Sammy, Muhammad, Osama and the other guy came up to me as I sat on a bench along the water here in Dakhla a few minutes ago. It’s a sunny, windy day in the peninsula and I walked from our hotel into town, bought a few oranges and some bread with cheese stuffed inside and sat on an empty bench.
It took us a while to exchange names because their English is as limited as my French but eventually we managed. With time I learned they were 12 years old and on break from madrasa for another 45 minutes. They wore slightly tattered, brandname knockoffs and had minor cuts and scrapes that had been very badly cared for and were festering a bit. Sammy bumped his scabbed pinky toe and had to compose himself for a minute before busting out an impressive handstand on the wavy tiles along the shore.
There is a concert in the plaza at eight tonight and they like boxing.
They saw an opportunity to have some fun and tried to get me to repeat a certain phrase in Arabic.
“God is great,” I said knowingly in English, to Sammy’s disappointment.
“He knows Arabic,” he said in Arabic.
But there are other phrases that don’t turn up in stories about radical Islam and they tried some of those out on me too. I knew they were naughty bits of Arabic because they would look behind us before they said them and if someone was walking by Sammy would shush Muhammad until they passed.
I offered them my last orange and they ate it graciously and hungrily. When it was time to go they asked me for some money, took no for an answer and headed back to school or wherever the afternoon was taking them.