Arrival

I checked into the Comfort Inn, my usual place to stay in Batesville, Mississippi, and discovered that the motel and its sister motel, The Day’s Inn of Batesville, had new ownership and a new manager, Simo Sayagh. Simo is a native Moroccan, who recently moved to Batesville from Tampa, Florida.

With the check-in paperwork handled, I asked Simon what he thought of Batesville.

He didn’t hesitate. The articulate young businessman, who speaks six languages, answered my question with four words, five if you count the contraction as two words – “I don’t like it.”

I have an idea he would have let that be the end of the conversation, however, I asked another question, “What don’t you like about it?”

He considered the question for long moment and then checked my eyes to make sure that I really wanted to know what he didn’t like. Convinced of my sincerity, he said, “The people here don’t like me, and they go out of their way to make sure that I know that.” Then he told me about his experience at the bar and grill of the Holiday Inn just up the road from the hotel he manages. It wasn’t fun, to say the least.

It was my turn to consider a response, and I did. Finally, I said, “Simo, it’s possible for anyone on the planet to become an American citizen. However, to be accepted by other American’s is seldom easy. In fact, unless you look like you belong, or sound like you belong, you have to earn your neighbors acceptance. That isn’t right, in fact it’s contradictory to what we say is the way it is, but it is a fact.” I looked at him and added, “You aren’t white or black. You are Mediterranean. That difference in appearance is compounded by your English.”

“What’s wrong with my English?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said, “And that’s the problem with it. It’s too perfect. Between your olive complexion and your perfect English you had two strikes against you when you walked through the door of Kem’s Restaurant and Lounge. And, by the way, that isn’t the place to break into the community.”

His countenance clouded as he thought about what I had said. Then he brightened a bit and asked, “What should I do.”

“If you want to find people from your part of the world, you have to leave Batesville. If you want to stay here and become part of the community, give up the idea that a bar is going to be the entrance door. Go to library and become involved in the activities there. Learn American football and join the South Panola Tiger’s boosters. If you are Christian find a church that suits you. If you are Muslim or Jewish, it’s back to my first suggestion. At best, it’s going to be long process, and there will be moments, even years from now, when something will happen to make you wonder if you’ve made any progress at all. I wish there were another way, but I think that is the only way.”

He smiled and said, “I appreciate your honesty, and I’ll be honest with you. I’d already realized everything you just told me even before I walked into Kem’s. Frankly, I don’t want to invest the time or the effort. I’ve decided to move back to Florida.”

I can still see the wistful look on his face as he told me of his decision. I wish he wasn’t moving away from Batesville, but more important than that, I wish he didn’t have to.

While I am considering that, I can’t help but recall my 1993 and 2004 visits to Vietnam. It was obvious to everyone at Ton Son Nut Airport, in Ho Chi Minh City, that I wasn’t Vietnamese. In fact, it was obvious that I was an American. The obvious earned me a standing ovation in the arrival area of the airport and it earned me an escort to the taxi area, and a translator who arranged my transportation into the city. Now, after two long visits to Vietnam, there is no doubt in my mind, but that I could move there tomorrow and be unconditionally accepted by the community.

It’s good to know there is a place for me and Simo, where we only have to show up to be accepted.

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