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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Admon in Turkey: Part 4

Admon’s iPhone was “too much” (as they say in Iraq) an extension of himself that I often found it difficult to separate man from machine. I teasingly rebuked him but secretly found it extremely annoying how dependent upon it he was. In the break room at school even while joyfully surrounded by teachers at the breakfast table, there it sat before him; he was texting someone. When he drove it was in his hand; he was navigating through songs. When we were out, it was out; he was snapping selfies. I wasn’t his girlfriend and I should not have cared, but feeling like that that phone was Admon’s mistress evoked a hot jealousy from my heart.
At school...

around town...
and even hiking Admon was constantly snapping selfies!

One afternoon at school not unlike most, I laid my books down on the table beside Admon between classes. The phone was in his hands and, distracted, he instinctively moved over for me to sit. He didn’t look up. I was tired and irritated. Shifting uneasily in my chair to get comfortable without showing any part of my legs from under my long skirt, I wanted the company of his conversation. “Admon, what are you thankful for about grade 9? They’re driving me crazy! My humanities class has 52 students. It feels too large for me alone and they are using it to their own advantage!"

“What? OK, sure,” -Ad’s classic response when he was trying to be agreeable. He lifted his brown eyes to me for the first time.

“Admon, who are you texting?” my voice rose, rebuking him. Why wouldn’t he pay attention to me? the human sitting right next to him! My irritation was turning to anger.

“It’s Mr. Sufian,” Ad’s voice was gentle and rhythmic. He hadn’t heard the emotion in my words, so he did not reply in kind. He placed the phone on the table, looked at me fully, and signed. I read the sadness in his sigh and because of his answer my anger melted into shame. Sufian had been Admon’s best friend the year before. They worked together and, both Iraqi Christians, shared much in common. Sufian had taught Admon how to use the gym, a newer and growing hobby for men in Iraqi Kurdistan. The two of them had coordinated many social events with other coworkers, and their families were close. They had been neighbors until, two months prior, Sufian and his young wife had obtained the coveted green cards to emigrate from Iraq. Knowing these details I meekly listened to Admon’s report.

“They are getting settled in Indonesia. Sufian hopes that it won’t be a long stay until the UN gives them clearance to move to America. His daughter gets sick from the wet climate.” And I listened on until finally I saw it: Admon at his core is relational; the phone was simply a tool that connected him to the people he loved. These people were becoming geographically more distanced from him as Iraq’s Christian population quickly disappeared from a country in which they no longer felt welcome. I sighed to myself and made a resolution to be less judgmental of my friend over his technological tether.  

Not long after I became a beneficiary to Admon’s iPhone addiction. In Iraq it seemed like bills became due on the collector’s whim; there was no pay schedule that I could discern. This meant that random Middle Eastern men appeared at my gate at indiscriminate times, demanding dinar (Iraqi currency) for utilities I often hadn’t previously knew even existed. Few spoke English, and I understood even less Arabic. On a rainy weeknight the electricity bill collector rang at the gate and summoned me onto my patio. “Englizi dasani?” I inquired in Kurdish, gathering the grey sweater I had hastily slipped on to cover my arms under my rib cage with fists of agitation. The happy-faced middle-aged man assured me, that no, “Kurdi noz-sanum, Englizi noz-sanum,” but, “Arabi dasani!” He knew only enough Kurdish to tell me that he spoke neither. 

We motioned back and forth with no success for several minutes, the man waving a translucent paper with unintelligible squiggles and dots that was my bill. His presence had interrupted my dinner and I felt increasingly irritated by the communication gap until my roommate shouted to me that I should, “Call Admon!” Suddenly hopeful for a resolution to this man’s demands, a rescue from the rain, and a return to my dinner, I whipped out my cheap pay-as-you-go cellphone and had Admon immediately on the other end.
Korek was the service provider for my cheap phone. To pay for "minutes" I bought scratch-off cards at the local grocery store.

“Let me talk with him,” said my savior with a cheerful cadence to his words. I offered my phone to the man and Admon efficiently navigated the conversation in Arabic. After some time the service man, smiling, handed the phone back to me for Admon’s explanation in English. “Let me stay with you until you are done,” offered Admon, “if you have more questions.”

I turned to our collector with large hand motions and awkward facial expressions asking him to “please wait, I’ll be right back,” and disappeared to retrieve the dinar from my bureau’s top drawer. I was able to pay our bill and quickly sent the man on his way. The transaction complete, I told Ad, “Shukran, Mr. A.,” before hanging up. Laughing at my Arabic, Admon responded, “You’re welcome, Miss A. I’m happy to help.” Genuinely, I knew he was.
I needed Admon for practical things like paying bills, getting places, and understanding the culture. I also needed our interpersonal relationship but couldn’t believe that Admon needed me like I needed him. It was through Ad’s use of his iPhone that I began to believe that our friendship was truly interdependent. He used it to tell me things that at first he wouldn’t tell me in person.

An illness kept me from school for several days. On the second day I lay on my sickbed contemplating my helplessness and aloneness in that foreign land but Admon’s texts surprised me with a different reality: “Abbey! I miss you! You need to feel better soon. I’m going crazy alone at school.” He was the only coworker and friend to reach out to me in my illness. Admon's simple words made me consider that my absence exposed a definite void in his life. In the beginning Ad needed his iPhone to tell me so.

And, again, when I left for America during Christmas break he used his phone to communicate his need for what my friendship offered him. “Miss A.,” the texts received by my cheap phone read in fragments as a taxi sped me along narrow, potholed roads to the airport, “I hope your holiday is the best with your family but I’ll be so bored without you. Come back to us soon.” My face flushed with pleasure. Later during my time away he messaged me through Facebook: “Hey friend, I miss you. I hope you are fine. I just wanna ask you, when are you coming back?” Social media became our cross-continent form of regular communication until I returned to Iraq at the end of our break two weeks later. After that Admon felt somehow emboldened to express his feelings for me in person.

During the second semester Admon’s availability through his phone became a professional lifesaver. Third quarter grades were due in the morning and I struggled alone at my computer with stacks of yet-to-be-graded papers framing my tiny kitchen desk, mocking me. I would need to convert each student's grade from so many points into 100. On Facebook I messaged Admon my SOS with two words: “Math question!” It was past 1 a.m. on a Thursday night but Ad’s response popped up within a minute: “Okay, go ahead” with emojis showing me his eagerness to help. I presented my problem. Admon explained the conversion steps I needed to take and included a photo of the necessary equations. Effusive in my thanks for his help, his response was simple: “No need. I’m always here for you. Good night.” He was. And because of his iPhone, I knew that he always could be…

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