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“but when the Harvard team coughed and complained the cigarettes were politely put out”

May 23, 2013

By now, Um Muhammad had lost any remaining patience after three hours of questioning.

“Can I talk about about my son now?” The question hung in the air, followed by silence and uncertainty from the Harvard team. It was decided that to bypass her story they would give her “five minutes to tell her son’s story quickly and move on to questions.”

As Um Muhammad told a story of humiliation and anguish, we listened and nodded. My precise translation here seemed unnecessary: I was told to sum it up. This was not what we came for.

No one came to help any one here, it seemed, this was just a professor training her students, the picture now clear for all. Once Um Muhammad’s story was done and she had noticed that the team were not interested, she leaned forward and asked how we could help. The students kept silent, looking at their professor to rescue the awkwardness left by their disconcerted silence.

The professor spoke: “We will include your son’s story in part of the study we are doing, and it will be published by Harvard.” Then, the professor asked me to tell anxious Um Muhammad that Harvard is an important university and when the report was published many people would read it.

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