This could be the “Before He Was Famous” story that reveals the humble beginnings of Khoder Mohamad when he was 20 years old.
Right now, he’s between two worlds: literally – between Pugwash and Oxford now that his parents, Sam and Alia, have bought the former Sandy Shores Motel in Port Philip, and figuratively – between childhood and adulthood.
I first met Khoder when he was 15 and I was a substitute teacher. Congenial and respectful, he was nice to me at school and he still calls me Miz Mattinson.
There is also another world for him, where his parents grew up: Lebanon. They came to Canada in 1988 and Khoder was born in Halifax, grew up in Pugwash and Oxford.
“Describe Lebanon to me,” I say because my knowledge of that part of world is limited to, and by, what I see on the news. Is it desert?
“Everyone thinks that,” he answers. “It’s green but there are lots of mountains. It’s really hot there, too.”
Khoder’s mother, Alia, is sitting in the living room with us, not as a chaperone (I don’t think) but as an interested party. This topic grabs her attention.
“Once when my husband went to Lebanon,” she tells me, “I had a woman ask me how I was going to talk to him. ‘Are there any phones there?’ and I said no. She asked if there was city and I said no, no city. I just pretend like nothing. She asked how we went to school and I said we ride donkey and camel and live in tents.”
This mischievousness makes Khoder laugh. Now I know where he gets it from.
Alia serves me a mug of green tea and sits back down with her mug. She’s suffering with a headache but enjoying her son being interviewed.
I ask Khoder if he felt different at school.
“Maybe when I first got to Oxford, it was a little rough because I didn’t know if they were joking or if they meant it. I got teased but after a year, I was friends with everyone and then it didn’t matter.” Then he flashes his grin. “I’m always the different one, the odd one. Maybe not odd but the unique one.”
His mother interjects. “The funny one. He is very funny. I even told him to go to school and become a stand-up comedian.”
“My mom has high hopes for me,” Khoder laughs. “She likes aiming high.”
“Every mother does,” I reply and Alia says to me, “Thank you.”
Three years after graduating from high school in Oxford, he’s feeling restless.
“I took a year off then I went to [school for] refrigeration and air conditioning. Finished that and this year I haven’t really done much. Last year, me and my brother and the three cousins went to Ukraine then to Lebanon, then to France afterwards. That was just to travel a bit.”
He plans to head out west in the fall after working for his parents this summer.
“I just want to do something with my life,” he admits. “I’m tired of sitting around doing nothing, leaching off my parents.” Then the comic kicks in again, with the grin. “Gotta make a name for myself.”
In ten years, where does Khoder, who is fluent in English and Arabic, see himself? “Probably famous.”
“I have four kids,” Alia says, “three are born in May but Khody was born in August.”
(That makes him a Leo so as I’m writing this, I Google the astrological sign Leo and this comes up: “These folks are impossible to miss, since they love being center stage. Making an impression is Job One for Leos, and when you consider their personal magnetism, you see the job is quite easy. Leos are an ambitious lot, and their strength of purpose allows them to accomplish a great deal. It’s quite common to see a Leo on stage or in Hollywood, since these folks never shy away from the limelight. They are also supremely talented and have a flair for the dramatic. Warmth and enthusiasm seems to seep from every Leo pore, making these folks a pleasure to be around.” Alia, you may get your wish.)
Then Khoder drops a bombshell: On a recent trip to Cuba with four friends, he met a girl. “She lives in Dartmouth. I proposed to her today.”
“What did he do?” asks Alia.
Neither his mother nor I know if he’s telling the truth. This is Khoder, after all. Hard to tell if he’s serious or not, and considering he proposed via a Facebook message...
Alia is remarkably complacent about this news. With a shrug, she says, “It’s his life. It’s up to him, you know. We are Muslim so they is not supposed to have boyfriend, girlfriend. You have to get engaged. My older son, he is engaged and now he goes to see her, gets to know her.”
“But he has to fly half way across the world to go see her,” Khoder says of his brother’s fiancée in Lebanon. “He would do anything for love, that guy. But not me. I’ll fly halfway across the world to leave my wife.”
(But it is not an arranged marriage for the older son; Khoder says Muslims do not arrange marriages.)
Alia offers me some Lebanese sweets. They are made of dough, butter and pistachios and I could eat more than one more but it’s hard to ask questions when my mouth is full.
According to Khoder, his upbringing was very traditional.
“I never had a girlfriend all through high school because I respected my parents and I was kind of jealous a lot but after seeing my friends breakup constantly, it wasn’t worth it unless you find someone you really like and you actually stick with them, then it’s worth it.”
So is this girl in Dartmouth his first girlfriend? By way of an answer, he says, ““She’s white and I’m brown but my family is very accepting.”
He looks at his mother. “Do you want to meet her?”
“Why not?” Alia says. “I told you, if she’s the right girl, for you. Why not?” Then she turns to me, “As long as he doesn’t go from girl to girl. That’s why [dating] a sin in our religion. If he met the right girl, I don’t care where she’s from, what colour she is, as long as he’s happy with her. I told him that before.”
Because of our history as substitute teacher and student, my conversation with Khoder drifts around like we’re old friends. His mother, listening, finally asks me, “Do you have a good opinion about him going to comedian school?”
“Yes, I think he should.”
By now, her headache has become too much to bear but before she goes to lie down, I have to take a photo.
“You want a picture with his mama?” she says.
Of course I do. Khoder is the man he’s becoming because of her.