Page 43 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2012

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A P R I L 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
43
arwan was a quiet, unassuming
man. A father of four who had
worked from the time he was 14
years old, Marwan didn’t have
the luxury of the rich to sip cof-
fee and contemplate the mean-
ing of life. He was too busy
working to feed the mouths at home.
He’d always had a knack for fixing things, so it wasn’t a
great surprise to those who knew him when Marwan be-
came an auto mechanic. He could count on one hand the
number of his friends who could afford to buy a used car; no
one he knew had ever purchased a new one. That meant he
had enough business fixing cars to feed his family. He was
not getting rich, but, thank God, he made enough to get by.
Marwan never thought much about the world beyond his
neighborhood — or those in his country who occasionally
sped past his shop in their fancy new Mercedes toward
somewhere impressive to do something important. It was
not his business. It never occurred to him to ask who they
actually were, with what they actually preoccupied them-
selves, or how they actually achieved their status. Mufflers,
brakes and transmissions didn’t install themselves.
On particularly slow mornings, Marwan would play
backgammon and smoke Marlboro Reds with Ahmed, the
owner of the gift shop across the street. Ahmed was a big
talker, in Marwan’s view. He always had an opinion about
everything, and spoke a little too loudly about things better
left undiscussed for Marwan’s taste. He always threw the
dice with a wrist snap that conveyed disgust, and glared with
contempt at any car worth more than $5,000 that sailed by.
“No one makes money in this country without stealing it
from someone else,” he used to sputter.
“What do you care?” Marwan would retort disinterest-
edly. “Your shop’s doing well enough.”
“You’re missing the point, arse,” Ahmed would fire back.
“That jackass behind the wheel has no more right to his
money than you do. He was just lucky enough to be born
into the right family!”
“Shhh!” Marwan would admonish as he grabbed Ahmed
by the wrist. “Don’t cause trouble in front of my shop. Or
else you can go play backgammon with Farhat.”
Farhat was the grocer next door to Ahmed. He was blind
in one eye, a raging alcoholic, and absolutely no good at
backgammon.
“Marwan,” Ahmed would say. “Your problem is that you
never ask why.”
“I have four kids and a wife,” Marwan would retort. “I
can’t afford to ask why.”
Marwan’s wife was a good cook. No doubt about it. The
highlight of every day was returning home to a good meal,
playing with the kids, downing a glass of arak after they
turned in, and then stumbling off to bed. Marwan was a
simple man. And simple pleasures were enough for him.
But something changed one day.
As Marwan pulled rhythmically on a socket wrench tight-
ening the bolts on an oil pan underneath a 1990 Toyota
FS F
ICTION
T
HE
D
ECISION
S
ET IN AN UNNAMED COUNTRY
,
THIS STORY CAPTURES THE ESSENCE OF
WHAT LAUNCHED THE
A
RAB
S
PRING LAST YEAR
AND KEEPS IT GOING
.
B
Y
M
ATT
K
EENE
Matt Keene, a Foreign Service consular officer since 1999, is
currently a special assistant in the Bureau of Human Re-
sources. In addition to overseas assignments in Jerusalem,
Dubai and Sofia, he was deputy director of the Office of
Maghreb Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from
2009 to 2011.
M