Leave Before Sundown
Letter to a Friend
Fall of 1999
Dry yourself well and anoint your head with oil to protect you from ever coming back. Sheave your belongings firmly. Pack your memories in a bag. Extract everything you’ve ever learned and toss it in the attic. Turn off the water faucets and be sure to lock the doors. Don’t forget to shut off the electricity if you want to avoid getting a culture shock. Book your trip quickly and leave before sundown; you're definitely going to paradise.
Everything they promised you is a lie and everything they did to you is the truth. Leave the hub of misery and head for the door of light. Leave the short red one and the Middle East homeland and head toward a Marlboro flavoured world. Exchange the 'service' taxis of your city for a Mercedes. Leave the neighbourhood grocer alone and head to the biggest mall in the Middle East. Ditch your heater, you won't need it, there's enough sun and humidity here to make you wither. Leave your old home in your old street and come to the highest tower in the world. Shed the smell of this place; the scents of Paris Gallery await you. Take off your Jilbab and your Kufia; Pierre Cardin will receive you. Their promises are ashen lies but what you’ll witness will surely be paradise.
They promised you work once you graduate. That you'll be able to buy the medicine for your mother who has been sick for years, new Eid clothes for your siblings and a small shop for your father when he retires. Don’t wait too long. Don’t waste your time in shades of black and gray. Empty your pockets of the few coins you own; welcome to the land of dollars. Poor or rich, you are welcome. Ignorant or educated, you are welcome. Stupid or intelligent, hasty or sensible, volatile or calm, you are welcome. There is a place for you here, as you are; the machine is large and needs many just like you. Leave your books behind as you have much to learn. Leave your girl friend behind, you'll find many more here. Kick-off your shoes, take-off your woollen sweater, toss them on the runway. You won't need them here; you're definitely coming to paradise.
At your first foothold, surrender yourself and your passport to the first man who looks after you and your affairs. He's your sponsor and most important protector. In the morning open a bank account in your name so that you can deposit the stash you'll harvest. Trade your university degree for a driving license, it will protect you and take you to your destination. Exchange your personal identity card for a credit card; surely it’s your entry ticket into paradise.
You’ll get what you want. Take what you want. Do what you want. You only need to enter into a series of algorithmic electronic systems that will lead you, through logic and reason, to everything humanity wants from life. You’ll ask yourself: “What’s the price of all of this?!!!!” Nothing. Believe me. All you have to do is carefully follow the database and the instructions which you’ll be asked to sign. One last piece of advice: be a whole number, not one preceded by a comma. And don't try to get away from the digital path drawn for you; it’s the path of salvation.
Confessions of the Summer of 2009
Here you are many years after entering the heavens and the paradise of joy, believing yourself to be Long John Silver who discovered Treasure Island. Believing that you’ve passed the exam with flying colours. That you’ve passed the thresholds of globalisation with distinction. I can see how tired you are, exhausted by the road, worn out by the loans. I can see how you’re bound up in numbers, tied up in accounts. You must have been obedient, tidy, organized, programmed. You must have paid your taxes on time.
They blew up your memories and rewrote them. They pushed you into a sequence of electronic systems and complicated software inside giant computers. You became a number, nothing more than bits and bytes. They stuffed you into pixelated columns and formats, turned you into a lab mouse for the latest innovations created by programming companies, then they blocked the road ahead of you with encrypted passwords.
Let me confess to you, my friend, that I betrayed you. I betrayed your innocence and your intuition. I betrayed your life and your ignorance. I made you meek and small. I pushed you like a small nut into their huge machine, a number in their records, a grain of sand in their towers. Your life was wasted commuting between the building where you worked hard for nine hours, the mall where you were forced to make purchases to show movement in your bank balance and the power of your personality by using your credit card, and the house where you found relief from the burden of your work and recharged for a new day.
Relieve me, my friend, and look after what is left of you. I, who told you before to book quickly and come before sundown, now tell you to book quickly and leave before sundown. What you had there was definitely paradise.
Translation by: Fadwa Al Qasem