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Samir told me this morning that he’s decided not to pursue a PhD.

I was floored.

“Well, then, I guess this is the last time we’ll see one another,” I said.

I’m not under the slightest delusion that our peculiar intimacy translates into “friendship.”

There are personal relationships, and there are interpersonal relationships. The odd thing is that you can feel just as much affection for someone with whom you have an essentially impersonal relationship. The difference between personal and impersonal relationships? With the latter, there’s no expectation of continuity once the business at hand is over.

We talked about his decision for an hour and a half.

There seemed to be two decisive factors.

The first is a conversation he’d had recently with a cousin who’d spent a long time living in France. The cousin had two daughters. When the cousin decided he’d had enough of France, the daughters did not want to go back to Algeria.

I mean, who can blame them? Apart from the men who participate in the patriarchy that oppresses and enslaves them, I mean. Why would they want to go back to Algeria? In Algeria, women are essentially house prisoners1. They have no freedom .

I’m a woman, of course, and I think Samir likes and respects me.

But I also think Samir views me as a phantasmagoria. Like a talking ape or a talking horse. Almost an abomination. But not quite. Because I live far, far away from Algeria.


The second turning point came in a conversation Samir apparently had with his father.

His father announced point blank that there was no way that he was going to live in the U.S. So that traditional immigrant standby – carve out a toehold; then bring your spouse, your parents, your brothers and sisters – is not an option for Samir. He’s doomed to be a stranger in a strange land.

Samir has nothing that even remotely corresponds to “community.” I used to urge him to go to mosque, purely for the congregational aspects of it: You can’t feel at home in a place where you have no ties.

But I guess what I wasn’t seeing is that Samir doesn’t want to feel at home here.

He wants to make money here. And then go home.

In this, he’s not that different from scads of immigrants to these shores.

My very first ESL student, Reuben, was a medical student in El Salvador when he did the math and realized he could make far more money working as an unskilled laborer in the United States than he could being a doctor in El Salvador. He could live in squalor, save up his money for 10 years, go back home, buy land. And live like a king.

But I think the math doesn’t work in Samir’s favor.

He can make more money here, true, but he can’t make hugely more money here. His masters degree from Batna is essentially useless for snagging an entry-level engineering job, and his particular brand of foreignness makes him suspect. Even if he was qualified, he’d probably be passed over because prospective employers would fear he was a terrorist in training.

That particular prejudice disappears when you have a degree from a respected American university.


“You know, Poughkeepsie is not the United States,” I told him. “Maybe the thing for you to do is to go to a place where you’d have more of a sense that there are people like you –“

“Where would that place be?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Michigan has a very big Islamic population. I mean, Samir, the thing you need to ask yourself is why do you want to be here at all? In this country, I mean. If you don’t intend to make a life here for yourself? Why not go back to Algeria and channel your ambition into doing something there?”


I think he’s making a bad decision. I have no doubt whatsoever that he could get into Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

But hey! It’s his decision to make.

1 The exception to this is the medical profession: Approximately 60% of Algeria’s physicians are female. But in Algeria, the medical profession is not particularly prestigious.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 9th, 2018 06:43 am (UTC)

This is rather beside the point but your posts are always fascinating in their depth of insight and analysis.

Feb. 9th, 2018 02:19 pm (UTC)
What a lovely thing to say.

May I add you as an LJ friend?
Feb. 10th, 2018 12:53 am (UTC)
Of course! I’m rather boring, I’m afraid, and I haven’t posted in a bit, but please add me.
Feb. 9th, 2018 04:25 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. Think there's any connection between the regard toward the medical profession, and the regard for those who might dominate it? I believe the USSR (and today's Russia) had the same demographic predominance in medicine, and the same lower-than-godlike view of it.
Feb. 9th, 2018 04:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Prestige
Bingo. Yes. Absolutely there's a correllation.
Feb. 11th, 2018 04:27 am (UTC)
Were the daughters able to stay in France, or did the father force them to return to slavery in Algeria?
Feb. 11th, 2018 01:08 pm (UTC)
No idea.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )