One young lady and three young Arab dudes, no, this is not the title for a new television show
A pasty white girl living with three Arab guys. It’s more legitimate than it seems at first glance.
This fairy tale began when I signed up to tutor non-native speakers in the English language with UVU’s English Conversation Club. The program director paired me with students Rashed and Khaled, 26 and 24, from the Dubai emirate in the United Arab Emirates. They seemed a little out of place, but only in the sense that they looked slightly uncomfortable in the requisite uniform of sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt of 20-something American men.
During September 2011, the three of us met regularly on campus, surveying the basics of conversational English: How many camels do you have? Is there a mosque in Salt Lake? How much does a pet Cheetah cost? One afternoon, however, Rashed, the charismatic chatterbox, asked how much I paid in rent. Living in Provo, the rent was, of course, characteristically low. Imagine my amusement when Rashed offered free rent in exchange for ‘round-the-clock language tutoring. I laughed it off. Aside from the well-known fact, courtesy of “Law & Order: SVU,” that any young woman co-habitating with strange men would eventually be assaulted and dumped in a local river, my parents would think their only child had gone crazy. Moving was such a pain, anyway, and for all I knew, they lived in the boonies.
My erroneous notions were revealed when I pulled up to their new cookie-cutter house in Orem for dinner. After introductions with their roommate, a cousin and fellow student named Ahmed, my hosts provided a tour of their home, taking pains to point out what would be my room and my parking space in the garage “when” I moved in. My skepticism steadily decreased throughout the night as we lounged on the floor, sampling lamb, Saudi Arabian dates and mild coffee from the UAE. This setup was looking more appealing by the minute, especially in contrast to the BYU-approved housing I was currently enduring. They assuaged my female anxieties with assurances they would not “bother” me in any romantic way since they each already had at least one wife waiting for them back home. This statement piqued my curiosity as to their long-term purpose in the U.S., let alone Utah, but that information would have to wait for increased English proficiency on their part.
As my giddiness overflowed at the thought of a viable alternative to my BYU prison, realization came that my folks should probably be alerted, both in North Carolina, to my imminent plans. Naturally, Mom was cautious, but happy if I was happy. Dad, on the other hand, exercised his parental authority from 2,500 miles away with an order to take photographs of their vehicles “for identification purposes.” Granted, the task was futile, since the boys rented cars on a monthly basis, usually dependent on the weather: a Mustang Convertible for balmy August, a Jeep Grand Cherokee for snowy January. The oil business has been kind to their families.
Still not completely comfortable with the social implications of my foray into Middle Eastern living, I fibbed to my local friends, telling them half-truths about the impending move. As far as they knew, I was headed to live with some nice foreign girls who offered low rent. As I spent more time at their house, tutoring and eating dinner sitting on the carpet, I found that men are men across the map. They played FIFA like it was going out of style, ordered pizza at midnight (but no pork sausage for the Muslims, please and thank you) and consistently forgot the meaning of the phrase, “take out the trash.”
Yet, I reveled in absorbing the endearing characteristics encountered on a daily basis, especially the linguistic ones. Rashed, Khaled and Ahmed thoroughly enjoyed eating “the sea chicken” (tuna) for dinner and regularly dined at “Red Lo-bastard.” Accustomed to the very feminine fashion of the womenfolk in the Middle East, my predictable wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts made me the target of mostly good-natured digs about my appearance. One particularly chilly day when I was sporting winter boots and a cozy plaid flannel shirt, Ahmed took one glance and confidently declared I looked “100 percent lezibian.” I may have been offended if I wasn’t laughing so hard.
I moved the last of my effects into my new home early this past December. Living with three men, Arab or not, I still occasionally ponder if I’ve lost it – but don’t we all wonder that sometimes? I’m always quickly brought back by the sonorous voices of my pupils, my roommates, my friends, asking, “Leigh. Come sit. You will help me now?”
By Deven Leigh Ellis – Asst. Life Editor