Shithole America?

ralph bunch

Ralph Bunche — Not good enough for Bronxville

Well… it’s official.

Both the liberal NY TImes editorial board and many Republican politicians in Florida agree: the president of the United States is a racist.

Almost 50 years ago, my parents decided to emigrate to the United States.

We ended up in Bronxville, a lily-white, wealthy bedroom enclave, 30 minutes by train north of Manhattan.

I was 16; but was enrolled in 9th grade, instead of 10th, because my English was deemed substandard by the powers that be at Bronxville High School.

Luckily this lasted only a month or so, when they realized that the new, somewhat swarthy Egyptian student was not that inferior after all.

Despite this I worked tirelessly on improving my English skills, and vowed that, by the time I graduated, I would show them a thing or two about mastering English.

Many nights I trudged to Yonkers Sprain Brook Library (for by then we had moved to Cedar Knolls), and methodically went through the list of the top 100 Great Books of all time and wrote down on a 2×4 card any word I did not know on the front of the card, its definition on the back, and memorized these cards each night.

I joined the staff of the school paper. By the end of 11th grade, I was contributing half of the copy for the Bronxville Mirror.

My English teacher was Ms, Linda Miller, who encouraged me in my emerging dreams to pursue a literary career.

That year, I took the SAT test, and scored in the low 700s in English, mid 600s in Math, 5 on the English AP test, 790 on the SAT French subject test, and aced the NY Chemistry Regents exam.

By the time I graduated, I had written a play, several short stories (that were graded A+), and dozens of songs that I performed as my final project for an advanced Humanities class open only to Seniors with top grades and excellent potential.

When I graduated, Ms Miller was instrumental in my receiving the Creative Writing Award for the 1969 graduating class at BHS, and wrote a letter of recommendation for me for college.

But all was not as rosy as that.

I can recall a teacher named Lane Pettibone who taught various classes, including Driver’s Ed.  It still pains me to recall the first time I  drove down winding Pondfield Road from Rt. 22 toward BHS. Because of the road’s steep incline, the car sped up before I had a chance to apply the brakes, and Pettibone found it appropriate to state:  “I guess you’re more used to driving camels where you come from, huh?” I will never forget the disdainful twitters of my classmates sitting in the back seat, laughing at the dumb, off-the-boat A-rab at the wheel.

I also will never forget that, despite my contributing every major story that was published in the BHS Mirror between 1968-69,  the job of Editor-in-Chief did not go to me, as I expected. Instead, it went to someone named John Patillo, who had not written a single article for the paper.

When I asked Bob Schaeffer – the Mirror’s faculty advisor — why, I was told that, after all, John Patillo was applying for Yale, and needed this extra curricular credential on his CV. This was the first time I knew for sure that the fix was in for me as an Arab in America.

Finally, what I will never forget my college application interview by a certain Miss Sullivan, who was a BHS guidance counselor at the time.

I had entertained the idea of going to an Ivy League school, but Miss Sullivan said to me, and I will never forget this, why don’t you apply to trade school?  That would is probably more suited to someone like you. More suited, to someone like me.

Today this woman would be sued in a court of law for blatant racism, among other things, in the performance of her job — but those were different times.

I did end up applying to Columbia University, but was rejected after an interview with a Jewish grad student who worked in admissions, and asked me loaded questions about the 6-day Arab-Israeli war.  This on a college admission interview, whose purpose was presumably to discuss my High School academic record.

edward said

First edition cover

I regret to this day never having the opportunity to study under the great Edward Said, who was probably already writing early drafts of his 1978 opus, Orientalism, but alas it was not meant to be — because after all, I came from a shithole African country.

Today, as a penniless immigrant who arrived in this country with uncertain formal English skills  (yes, I spoke English, but it was of the Arabish variety), who studied diligently to get “A”s for two years straight in English class, and who somehow produced impressive SAT / AP test results (when these exams were harder, I came out in the top 2% for my graduating class), and who committed himself to pronounced extra curricular engagement in the High School paper, I probably would stand a decent chance to gain an outright scholarship to most any Ivy League school I chose to attend.

But academic admission standards were very different in 1969 than today, and places like Bronxville and its High School were still havens for racial intolerance:  I graduated in a class of 100 than did not have a single black student, one Hispanic, and no Jews (after Tommy Edelman left). Was that mere coincidence?

After all, Bronxville refused to allow the Nobel laureate Ralph Johnson Bunche to buy a house there, though the town eventually hired its first black cop in 1972.  His name was  Waverly Nall, and he served on Bronxville’s police force for many years.

My point is this.

I have personally experienced racism and ethnic hatred in small town America from the moment we emigrated to the United States.

This experience is nothing different from that which other minorities have survived when trying to get a slice of the American dream.

And I, too, survived, and lived and worked for decades in Manhattan, where I experienced a much less overt form of racism in the corporate world.

Today we have a racist President who embodies the vile attitudes that roughly a third of the United States population still hold.

But their time is now ending.

Many of Silicon Valley’s software engineers are from shithole countries like Pakistan, India and China.

In Manhattan, a place I have lived in most of my life, few today care much about what religion or ethnicity you belong to:  Wall Street, especially, is primarily interested in hiring talented, well-educated candidates on the basis of their potential  impact on the bottom line — an entirely legitimate criterion.

Even Florida, where my wife and I have a house, is changing.

I remember back in 1968 that I went on the Spring Break to Fort Lauderdale, and attempted to get served in a bar that had sign on the door that read “No dogs or niggers allowed.” 

Forty years later, Florida went to vote twice to elect President Obama.  

Today, the vile racist now occupying the White House can try to fudge or recant his racist pronouncements, but the truth is now plain for all to see:  he, and many (but not all) who support him, are nothing more than frightened, antediluvian racists, whose loathsome views are out of sync with an increasingly diverse body politic.

I hope, come November, that my fellow Floridians remember this day, and the days like this that have come before it, and the many days like it that are sure to come, and vote in a manner that punishes the Republican party for enabling a vile racist in the White House.

Without a majority in both houses in Congress, the vile racist would most certainly become nothing more than an irrelevant, pathetic old fool, spouting foul-mouthed hatred and ignorant nonsense, until he is finally removed from office, whether as result of the Muller investigation, or ousted in the 2020 Presidential.

Only then will America have any chance to be — yawn — great again, if, indeed, it ever truly was.

leaving america


The desert is a cold place

The view from my villa of sunset in the desert


The desert climate of El Gouna, Egypt is cold at night in winter.  The sun sets remarkably early here in late December, before 5PM; and it gets dark quick once it slips over the mountains.

Then you get 13 hours of darkness, for the sun will not rise again till 6am.

The temperature plummets, once the sun sets.  Today at dawn it was 61F, or 16C. This may not seem so bad in places where it is already snowing, but there is no central heating here. There have been several nights already in the mid 50s.

No fireplace, or firewood.

I suppose you could buy an electric heater, but I don’t like them, and am sure the electricity cost would go through the roof if I had heaters on all night.

The winter desert cold is a peculiar sort of cold.  It is an unexpectedly damp, bone chilling cold; the humidity is 65 per cent today; El Gouna is by the sea.

There is no insulation in the walls, no system of solar panels on the roof to warm the house during the night, and windows that do always protect against the wind.

Many houses in El Gouna have this sort of yellowish polished stone floor surfacing.  While these are excellent in the summer, no doubt, they do add to the considerable coldness in the house in winter.

No place in the house is actually warm during the day, unless you open the large front door that faces east and let the morning sun in.

As a result of it being so cold at night, I have to wrap myself with two thick blankets when I watch TV at night. The only good thing is that this cold seems to have put the mozzies into hibernation.

It is warm and beautiful during the day, in the mid 70s usually, but the pool isn’t heated, so I have not been able to swim in it since arriving here two weeks ago.  Since I am leaving in March, I will probably never get that opportunity, unless I return in October to this place.

This idea has been on my mind for some time.

I truly am aghast at returning to the United States around April, and am quite happy here being far away from the orange circus.

Now that my wife is arriving on Saturday, I shall not be quite as isolated.  I hope the cold and long nights will not bother her too much.

Depending on how things pan out in the months ahead, there are decisions that need to be made, hard ones, with serious consequences, for me and my family.

So, as I look ahead, will 2018 be the year when I say goodbye to a country I have lived in for half a century?

I am going to Cairo in a couple of hours and when I return on Saturday, the good news is that I shall no longer be alone in the cold nights of Egypt’s Eastern Desert on the Red Sea.

leaving america


Achtung, habibi!

Moods Gouna

Moods restaurant in Abu Tig marina in Gouna

With the retweets of the Britain First videos, Donald Trump has now earned the right to be called the Terrorist in Chief, striking fear in the heart of all Arab-Americans that they will now be the target of even more violence and intimidation and harassment by the state and right-wing nut jobs across the United States.

This confirms that my instinct for survival — after being physically threatened by my neighbors in the state of Florida  — was on the money and that my decision to leave America was the correct one.

Few Arab Americans are truly safe today in America.  The Terrorist in Chief has seen to that.  But fight back we must — in the most effective (and legal) way we can.  In my case, before fighting back anything, I still have a way to go on that score;  I am still too shaken, too damaged, by 16 years of living in the American Taliban-controlled Deep South.

To that end, I am signing on Monday a deal to move into a villa (see pics in previous post) in a much quieter section of El Gouna, Egypt.  I feel safe here,  thanks to ironclad security in this part of Egypt.

Here I do not have to apologize or disguise the fact that  I was born Moslem.  Here people pronounce my name correctly.  Here  I can once again speak the language I grew up with and spoke as a kid, which I once could both speak, write and read with fluency. I cannot tell you how much emotional satisfaction that gives me on a daily basis:  to recover the Cairene Arabic slang of my childhood, and to begin again to think like an Egyptian, not some bogus transplant who never quite fit in in America, though for after 3 decades of living in Manhattan, I lulled myself into thinking differently.

My beautiful wife will be joining me in mid December.  She, too deserves a break from the devolution of the United States into a viperous quagmire under the illegitimate reign of the Terrorist in Chief.  I hope she will like the villa, and enjoy playing tennis with some of my childhood friends who have moved here.

I hope she will be happy to see me again, after all these months!

True, Gouna is not perfect.  In particular, Abu Tig marina is only suitable if you’re a tourist passing through, or a young couple here for a long weekend at Party Cerntral.  It is too loud, too transient, and frankly, I did take exception to the nightclubs discoing the nights away as all of Egypt was in a 3-day period of mourning after the Sinai terror attack against the Sufi mosque.

Sometimes there are young Egyptians who come to this apartment building who, to my way of thinking, obviously should not be here; there was one such quartet last week, and they make a lot of noise and acted very arrogantly, and then they left.

Yesterday, a young German couple arrived; they were booked to stay in the same apartment as the Egyptian quartet.  I heard them moving in, but soon I heard the German guy shouting very loudly in outrage about the state of filth and disrepair the quartet had left the apartment, which had obviously not properly been cleaned after their departure.

The German guy demanded another flat, and that was that.

Today, I will not be thinking about the Terrorist in Chief, or about the unending stream of horrifying news that is emanating daily from America.

I will, however, briefly contemplate how similar my reaction to the Nov ’16 election results to the German guy’s vis a vs his holiday rental: get me outta here!

In effect, in January of 2017, I looked at what America was becoming, and said, no, I will not stay here in this evil, hate-filled hellhole, a place that was slowly turning me into something I am not: an embittered, angry old man, who felt powerless, and less than.

But then, after dismissing the thought as ridiculously facile — leaving your rental flat is one thing, abandoning your adopted country quite another –I shall spend the day relaxing at Moods (see pic above), and will have a nice burger for lunch, read a bit, then go for a swim (if the water is not too cold) on its private Red Sea beach, to which I have free access as a resident with a special card, far away from the clutches of the Terrorist in Chief and his troglodyte acolytes.

Life as it should be, as they say here.

Achtung, habibi!


leaving america