Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The African Student

At one time I was friendly with a fellow freshman college student from Africa. He was older than most of us by a dozen years He'd never seen snow. "From the pictures we thought it looked like sugar!" he said. It was interesting to talk to him--he had a different perspective on things.

One day, while visiting his room, he brought out a book to show me. "Have you seen this?" It was a brand new-looking version of Hitler's Mein Kampf. I took it and looked inside the front cover. Sure enough, it had been printed in 1933 by such-and-such a Verlag in Berlin.

"Wow, man! Have you got any idea what you have here?" I said. Not realizing that the Nazis had printed as many of them as the Chinese did with Mao's "Little Red Book," I was thinking that it might be a really rare item. Worth a few bucks to some collector. "This is really something!" I was startled by his reaction.

"Please! Please!" he said. "I did not know!" I really wish I could duplicate his accent.

"Excuse me?" I said. "What are you talking about?"

"I did not think. I did not know." He took the book back and set it down like it was a ticking time bomb. "I beg of you! I beg of you! Please!"

"Wait a minute!" By this time he was on his knees. "I don't get it! What's the problem?"

"Of course I should have known!" he wailed. "I did not think, when I brought this thing with me from Africa! I should have known that here it is forbidden!"

"Forbidden?" I said. "No, you can have them here. I just thought it looked like an original version. Some people pay money to collect things like this." His eyes widened in incredulity. He was sweating and shaking.

"Are you sure? Are you sure?"

By this time I was getting a little "creeped out," so I said good night and left. A couple of days later I saw him, and he explained, "I--all of a sudden--realized that of course, your country had defeated them in a war, and anything like that book would be illegal!" Apparently when I left, he was certain that within minutes jack-booted thugs would be breaking down his door, to haul him off to an American gulag.

"No, there are a number of things that our government doesn't like us to have, but books, thank God, are not one of them."

Much later I heard that my friend had gone on to become "speaker of the house" in his home country, and after that, minister of tourism. Hope some of what he learned over here enabled him to do some good over there.

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