Eliciting the dreams of an Afghan refugee


His name is Mustafa and he’s turning 30 soon, well I didn’t wonder how old is he neither when I was checking-in three days ago at this not-so-bad hostel that in order to spot you have to ask foreigners not locals as it’s in the backpackers street of Penang ….. a lovely city where the buildings could tell how magnificent was it for Chinese old people to build a Fangzi here but the history narrates how proudly Sir Francis Light walked down this ground. Chulia street -Penang- Malaysia- Planet Earth-  3rd to the sun in the Solar System- The milky way. Mustafa  who didn’t know what’s the milky way – without an education and with his English that he practise everyday with both his guests and colleagues – would think that in a city in Europe where the wonders happen there’s a way that is milky. He was there standing as an owl hunting fat rats …. us the backpackers 🙂 he was the host – he  said it with pride but he lied.

Me – Hello ! tired of being stuck like a sardine in this Van for nearly 4 hours.

Mustafa  – Hello ! Welcome ! Passport or identity card please

Me – I’m not a rapist but yeah here is it.

Mustafa – One dorm one night 25 ( Malaysian) Ring-ing-gits

Not the guy to haggle with over the price, I paid and got my locker’s key and went upstairs

Mustafa – Have dorm, have a fan, toilet, hot water, A-C no ! ( it was as fast as Eminem singing the last verse of Mockingbird )

Me – Vego Vego Vego Vego.

I got the keys and thanked him Malaysia is hot and the only reason I know is that this part of Asia is hot and humid and because you can’t wander topless because you simply can’t. I didn’t take a shower I just went on a bike tour. A pedal bike that won’t cost more than 3$ a day.

I did almost all the touristic attractions. I fell in love with the city and all I wanted was to go back to the hostel and write about what I’ve found.

At the entrance were Mustafa and his fellows an Indian young boy and a Malay man around the big table and a white lady boy talking to a Chileno and a Chilena young lady. Took the shower, I dressed in my Lungi and went back and went out to write. As there were 6 chairs and 6 people + me. The Malay guy gave me his and said he’s going to shop from the grocery.

Mustafa: Penang good ?

Me: It is

I thought of Sir Francis Light and his cruises. I thought of mom, the old man whom I met at the restaurant and haggled with over the price of the hippie outfit. I felt guilty doing so because couple of months ago I was tipping in fancy restaurants. The pen broke so I turned back to him.

Me: Tell me about the war. Mustafa is your name right ?

Mustafa: The war is hard. You people travel.. you think it’s hard life. No try the war !!

Me: So true !

Mustafa: My father, mother, brother died in the war in Afghanistan. I’m from Ghazni … Hein … dangerous city .. be careful !

Me: I’m sorry

Mustafa: Oh it’s okay ! You are Arab …. right??

Me: No.. I’m a Berber .. Be careful

Mustafa: Sorry, I don’t like Arabs.

Me: You’re a good man Mustafa but why don’t you ?

Mustafa: I am refugee Ok?

Me: Okay

Mustafa: I came here to work and live peace but in this job you don’t want to have Arabs.

Me: I heard they tip well….. They spend too much money

Mustafa: Ah the money. They steal money. Ask me I know … Algeria, Morocco, Libya No, Egypsha Oh My God !!!

Me: I lived in some of these places Mustafa and I know there are both the good and bad people.

Mustafa: You are Muslim right?

Me: Yes Alhamdoulillah

Mustafa: Sex is haram right ? ( smiling )

Me: Hmmmmm Depends ( smiling )

Mustafa: Theft is haram too. Why Arabs steal ?

For a moment I thought of explaining to him that Arabs can be Christians, jews and irreligious but I assumed such a talk would ruin the night. So I nodded.

His Indian friend: Remember the Egyptian who stole the laptop. His name ?

Mustafa: Hahahaha yes the Egypshen !

Me: hahahaha Egyptian ( being dumb )

Mustafa: Anywayzzzzzz

Me: Mustafa, what if your wife asks you to go live in Ghazni. Will you go for it ?

Mustafa:Wife don’t know maaaaAaaaan ! ( His friend laughed ) My wife don’t ask questions. My wife answer……… Be careful !

Me: I’m seriously trying to be careful actually.

Mustafa: now girls are stupid… facebook, telephone love love love and in life.. real life no love.

Me: This is the sound of wisdom !!

Mustafa: Hein ?

Me: What’s your dream….. Mustafa ?

Mustafa turned back to his friend who was inches behind him and said something in a language they both know but I don’t. Something that I translated into: This is a silly boy and I deemed the post-comment grin an indecent suspicion.

Mustafa: Good house, Good country, Good job, Children. ( He lowered his voice as he noticed the guys at the other table stared.

Me: Hmmmmm you’re not demanding. Find one of the foreigners who come over and marry her.

Mustafa: hahahahaha hostel maaAaan ( Whispering ) budget people here and when they know  I’m Afghani, they freak out.

Me: Afghanistan is a good country. You guys have Cannabis and nature.I would marry an Afghan woman if you find me one…….  well I’m a Berber you know ….. Be careful !!

Mustafa: Afghani women good, they pray, they fast. Afghan woman you are  lucky !

Me: I just want to be happy. The passport doesn’t matter.

Mustafa: The problems Afghani women don’t have dreams. I want a woman with dreams and professional.

Me:Professional !?!

Mustafa: Travellers know life. Afghani women for example no.

Me: Yes….. true ! (serious )

Mustafa: Ok ! I have to go… night shift is long.

Me: So no dreams for you tonight

Mustafa: Peace and Love

I thought what answer was that. but as I remember the way he smiled when he said it. I thought of all the neo-hippies who use these words to use people.

Mustafa is still there….. He added me on Facebook and sent me a message in which he wrote on Sunday 7:07pm:

– Hello bro how are you
-You can call me ***** cuz my name is *****, so in Facebook cuz some people disturb me I changed my name.

Instead of writing back I thought of writing about him…… The poor 😦

My 14 favourite travel books

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”  ― Lao Tzu

I will breifly add: and a good traveler’s backpack can go bookless. Here are 14 of my favourite reads that vary from books for kids to anthropological studies ..


14- The Valkyries – Paulo Coelho : a 1992 novel by Paulo Coelho. The book is autobiographical, but told from the third person. It deals with the exorcism of personal demons and discovering one’s strength. It also deals with relationships among people, in this case, Paulo and his wife. Together with her, he embarks on a journey through the soaring heat of the Mojave desert. During the 40 days journey, surrounded by doubts and temptations and entering their innermost conflicts and questions, they met the valkyries, strange warrior women.


13- Death on the ice – Cassie Brown:  In 1972 writer Cassie Brown published her first major work, Death on the Ice, a detailed account of one of the most harrowing and wanton tragedies to befall Newfoundland: the death by exposure of 78 sealers from the S.S. Newfoundland who were left on the ice off the northeast coast for 53 hours in a savage blizzard in March 1914. The book was received with rave reviews, and Brown and several of the survivors of the disaster became national celebrities as Newfoundlanders and Canadians became familiar with the tragic events leading up to this needless loss of life. The book became a must read and was placed on the reading lists in many Newfoundland schools.


12- True at first sight –  Ernest Hemingway:  This is a book by American novelist Ernest Hemingway about his 1953–54 East African safari with his fourth wife Mary, released posthumously in his centennial year in 1999. The book received mostly negative or lukewarm reviews from the popular press and sparked a literary controversy regarding how, and whether, an author’s work should be reworked and published after his death. Unlike critics in the popular press, Hemingway scholars generally consider True at First Light to be complex and a worthy addition to his canon of later fiction.

In a two-day period in January 1954, Hemingway and Mary were in two plane crashes in the African bush. He was reported dead by the international press, arriving in Entebbe to face questions from reporters. The severity of his injuries was not completely known until he returned to Europe months later. Hemingway spent much of the next two years in Havana, recuperating and writing the manuscript of what he called ‘the Africa book’, which remained unfinished at the time of his suicide in July 1961. In the 1970s, Mary donated it along with his other manuscripts to the John F. Kennedy Library. The manuscript was released to Hemingway’s son Patrickin the mid-1990s. Patrick edited the work to half its original length to strengthen the underlying storyline and emphasize the fictional aspects. The result is a blend of memoir and fiction.


11- The house of sand and fog – Andre Dubus III: A 1999 novel in which Dubus introduces Massoud Behrani, a former colonel exiled from Iran after the Iranian Revolution. Because his background is military rather than professional, he has not been able to establish a career in the US and works as a trash collector and convenience store clerk. With his savings, he pays the rent on his family’s expensive apartment and provides an elegant wedding for his daughter. His fellow, more successful Iranian exiles do not know that he holds low-skilled jobs.


10- The red tent – Anita Diamant: A 1997 historical novelin which the protagonist Dinah opens the story by recounting for readers the union of her mother Leah and father Jacob, as well as the expansion of the family to include Leah’s sister Rachel, and the handmaids Zilpah and Bilhah. Leah is depicted as capable but testy, Rachel as something of a belle, but kind and creative, Zilpah as eccentric and spiritual, and Bilhah as the gentle and quiet one of the quartet.

Dinah remembers sitting in the red tent with her mother and aunts, gossiping about local events and taking care of domestic duties between visits to Jacob, the family’s patriarch. A number of other characters not seen in the biblical account appear here, including Laban’s second wife Ruti and her feckless sons.

According to the Bible‘s account in Genesis 34, Dinah was “defiled” by a prince of Shechem, although he is described as being genuinely in love with Dinah. He also offers a bride price fit for royalty. Displeased at how the prince treated their sister, her brothersShimeon (spelled “Simon” in the book) and Levi treacherously tell the Shechemites that all will be forgiven if the prince and his men undergo the Jewish rite of brit milah so as to unite the people of Hamor, king of Shechem, with the tribe of Jacob. The Shechemites agree, and shortly after they go under the knife, while incapacitated by pain, they are murdered by Dinah’s brothers and their male servants, who then bring back, or rescue (depending on point of view), Dinah.

In The Red Tent, Dinah genuinely loves the prince and willingly becomes his bride. She is horrified and grief-stricken by her brothers’ murderous rampage. After cursing her brothers and father she escapes to Egypt, where she gives birth to a son. In time she finds another love and reconciles with her brother Joseph, who is now prime minister of Egypt. At the death of Jacob, she visits her estranged family. She learns she has been all but forgotten by her other living brothers and father but that her story lives on with the women of Jacob’s tribe.


9- The mind of Adolph Hitler – Walter C. Langer: published in 1972 by Basic Books, is based on a World War II report bypsychoanalyst Walter C. Langer which probed the psychology of Adolf Hitler from the available information. The original report was prepared for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and submitted in late 1943 or early 1944;[1] it is officially entitled “A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend”. The report is one of two psychoanalytic reports prepared for the OSS during the war in an attempt to assess Hitler’s personality; the other is “Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler” by the psychologist Henry A. Murray who also contributed to Langer’s report. The report eventually became 1000 pages long.

The book contains not only a version of Langer’s original report but also a foreword by his brother, the historian William L. Langerwho was Chief of Research and Analysis at the OSS during the war, an introduction by Langer himself, and an afterword by the psychoanalytic historian Robert G.L. Waite.


8- The Last Day of a Condemned Man – Victor Hugo: (French: Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné) is a short novel by Victor Hugo first published in1829. The novel recounts the thoughts of a man condemned to die. Victor Hugo wrote this novel to express his feelings that thedeath penalty should be abolished.


7- Holes – Louis Sachar:  Stanley Yelnats, a boy who has bad luck due to a curse placed on his great- great-grandfather, is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp, for a crime he did not commit. Stanley and the other boys at the camp are forced to dig large holes in the dirt every day. Stanley eventually realizes that they are digging these holes because the Warden is searching for something. As Stanley continues to dig holes and meet the other boys at the camp, the narrator intertwines three separate stories to reveal why Stanley’s family has a curse and what the Warden is looking for.


6- The red badge of courage – Stephen Crane: This book is a war novel by American author Stephen Crane (1871–1900). Taking place during the American Civil War, the story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming, who flees from the field of battle. Overcome with shame, he longs for a wound, a “red badge of courage,” to counteract his cowardice. When his regiment once again faces the enemy, Henry acts asstandard-bearer.

Although Crane was born after the war, and had not at the time experienced battle first-hand, the novel is known for its realism. He began writing what would become his second novel in 1893, using various contemporary and written accounts (such as those published previously by Century Magazine) as inspiration. It is believed that he based the fictional battle on that of Chancellorsville; he may also have interviewed veterans of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the Orange Blossoms. Initially shortened and serialized in newspapers in December 1894, the novel was published in full in October 1895. A longer version of the work, based on Crane’s original manuscript, was published in 1982.


5- Totem and Taboo – Sigmund Freud:  (German: Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker) is a 1913 book by Sigmund Freud. It is a collection of four essays first published in the journal Imago (1912–13) employing the application of psychoanalysis to the fields of archaeology,anthropology, and the study of religion: “The Horror of Incest”; “Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence”; “Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts”; and “The Return of Totemism in Childhood”.

Hemingway_the old man and the sea_cover 001

4- The old man and the sea – Ernest Hemingway: The story of an epic struggle between an old, seasoned fisherman and the greatest catch of his life. For eighty-four days, Santiago, an aged Cuban fisherman, has set out to sea and returned empty-handed. So conspicuously unlucky is he that the parents of his young, devoted apprentice and friend, Manolin, have forced the boy to leave the old man in order to fish in a more prosperous boat. Nevertheless, the boy continues to care for the old man upon his return each night. He helps the old man tote his gear to his ramshackle hut, secures food for him, and discusses the latest developments in American baseball, especially the trials of the old man’s hero, Joe DiMaggio. Santiago is confident that his unproductive streak will soon come to an end, and he resolves to sail out farther than usual the following day.On the eighty-fifth day of his unlucky streak, Santiago does as promised, sailing his skiff far beyond the island’s shallow coastal waters and venturing into the Gulf Stream. He prepares his lines and drops them. At noon, a big fish, which he knows is a marlin, takes the bait that Santiago has placed one hundred fathoms deep in the waters. The old man expertly hooks the fish, but he cannot pull it in. Instead, the fish begins to pull the boat.


3- The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho:  Coelho’s masterpiece where, Santiago, a shepherd boy, has a recurring dream about a child who tells him that he will find a hidden treasure if he travels to the Egyptian pyramids. An old woman tells Santiago that this dream is prophetic and that he must follow its instructions. Santiago is uncertain, however, since he enjoys the life of a shepherd. Next Santiago meets a mysterious old man who seems able to read his mind. This man introduces himself as Melchizedek, or the King of Salem. He tells Santiago about good and bad omens and says that it is the shepherd boy’s duty to pursue his Personal Legend. Melchizedek then gives Santiago two stones, Urim and Thummim, with which to interpret omens.


2- The purpose driven life -What on earth am I here for ? – Rick Warren: The book was published in 2002. This is a devotional book written by Christian author Rick Warren and published by Zondervan. The book has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for advice books for one of the longest periods in history,[citation needed] while also topping the Wall Street Journalbest seller charts as well as Publishers Weekly charts with over 30 million copies sold by 2007.The book offers readers a 40-day personal spiritual journey, and presents what Warren says are God‘s five purposes for human life on Earth and describes itself as “a blueprint for Christian living in the 21st Century … using about 350 references to the Bible, maybe this amounts to over 1200Biblical verses and quotes to challenge the conventional definitions of Christian Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Christian Ministry andEvangelism.”



1- The golden bough: Astudy in magic and religion – James Fraze: Perhaps the most famous work in anthropology, began appearing in 1890. Originally a two-volume work, Sir James George Frazer eventually expanded it to twelve volumes, the last of which appeared in 1915. In 1936, he added a supplementary volume, Aftermath. The work is undoubtedly best known in the one-volume abridgment that Frazer published in 1922, which was subsequently revised by Theodore H. Gaster in 1959.Although many of Frazer’s ideas have been superseded in the intervening years, his overall thesis has stood the test of time; certainly its influence outside the field of anthropology—for example, in twentieth century poetry, fiction, and drama—was unprecedented.