Sep 30, 2005


It is 9:20 a.m. on pay day. A dozen people are lined up to use the atm machine outside Bank Populaire. The line includes two men in army uniforms; 2 women in veils; a man in a double breasted suit; two tourists; two workers, judging by their torn, paint splattered clothing; a student; and others. It takes each person a long time to withdraw money. It is partly the machine; perhaps it's an old chip. It's partly that people aren't familiar with the screen dialogue. It's partly because people are unaware that others are waiting and because this is a culture in which everyone must wait, then waiting is expected and pardonned. It is partly because time is no matter, yet. But it's coming. The bank hours changed two weeks ago. Now there is no break between Noon and 2. The bank is open straight through now and the day stops at 4.

Yu can tell how long it will take each person to get their money from the machine. If they immediately lean on one leg, then it will be a long time. If they stand on one leg then another, it will take less time. If they stand with equal weight on both legs, it may go quickly. Many come to the machine unprepared. They look at the screen for a long time. The person who takes the longest is the business man who clearly is familiar with the machine. And he doesn't lean on one leg or the other. But when he finished he decides he doesn't enough money so he puts his card in for more.

The line moves. Each person leans against the pilar closest to the machine.

One of the veiled women finishes and stops to talk to the other veiled woman. The first woman drops some change as she goes on her way, but doesn't seems to notice. We look down at the money. I step in her way. She hesitates. I reach down to pick up two coins. I put them in her palm, which is hennaed. The man in the double breasted suit nods to me approvingly, as if to say, thank you for doing what we cannot.

Cannot. Because i's difficult to stand out, to presume, to handle someone else's money, to stoop before a woman, to do such a thing. One of my students said to me — this in the context of domestic violence — that yes he hits his little brother and he will hit his children, just as his father has hit him. Why? I ask. If the prophet were here right now, what would he say? Oh, the student says, but The propht is the prophet, he's perfect. We cannot ever be like him. It's too hard.....

This is the beginning of my revelation. Why is it they cannot? I see it again and again. They cannot. B tells me it's because they are not kind. But then we agree Americans are equally unkind. And the French are equally unkind. But whatever the comparisons and excuses, they cannot.

They cannot because Islam has outstripped its adherents. No way to catch up, or measure up now. Idealization has set in. Human perfection has no meaning. Too many crimes have been committed and now there's no way to close the distance, to go home and so the Prophet has become holy, not human. And so need to even try. All you can do is hope and pray you'll be excused, that you'll be let into paradise inspite of yourself.

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