for him to shake. Hesitantly he shook her hand, and she nodded. She looked at him with those big brown eyes of hers and asked him what an American was doing in Canada. Sylvester smiled and told her the tale he'd been telling his Canadian friends ever since he got to Ottawa. His father, Boston Police Department sergeant Stewart Vector banished him to Ontario, Canada, after a lackluster year at Boston University. Sylvester joined a fraternity, and developed bad habits like smoking, drinking and skipping class. He ended up on academic probation and his dad felt that something drastic had to be done. That's how he got shipped off to Canada. The most boring place known to man. Talk about reverse Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Damn.
Nabeela laughed when he shared that with her. Sylvester cocked an eyebrow. Apparently even Arab chicks in Canada knew about the show he loved while growing up in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood. The sociology professor, a bespectacled Hispanic-looking lady in her fifties, glared at the tall Black guy who sat in the front row, giggling with the Arab gal. She didn't seem to approve. Nabeela shot Sylvester a conspiratorial look, and he shrugged. By the time class ended, things were off to a nice start between them. Sylvester told her about his uncle Jamal Vector, a former brawler turned night club bouncer who converted to Islam while spending two weeks in prison for assault. The guy changed completely when he came out, though friends and family initially thought it was a phase. Apparently, his uncle's change of heart was genuine. He stopped drinking, stopped getting into trouble and became a better father to the three sons and two daughters he sired on four women whom he never married.
Nowadays, uncle Jamal was back in school, enrolled at Massasoit Community College while working as a security company supervisor. Not bad for a guy with a record as long as an interstate highway. Nabeela smiled and told Sylvester that the power of God could change the human heart. Sylvester nodded. Whether you call yourself Jewish, Christian or Muslim, there is only one God. Call Him God, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah or simply The Most High. Only one entity reigned supreme in the cosmos. The Creator of all. Nabeela smiled as Sylvester shared his view on religion with her. At first glance she dismissed him as a wannabe street tough judging by his oversized cross and hip-hop inspired outfits. The cross he wore was more like a rapper's bling than a Christian icon. Still, after speaking to him for about an hour, she thought he was much deeper than he appeared. When class ended, she surprised herself...and him...by asking if she could add him on Facebook. Sylvester took out his touchscreen phone and looked her up on Facebook. He misspelled her last name, so she had to add him instead. Yes, Nabeela Abdullah, the most prim and proper Yemeni gal in all of Canada, took an uncharacteristically bold step and added a strange, roughly handsome Black Christian guy from the States as her Facebook friend.
As they exited class together, Sylvester looked into her eyes, smiled that goofy smile of his, and told her that he was glad to know her. Then he nodded respectfully, wished her a good day and walked away. Nabeela stood there, frozen in place. When he looked into her eyes just then, her heart practically leaped from her chest. She'd seen good-looking men before, but there was something different about him. So many people out there wore masks or put up a front. Sylvester wasn't like that. There was something about him...she knew it in her bones. So absorbed was she by her wayward thoughts that she barely noticed when her good friend Farah, the Somali gal who worshipped blond guys, casually bumped into her. Her boyfriend Hoffman was with her. Farah and Hoffman exchanged a steamy kiss, then Hoffman wished her goodbye and took off. Farah watched Hoffman go and smiled. When Nabeela didn't say anything, Farah rolled her eyes, thinking that her conservative friend was going to launch into another discussion why Muslim girls should stay away from men who weren't Muslim.
To Farah's amazement, Nabeela did no such thing. Instead, Nabeela asked Farah if Hoffman really made her happy, if he understood and cared for her, even though he was Jewish and not Muslim. Farah smiled and, from Nabeela's viewpoint, the Somali gal seemed to almost glow from within. Calmly, Farah said she was in love with Hoffman and would do anything to be with him. Nabeela gently hugged the young Black woman she considered the sister she never had but always wanted, and wished her good luck in her loving relationship. Farah laughed, and asked Nabeela if she was feeling alright. Typically, Nabeela was a real stickler for every Islamic rule ever written and a real downer at times. Why was she so upbeat? Nabeela smiled mysteriously and waved at Farah before walking away.
That night, Nabeela stayed up in her dorm and spent two hours chatting on Facebook with Sylvester. The next morning, she ran into Sylvester inside the university center and they ended up grabbing coffee together. As they sat at a table and chatted, three Arab guys walked by, flanked by a pair of tall, blonde-haired white girls. They spotted Nabeela sitting with Sylvester and glared at the two of them while muttering to themselves in Arabic. Nabeela's heart thundered in her chest but she returned their stare without flinching. One of the Arab guys used the racist term "abd", as in slave, while pointing to Sylvester and she shook her head. So many of her fellow Arabs were racist and sexist. Arab males could date and marry women of any race or religion, but they would kill any Arab woman who even entertained the thought of doing the same. What was their problem? Nabeela and Sylvester were just sitting together, two new friends having coffee, nothing improper. She was sure that they did a lot more improper things with their blonde gal pals but that was acceptable in Arab society. Go figure.
Sylvester didn't seem to notice what transpired between Nabeela and the Arab guys. Neither did the blonde-haired White girls who accompanied them. Westerners were so oblivious of the true actions and intentions of Muslims in their midst. Their naïve mindset would definitely cost them one of these days. Sylvester smiled at Nabeela in that beatific way of his and she temporarily forgot all her worries. Calmly he asked her what she was doing Friday night. She replied that she'd be at her favorite mosque in the east end of Ottawa. Sylvester nodded, and went silent. Nabeela gently touched his hand and asked him what he had in mind. He smiled and told her he wanted to go see a movie. Nabeela hesitated. Truth be told, nothing would please her more than to hang out with him, but he didn't know her world, her faith or the rules that she lived by. She started saying no, then saw the crestfallen look on his handsome face and stopped. She heard herself promise him she'd clear her Saturday afternoon. Sylvester smiled, and cordially invited her to see the movie CITIZEN JANE with him. Nabeela smiled, and nodded.
When she went home, her parents, Mohammed and Mona Abdullah told her that they were going to visit her older brother Youssef at the University of Toronto. He was studying Law there. She bit her lips, then told them that she couldn't go because she had a group project to work on. Her parents asked her to postpone it and she told them that it was due Monday. Her father locked eyes with her, and guilt assailed Nabeela like a tidal wave. Finally, her father relented and smiled, praising Allah for giving him such a hard-working, respectful and dutiful daughter. She'd make a worthy wife for a good man someday. He'd have to be Yemeni, of course, educated and from a good family. They had time. Nabeela was only nineteen, and she was already in her second-year of Criminology at Carleton University. Gently he kissed her on the forehead, and wished her well. Nabeela nodded respectfully, carefully avoiding her mother's eyes. Mom was quite shrewd and usually saw right through her. Nabeela went straight to her room, and carefully locked the door before she went back on Facebook and resumed chatting with Sylvester.
That Saturday, they went to the Blair movie theater and had a blast. The movie Citizen Jane was pretty good. Sylvester was going on and on about how lovely the actress Michelle Rodriguez was and seemed really surprised when Nabeela gently elbowed him in the ribs after rolling her eyes for the thousandth time. After the movie, they went to the nearby mall and ate some delicious Chinese food. As they sat down and ate, Sylvester delighted Nabeela with tales of his life back in Boston. He used to speed on the streets of Dorchester, and also roughhouse with his peers at the Hyde Park YMCA. He considered himself a real tough guy, and hid from his friends how academically talented he was. He won a scholarship to Boston University, but ended up blowing it because of his frat-guy antics. Nabeela laughed at that, though she couldn't imagine having such freedom.
When Sylvester pressed her for details about her life, she told him in earnest about her days in the City of Dhamar in Yemen, where she lived for the first ten years of her life before her family moved to Ontario, Canada. Nine years later and she was a Canadian citizen, and a Criminology student at Carleton University. She shared with Sylvester something she hadn't told anyone, especially not her conservative-minded parents. She told him about her dream of someday becoming a police officer. When she told him this, Sylvester smiled at her and with utmost sincerity, he told her that she could do anything she set her mind to. A lot of people said those words to her, but he seemed to really mean them. She smiled and gave his hand a squeeze. He squeezed back gently. Which was just about when Farah happened to walk by, arm in arm with Hoffman, her blond boyfriend. The Somali gal's eyes went wide when she saw Nabeela, who suddenly wished she could shrink in her chair to the point of being invisible. Smiling coyly, Farah walked up to them.
Sylvester looked at the Black chick with the White dude as Farah gently hugged Nabeela, who looked supremely uncomfortable. Hello bro, said the White dude, introducing himself as Ephraim Hoffman. Sylvester smiled politely at the dude and his girlfriend, whom Farah introduced as Farah. The foursome sat at the table, an uncomfortable silence between them. Farah kept looking at Sylvester the way one looks at a specimen at the zoo. Sylvester didn't seem to care for it one bit. Farah seemed to have a lot of questions for Sylvester. Where are you from? Is that really an American accent or are you just putting us on? What are you doing with my sister-friend? What are your intentions? Sylvester politely but firmly told Farah that he was enjoying the company of a good friend, then sidestepped any further questions by excusing himself to go to the bathroom. Farah smiled conspiratorially at Nabeela, chanting "someone's got a boyfriend" while Hoffman looked on and Nabeela squirmed.
Farah looked at Nabeela, the young Yemeni gal who had been her best friend for the past eight years. They were neighbors in the suburb of Orleans, not far from downtown Ottawa. Nabeela had always been shy, and seemingly a stickler for all rules religious and cultural, with a pronounced allergy to the male sex. And yet here she was, skipping out on the family trip to Toronto by going out with a guy, a Black guy who wasn't even Muslim, while she was supposed to be studying at Farah's. Wow. Farah shook her head and informed Nabeela that her parents did call her before leaving for Toronto. Farah had no clue what they were talking about when they mentioned a school project but covered for her sister-friend anyway. She had Nabeela's back. Nabeela sighed and thanked Farah for saving her proverbial bacon, so to speak. Farah laughed, and asked Nabeela if she liked Sylvester. Nabeela was about to answer when something from behind Farah and Hoffman made her light up like a Christmas tree. Sylvester had returned from the washroom. Farah smiled. She had her answer alright. Nabeela had a crush!
Farah smiled at Sylvester and told him she was just looking out for her friend, by way of excusing her twenty one questions earlier. Sylvester flashed her a fake smile and nodded at her and Hoffman. Before Farah left, she said something in Arabic to Nabeela, whose eyes widened. Hoffman and Farah left, leaving Sylvester and Nabeela alone at the table. Sylvester smiled and politely asked Nabeela what in hell Farah just said in what sounded like Martian or Klingon to him. Nabeela took a deep breath, then told him the truth, about everything. She liked him and wanted to know him better, but she was Muslim and he was Christian. They could only meet discretely because her family was very strict. When Sylvester asked why, Nabeela told him the awful truth. Her family would kill her if they knew she was getting so close to a guy who was not only Black but also a non-Muslim. When Sylvester replied that he knew plenty of Christian and Jewish women who married Muslim males, Nabeela made another revelation to him. In the Muslim world, males were permitted to date and marry whoever they wanted, but women were bound by the rules of their father's household, then that of their husband. No Muslim woman is truly free. Not if she comes from a Muslim family that follows the Koran to the letter.
Sylvester sat there, and his broad shoulders sagged. Suddenly the big and tall young Black man seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Nabeela watched him intently, willing herself to be calm though she was wracked with deep despair inside. She knew that what she revealed to him was a lot to take in. She looked at the sky through the broad doors of the mall food court, wondering why her people's interpretation of God's will was so strict and cruel. The men did whatever they wanted, and the women had to be self-effacing, quiet and obedient. Lest they be killed for the sake of honor. She was doomed to always follow tradition and never her heart. Sylvester looked at her, and she steeled herself for what she knew was coming. He would do the logical but ultimately awful thing. He would leave her, because her world was not meant for one such as him. He was a son of Black America. She was a daughter of Yemen. It could never be. They were too different. When Sylvester spoke, it was a calm and clear voice. He told her that after due consideration of all the risks involved and the danger to both their lives, he still wanted to see her. She was special in his eyes, and worth every risk. Then he took her hand in his and kissed it. Nabeela fell silent. A weak little "wow" escaped her lips. Had lightning struck her she wouldn't have been more shocked. She smiled at Sylvester, who winked at her. Arm in arm, they left the mall together. Before exiting, they stopped by the photo booth and took some pictures together. Some events were meant to be commemorated, no matter what the risk!