Abdallah is going to celebrate his 13th birthday in July, “while I’m on vacation in Egypt. I go there almost every year. The whole family is there.”
Ashraf: “He even speaks really good Egyptian!”
Abdallah: “Nah! Oh nahhhhh! Now you’re going to ask me to speak Egyptian!”
Abdallah knows how to speak French and Arabic, and he’s learning English and German at school.
“Over in Egypt, the whole family is there and everything. There’s more freedom.”
His father inserts a small detail: “Nah, there’s too much freedom there. Whatever Abdallah wants, Abdallah gets. You need something? Everyone brings it to you. The whole family will ask him, ‘What do you need Abdallah?’ ‘I need some of that!’ ‘Okay!’ There’s so much freedom, not like here. Here it’s ‘Mama!’ it’s hard. There… He goes all over the place. Here, no. ‘Where’s he going?’ ‘At what time?’ That’s why Abdallah likes it there. It’s vacation! And the atmosphere there is very calm. Here’s it’s fast. Here you don’t know who’s next to you. You don’t know other people. There, the neighborhoods, the streets, you know everyone.”
Abdallah: “That’s the life!” […]
I was secretly delighted by this little verbal battle between father and son, which offered a diversion from the tremendous competition of the videogame. While we were talking, Abdallah’s mother set the table; suddenly, I was presented with a beautiful mountain of fries and an enormous sandwich — normally an appetizing sight, but on this particular day I was worried for my stomach, still full from a copious wedding meal.
We celebrated the first birthday of the youngest son, Youssef. Islam, the second son between Abdallah and Youssef, joined us in the living room, along with a neighbor, Mr. Maurice, who was invited to join in. His wife had just been entered into a retirement home, a difficult decision…
Where there’s a birthday, there’s cake. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask for a little piece. Luckily, the interview gave me a good excuse to put down my spoon.
So I asked Abdallah: “And do you do things at the social center these days?”
— Yes, I go there on Wednesday afternoons.
— To do what?
— We plan activities and trips, to go skiing for example. We did everything from A to Z, with help from organizers: finding funding for the trip, finding the location, making the reservations… […] I designed the poster with one other guy. I really like computer programming. I’ve done a year of programming, I signed up for a group in middle school, after I used video editing software too, we even learned to set up a website.
— Well that’s awesome! Is it with WordPress?
— Nahhh! WordPress is too easy!
Impressed with his knowledge, I explained to Abdallah that when I was his age, those sorts of things didn’t exist. At the risk of seeming old, I shelled out a list of differences from my everyday life back then: one or two landlines in the house, the cassettes I received in the mail from my sister to hear news about how she was doing in the United States, the first computer with the floppy disc, the arrival of the internet in France and the first time I sent an email… I drove the point home by talking about my grandmother’s Bakelite telephone and my father’s heavy video equipment carried with a shoulder strap. I left out the dinosaurs.
My passionate tirade ended. Abdallah acknowledged it politely: “It was… um… not easy…”
English translation by Sophie Swiniarski, Salem State University, Salem, Massachusetts USA