In recalling being introduced to Firas the quote, “the internet is not just for porn anymore” comes to mind. In reflecting on my years of friendship with him, the quote, “Ignorance is the greatest threat to humanity” enters my conscience as I think of those who would dismiss him based solely on his ethnicity or religion.
If you haven’t gathered already, Firas is of Arab decent, a Muslim, living in Saudi Arabia. Yes, he is “one of those people”. In fact, he no doubt fits perfectly into Homeland Security’s profile and into the prejudices of those who would hold the crimes of a few against the many.
What you fail to see in his name is that he was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, of the good ole US of A. You also fail to see his kind heart and nature, intelligence, and his ability to laugh at himself and the world around him.
A friend introduced me to Firas via instant messenger after he had read my blogs. As I said, “the internet is not just for porn anymore”, even though they were erotic blogs. Social networking sites and instant messenger chats have shrunk the world. One click connects you across the oceans, mountains and deserts allowing you to share life experiences that once would not have been possible but to a small percentage of world travelers.
Firas has demonstrated a respect for all people in his words and actions. His early years at the Pennsylvania State University lead to an arrest that as he explained “helped me understand to differentiate between a friend and an acquaintance”. Life hasn’t always been “pretty” for Firas, but he hasn’t let the negative experiences overshadow the good in his life.
His reverence for his mother, female members of his family and friends is that of a gentlemen. He has no tolerance for those who would abuse or harm a woman and as he is a self-described “Big Kid in A Giant Sandbox” he has little difficulty relating to children.
Regardless of the politics of the world and cultural differences, humanity’s best chance is to erase the ignorance in talking person to person. In doing so, you will discover that our similarities are greater than our differences.
One of the many poignant moments over the years occurred when my only nephew was preparing to leave for basic training in the US Army. I told Firas how apprehensive I felt with my nephew’s decision to enlist and that I feared for his well-being as he put in his years of service during these times of war.
I didn’t even consider where Firas lived, who his ancestors were, or what his thoughts on the wars might be, for me I was conveying my heartfelt emotions to a friend.
Firas took a serious tone in his response, he told me that the photos he had seen in his part of the world showed the ugliness of the war and that he wouldn’t sugar coat it, “it was bad.”
He then typed out a Arab prayer that asked Allah to watch over my nephew and always return him safely to home. To paraphrase, he told me that the prayer spoke of how the my love for my nephew would forever stay with him and comfort him in his times of need as he would know in his heart that I was part of him.
I felt a peace in reading the poem and every moment that I offered prayer for my nephews safe return from the middle east, I thought too of Firas, his words of kindness and those that must deal with the ugliness of war.
In that moment, the Arab Muslim man who was born and raised in the states, did time in a US prison, who returned to his families homeland, and could easily have hatred in his heart for the country he left was above it all. He was easing a friends worries, offering faith & hope, erasing ignorance.
Praise be to Allah. Praise be to God. Forever grateful for Firas, who shares his compassion and enlightenment as a friend and brother in arms against ignorance.
Friend: “They have comedians in Saudi Arabia?” *insert cymbal crash*
Me: “Yes they do. They also have Starbucks, Krispy Creme, Giant Malls, Rock n Roll, Fast cars and motorcycles, beautiful woman, and men with kind and loving hearts”.
May I present to you, my friend, brother, his most Firawesome self, the Rowdy Saudi Firas Alola.
Age: 29 and 3 quarters
Marital Status: Single but see couples everywhere
Location: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Children: Not that I know of
Education: Some University
Hometown: (Tricky/technical) born and raised in Denver, CO, grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Your profession: Marketing Manager for a Saudi services company, Comedian/Performer
Nickname(s): Fry, Friass, Rowdy Saudi, Firastitute, and Firawesome
Q. Do you have a hobby?
A. Several including, but not limited to, reading, writing (many forms, styles and genres), “Aggressive”/street inline skating, listening to music, dancing (old school break dancing, salsa, in my boxers and to the radio, etc), Hosting (parties and venues), traveling, deep or philosophical conversations, the daily crossword, and mind games with total strangers.
Q. What is your favorite book?
A. I love reading and love so many books. Even crappy sucky ones because I believe that even those crappy ones have something to offer. Be it a line or quote, an idea, or even writing style. I always find something about (or in) any given book. I would like to add that I am biased towards Chuck Palahnuik’s writing. He writes fiction with so much fact you can’t help but be mesmerized, moved, intrigued, connected, and glued to his stories. Of course having read Fight Club at the age and time I have read it might be the biggest influence on my bias.
Q. What will your epitaph read?
A. My grave will not have one but if it did, hypothetically, then it most certainly would read, “Here lies an honest liar, a decent pervert, and a nice a$$hole”
Q. Is there anything you wouldn’t try or do in life?
A. I would never do needles, heroin to be specific, use a Red phone booth in London because I know what I’ve done to most of them, give myself a bikini wax… again, drink milk without checking the date, accepting birthday presents in the form of sexual favors, trusting the man, and eating with my mouth open.
Q. What is your biggest fear?
A. I do not have a fear that would fit that label. I do, however, have some reasonable and unreasonable issues that have me worried sometimes. I worry about “not fully functioning on my own” (sure Viagra does the trick but what’s the point? A Viagra user sitting in a storage house for a door manufacturer will have the same result as a Viagra user hanging out at the quad of a clown college. Should have went with something sexy to make my point?). Central Pennsylvania Squirrels are out to get me. Gonna skip the rest.
Q. Are you a religious or spiritual person?
A. I am spiritual and try to be religious, and not in a pick-and-choose kind of way. If truth be told all we need to do is simply treat each other with respect, kindness and dignity and the rest will figure itself out.
Q. What is your life’s philosophy?
A. The things we regret most in life are the risks we don’t take. I regret nothing.
Q. Is there a moment in your life that stands out in your mind as life changing?
A. I consider myself extremely lucky for my life has been nothing short of eventful. Several instances were life changing where after those situations things changed; I changed inwardly, the way I perceive others, and so on. Sounds like I explained the question more than give an answer, right? Isn’t it funny that more often than not such instances are negative or dramatic in nature? Let me answer your question; the first time I was cheated on changed me. It helped me be more cautious. The first time I was arrested (long story) helped me understand to differentiate between a friend and an acquaintance. The moment I bought my Harley, the first skating competition I won, my first time on stage, my brothers’ weddings… the list goes on.
Q. What is your greatest strength in performing?
A. A fellow stand-up comedian, and friend of mine, and I were talking about this just the other day. We came to the conclusion that I am always having fun and it is no different when am on stage. That energy, aura, mood or whatever you want to call it carries with me and due to its contagious nature the crowd catches it. In short, having infectious fun.
Q. What is the most boneheaded thing you have done in your life?
A. roughly 38.76% of my actions or sayings are boneheaded. Most are intentional, but some are not. Hehe. To be serious though, I would have to say two things are the most boneheaded things I have done in my life. The first would definitely be the fact that I personally sabotaged my scholarship, and my future, while in University because I did not know how to handle some personal issues I had. If I can go back would I do things differently? No. The other thing is your typical “the one that got away” situation. Sob.
Q. What makes you unique in the world of comedy?
A. It is what makes every comedian unique; my personal experiences and my own sense of humor. Add to it the whole infectious fun with a splash of Vodka and you got yourself one hellova drink.
Q. What steps do you take to mentally prepare before going on stage?
A. Unintentionally and unexpectedly I found that I have (or fallen into) a routine; The day of a show or a performance I spend it with a close friend or family member and we listen to music then as show-time approaches I start thinking of what I am going to talk about and then go over it in my head listening to a music player (used to be my ipod but that flew away while I was riding my Harley a few months back). While back stage and right before I go on I like to pump myself up with pushups. Helps me keep in shape and get my blood rushing.
Q. What attracted you to performing live?
A. A sheer coincidence; a friend of mine and I used to attend an open mic night and once the talent was atrocious so my friend dared me to just get up on stage and tell a couple of funny stories of mine for (in his words), “could not possibly be any worse than what’s considered talent tonight”. I got up and told those stories and was a hit. I perfected the art of storytelling by being the center of attention and after a few open mics I was able to adjust it to fit the stage. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q. What would you say is your life’s greatest achievement?
A. Becoming the person that I have turned out to be. All odds point to me turning out to become a serious dickhead (jerk for editing works). Instead I’m just a regular dickhead (jerk).
Q. What were your childhood dreams and have you achieved them?
A. To become a doctor and we can all answer the question of whether or not if I have achieved that dream or not.
Q. Who has been the greatest influence in your life and why?
A. Aside from my family (for truly they have been the greatest influence in my life… and a cleché) I would have to say my friends. To me, friends are the family we choose. My friends have been everything to me in my life. I would like to lead the pack with my dear friend and old roommate Brian Squadroni. He is, for more clechés, a prince among thieves. We started as colleagues at a restaurant in State College Pennsylvania and ended up as friends closer than brothers. I owe him a lot including my sanity. I would like to give a mention to a couple of other friends that are always there for me and helped me, not only in my time of need but also in becoming the person I am today, and they are Ahmed Khalaf, my first roommate and friend in college, John V. Gaffen, a great friend and mentor, Rikki Morris, my future childrens’ godmother, and so many more. I hope they can forgive me for not giving name to them here and pray they know they are not forgotten.
Q. How do you want to be remembered by people from your life?
A. Whichever way they remember me as. I believe that each individual’s perception of anything (me in this case) is not just different but also truly unique. I would never want to take that away from anybody.
List 5 Random Facts or Habits about yourself that would be classified as weird, strange, or different:
I would like to quote a few of my friends on this one:
- “Firas is able to eat different kinds of foods at once. He has Dagwood-style sandwiches. Don’t get me wrong, I believe he still loves to taste food and separately but if it comes down to it, he can gobble a 4 course meal at once and by the time you are served your bread.”
- “Firas does the daily crossword almost religiously. The only thing he left for old age is nagging.”
- “Firas knows a whole bunch of unrelated and interesting facts that come right off the top of his head. Like a mini walking Wikipedia for unusual and random information”
- “Firas loves to learn how to say, ‘you’re a pineapple and pineapples don’t speak’ in different languages AND uses it. The count is 7 languages so far”
- “Everything about him can be labeled as different. Just naming five would be limiting”
Photos courtesy of: Firas Alola
Music by: The Gracious Few
Cynthia Lynn thanks Firas’s mother for being the amazing woman she is to have raised such a fine man in her son. Thank you to Firas for giving me the honor of sharing your story and for your continued friendship and love. Finally thank you to my BASE buddies for your daily support, friendship and HIDGAF attitude. We may never share an exit point; but you certainly have gone to the edge with me.