excerpt: from Roar
by Betty Shamieh


March 2004[note: Irene is 15, Palestinian-American. Karema is her mother; Hala is her mother’s sister, visiting from Kuwait.]

Hala, Karema, and Irene enter. Irene carries Hala’s luggage.

HALA
Oh, by the way, an American man asked me to marry him on the plane.

IRENE
What did you say?

HALA
No, of course. But it’s nice to know that American men appreciate my charms as much as Arabs.

KAREMA
The appeal of a loose woman is universal, Hala. I could have told you that.

HALA
You should have. You would have saved me the long trip over here I had to take to find out.

KAREMA 
You act as if you have somewhere else to go, Hala.

IRENE
Mom!

HALA
Don’t worry, your mother and I like to tease one another. She doesn’t really mean to imply that I am a loose woman. Not that loose women have it any worse than tight ones, right, Irene?

IRENE
You’re funny, Aunty. And you’re even prettier in real life than you are in the pictures. The one time my dad took me to meet my uncle Abe—

KAREMA 
Don’t mention his name. He’s dead to us.

IRENE
You don’t speak to him, Mom, but that doesn’t mean he’s dead.

KAREMA 
He might as well be.

HALA
Is that crazy man still passing himself off as a Moroccan Jew? After all these years—

IRENE
An Egyptian Jew, actually.

KAREMA 
I said I don’t want his name mentioned in my house!

IRENE
As I was saying, my dad wants me to pretend to be Egyptian in case it might make it easier for my uncle to help me in my career. Uncle Abe told me that I look a little like you. Is it true that a super rich prince fell in love with you and you moved to Kuwait to be with him?
HALA (at the same time) 

KAREMA 
Maybe. Hardly.

KAREMA 
He was no prince. (a police siren blares outside so Karema has to speak up) That’s for sure.
Karema gets up and gathers a few bags of grape leaves on their stems from a high cupboard that is packed with food items. She needs a stool to reach the cupboard. The sound of the siren fades away.

IRENE
Tell me about him.

HALA
There’s nothing to tell. Habibtey, I actually moved to Kuwait because I got a job as a music teacher. A quiet, unassuming music teacher. That’s me. Is Ahmed home?

KAREMA 
He’s downstairs in the store.

IRENE
I’m sure you had a lot of (pause), you know, wild times in Kuwait, Aunty. Tell me everything.

HALA
You want to know about the men who fell in love with me? How much time have you got, habibtey?

IRENE
All night.

HALA
That wouldn’t be enough time.

KAREMA 
Well, since we’re staying up, make yourselves useful.
Karema empties a huge pile of grape leaves on their stems on the coffee table in front of them and starts picking the leaves off their stems, arranging them in piles. Irene also does so.

KAREMA 
Well, join in, Hala. Do you need an
invitation?

HALA
I’m tired from the flight.

KAREMA 
Well, you’re going to be hungry too, if I don’t have this done today, there will be no dinner tomorrow.

IRENE
I can do it tomorrow.

KAREMA 
You’ve got school. Unless, of course, you— Hala— plan on taking care of dinner by yourself while I’m at the store?
Hala picks up a stem and starts lazily picking off the leaves at a much slower rate than Irene or Karema.

KAREMA 
I didn’t think so.

IRENE
So how come you never married, Aunty?

HALA
Because I could not be held responsible for the consequences. Could you imagine if I chose one over the other? World wars, destruction, mayhem would ensue. I love my fellow men too much to be the cause of all that suffering.

KAREMA 
We know about how you love your
fellow men.

IRENE
It’s so getting old, Mom. Aunty, tell me about the prince—

KAREMA 
He wasn’t a prince!

IRENE
But he was a Kuwaiti, right? I would not want to get with a Kuwaiti guy. They’re darker than we are. Weird-looking, too. Why do they wear those dresses and scarf thing-ys on their heads?

KAREMA
Because they’re proud—

HALA
Because they’re ignorant.

KAREMA
They are proud of their—

HALA (at the same time) KAREMA
Ignorance. Heritage.

KAREMA
Well, anyway, you shouldn’t judge a man by how he’s dressed.

HALA
Judge him by how quickly he is ready to get undressed and, when you use that as your standard, you’ll find that men are the same no matter where you go. Unless you can make men fall in love with you the way they fall in love with me.

KAREMA
But they couldn’t have loved you that much, Hala. If they did, they would have let you stay, don’t you think? Your ass was kicked out—

HALA
I wasn’t kicked out. I’ve never been kicked out of anywhere in my life.

KAREMA
But on the Arab News Net it said that all the Palestinians in Kuwait [had to]—

HALA
I don’t want to talk about politics right now. I just got here, having recently survived the traumas of war. If you bring this up now, I might start having flashbacks.

KAREMA
When Iraq first invaded Kuwait, I think it was a mistake on [our part to]—

HALA
You don’t change! I said shut up.

KAREMA (at the same time)

HALA
Don’t ever talk I’ve had a
to me that way. rough day.

HALA
It’s going to get rougher if you don’t apologize. Remember you’re in my house.

HALA
Okay, okay. I’m sorry. (to Irene) You know why people like your mother get obsessed with politics, Irene? Because it’s easier to get yourself all worked up about stuff you can’t change than to deal with the things in your own life that you actually can.

IRENE
You should see her in the store watching the news and screaming at the newscasters as if they can hear her. It wigs the customers out. But, I can’t help but be a little curious too, Aunty. I mean, you were living there. Whose side were you on? The Kuwaitis or the Iraqis?

HALA
Where did you get this kid from, Karema?
Karema shrugs.

HALA
Irene, where your mother and I come from, you are born into one side or the other. The only choice you make is whether or not to keep breathing.