Abu Mohamad was the Natoor (guard) of the bank over which we lived and where my father worked as a bank manager. He stayed there for the afternoon and all night guarding the bank. In a village like Khorfakhan, that is pretty much the most boring job. I had lived in Khorfakhan for 6 years, never hearing police sirens once. There was literally no crime. As my dad was friends with the head of police, he came to our house occasionally. He was a very obese Emirati man, with a great sense of humor. I always thought as a child to myself: how is he going to run after a robber with his obesity?! I later understood that the chance of that was almost none.
In the afternoons of UAE, everyone sleeps. The sun becomes scorching hot, heating up the black mountains around it, making the city feel like an oven. The ground becomes so hot, that you can fry an egg on it. You barely can open your eyes. The Tropic of Cancer passes through UAE, which is the closest line to the sun on Earth half of the year. Wecan’t even touch the windows of the house. We used to play me and my brother Hamoudi by getting two pieces of ice cubes from the freezer and pushing them into the window and seeing how fast they would melt. If you were unfortunate enough to forget a plastic toy in the car during that time, mind as well you forget about it, because you will find it a coiled piece of melted plastic.
My parents slept in the afternoon. My brother slept too sometimes. I was left alone to figure out what to do. Remember, at that time, there were no cartoons on the one channel TV, no electronic games, and no internet. We would invent games. One of my favorite games was playing Muslim conquest. I would open my big Atlas and plan “opening” one city after another in the World. I just used my imagination, a towel as a cape, and a stick as a sword. I rode the back of the sofa as a horse and fought with imaginary warriors. That actually strengthened me in geography. It took years of playing this game before I finished the whole Atlas, hence occupying the whole world! I actually kept playing that game all the way till when we immigrated to Windsor. It is a game that grew with me, and there was a day when I thought I have to stop this, otherwise, it becomes some sort of schizophrenia. Not only that, but I had three generations of imaginary princes. Mohamad AlBaqir, then Jaafar AlSadiq, and then Mousa AlKazim. Yes, these were the names of my imaginary Muslim warriors, same as the names of the fifth, sixth, and seventh imams of Ahlulbait. I didn’t know them well at that time, but I got their names from the books we had in our library.
So back in Khorfakan in the mid 80’s, when I got tired of all my imaginary games and had no one to play with, I resorted to going down to Abu Mohamad and chatting with him. He would let us play in the empty bank. We were the children of the Bank manager at the end of the day! So he thought he could not get in trouble for it. Abu Mohamad used to listen to Sheik Abdulhamid Kishk. An Egyptian blind scholar who was one of the best speakers in the 20th-century Islamic world. His lectures were prohibited in UAE, as he was a pillar of the Muslim Brotherhood, but Abu Mohamad had cassettes of Sheik Kishk’s lectures. We would listen to him together, and he would pause and explain to me what the Sheik was saying. I think that was one of the things that shaped my childhood and primed my devotion to Islam and Islamic work later in life.
One of the perks of working as a bank manager at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi for my father was that he received a paid family vacation every year. The bank covers the costs of tickets to our selected destination. Hence, we alternated between Lebanon and America every year, for most of our relatives were in Lebanon and in Dearborn, Michigan.
Since no one in the family remembers when were those travels, I will have to check my mother’s old passport, which I will include in the next chapter.