I have two Iraqi friends, both scientists, both wonderfully witty people. One of them is perhaps the kindest, gentlest, best-humored man I've ever known; I was honored to serve as his best man when he married a Cumbernauld girl of Polish descent. Such Iraqi/Scots-Polish liaisons might often occur in the melting-pot of the US, but in late-1980s Dublin this was quite an exotic event. Unfortunately, no one from the Iraqi side of the family was permitted to be present.

A couple of years earlier, while I was a PhD student in Glasgow, I ran my one and only marathon. On days when they were taking it easy, I'd train with a couple of Libyan students who were in the same department. It astonished me that they could run 12 miles in the heat of the day during Ramadan and wait six or seven hours more before drinking anything at all....

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