How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

by

Moustafa Bayoumi

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Sami Character Analysis

Bayoumi’s second (and only Christian) subject, who calls himself “the most far-off Arab you’ll find.” Born and raised in New York as the son of a Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother, he is immensely proud of his city, which he considers the most important part of his identity. He impulsively enlists in the United States Marines during his first year of college, just before the September 11 attacks. He serves two tours in the Iraq War, but is frustrated by his fellow marines’ racism and reluctance to see Iraqis as full human beings. During his second tour, he befriends translators and begins to learn about his Arab heritage, but also decides he can no longer support the war, which seems to serve the interests of those in power at the expense of American soldiers and the Iraqi people. When he returns home, he is unsure what to do with his future; he moves back to New York with his girlfriend Ana and goes back to college in 2006. Sami’s story shows the human consequences of the War on Terror, during which he feels torn between his identities as an Arab and an American, but also how he manages to make his these identities complementary rather than contradictory and reconcile them into a multifaceted but coherent sense of self.

Sami Quotes in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? quotes below are all either spoken by Sami or refer to Sami. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? published in 2008.
Sami Quotes

“I'm like the most far-off Arab you'll find,” he complained to me one day when talking about his relationship with some of the guys in the club. We were sitting in the backyard of a Starbucks in Park Slope. “You have to be a Muslim to be an Arab. You have to listen to Arabic music all the time to be Arab. You have to be in love with going wherever your parents are from. You have to marry an Arabic girl to be Arab. Certain things. You're not a real Arab if you're like me. I don't listen to Arabic music. I don't watch Arabic programming. I hate going to Egypt. I hate going overseas. I date a Puerto Rican female.”

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Sami (speaker), Ana
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Around this time he decided on the tattoo he wanted to have, once he'd saved enough money. With his large, muscular bulk, he has acres of skin to plow ink into, but he never wanted to stamp himself with the regular bulldog or the eagle, globe, and anchor symbol of the Marine Corps. If he was going to paint himself, he needed something that expressed who he is, something that really spoke to him. What he came up with was the New York City skyline as the tattoo's basis, but instead of the World Trade Center towers, two memorial beams of light will shine upward. The moon, vaguely imprinted with the marine emblem, will land high on his shoulder. The stars will spell out “N-Y-C.” Underneath, and in Arabic, will be written the words “Always remembered, never forgotten.” A little bit of everything—New York, Marine, Arab—to be put carefully together and marked indelibly.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Sami
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
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Sami Character Timeline in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The timeline below shows where the character Sami appears in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Sami
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Sami, an imposing but gentle and upbeat 24-year-old, returns to college in 2006 after having been... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
One day, two girls yell at Sami: “Yusef! Mohammed!” He is confused. Soon thereafter, he sees and stops to talk with them:... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Three years before, Sami is “full of both dread and desire” waiting in Kuwait for the order to invade... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
One day, the commanding officer tells Sami that they want him to be the major’s driver, which he soon realizes means he... (full context)
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Bayoumi turns to Sami’s childhood. He is born, raised, and educated in New York City. After one year of... (full context)
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
In boot camp, Sami meets the other recruits—there are a few “crazy psycho guys” but most, like him, have... (full context)
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
News of the 9/11 attacks comes during a rest stop the next morning; Sami cannot contact his family until the drill sergeant, frustrated by his mother’s incessant calls from... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Next, Sami goes to California for “job school”—technical training for his specific post, which is telecommunications. He... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Using the laptop his parents buy him for Christmas, Sami meets a Puerto Rican woman named Ana from New Jersey through a pen pal service,... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
After a month in Iraq, Sami is woken up in the middle of the night. So far, he has not seen... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
...men approaches the Americans; a marine named Andrews screams at them, fondling his weapon, and Sami tells him to calm down, advice Andrews ignores until Sami gets the commanding officer involved.... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
In June, Sami’s company arrives at their destination, the ancient city of Babylon, well after president Bush has... (full context)
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
When he is called for his second tour in Iraq, Sami is “pissed.” He feels “a sense of failure,” as though the military has fallen short... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
On Sami’s second tour, the conditions are much more comfortable than they were during the first: the... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...attacks, but the marines cannot leave or fight back. One day, a mortar nearly hits Sami’s building and kills one of his respected superiors. Sami is distraught, as the man seems... (full context)
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
With less than a year of active duty remaining, Sami is sent home and returns demoralized, with nothing to do. He spends his accumulated combat... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Sami tries to help Dan, his closest friend in the military, move in with his family.... (full context)