American in Arabia Marvels at the Power of the Arab 'Mama'
Some things in the Middle East I will never understand: Why is everyone driving in such a hurry but still always late? Why are my apartment’s janitor and I the only ones in tan pants? Who is Yanni and why is he so popular? Why do people plant trees and gardens in the middle of a sidewalk? And my biggest question of all, what is this power Arab mothers have over their sons?
This woman should be called the Commander in Chief because she holds that much authority. With one phone call, she can change the entire course of even her grown boy’s life.
One day I met a taxi driver who was an Arab American. He told me his name was Harry so I told him I was H’mood. We had a good laugh. During our ride, he was belly aching about paying taxes, low wages and really not wanting to be in the Middle East. According to him, he had an extremely successful business back in Chicago.
“Harry, why did you come back here? It sounds like you preferred life in the states.” Without saying a word, he slowed the taxi down, bought us some lunch, took a deep breath and said, “My mom called.” And that was literally all it took to send him and his American dream packing.
Naturally then I asked him why he doesn’t just go back. He looked at me like I had taken the last falafel. “And leave my mother? H’mood, are you crazy?”
One friend told me that there is an Arabic expression that goes, ‘Heaven is under my mother’s feet.’ Coincidentally, we were hanging out having coffee and his phone started playing, “Baby Got Back” [The “Big Butts” song.-ed] , an odd ring tone indeed considering the caller id said it was his mom calling. On the other end, I could hear his sister say two words, “ Momma's tired.”
He flipped out; his face turned white, his lips started twitching and something was obviously wrong. In a matter of seconds, he ditched his computer and coffee, got out of the mall and somehow, in all the madness, managed to pay my bill and his own.
Did I hear correctly? Is she more than just “tired”? [It doesn't help that in the confusing world of Arabic, the word for tired (ta'ban) can be the same one used for illness- ed.] In just a half an hour, I got a call from him,
“Hey Brett, let’s go get some burgers!”
Huh? “What about your mom?” I asked.
"Oh, her sugar was low. I gave her some butter and jam. She’s fine. Let’s go dude! I want to eat!” The dire emergency with his “oom” (Ma) was not a big deal at all. She just needed some toast. But apparently that doesn’t matter; Momma comes first and the rest is gravy.
So we went out for burgers. On the way back I called my wife to check in and told her I ‘d be home at 9 pm. He started shaking his head, “Man, I’m glad I’m not married --no freedom. I don’t gotta call nobody!” Oh really doctor?! Seems to me you gotta be on call 24/7!
But, hey, he loves his mom and is ostensibly fine with their relationship. So was Harry. So are most of the guys I meet. Go figure! Maybe I am crazy. I think I might change my ringtone to “Help” by the Beatles or the album American Idiot by Green Day because to this day, I have no idea what’s going on.
By Brett Weer