I was representing the Arab News and accompanied a group of Saudi businessmen and others committed to assisting Albania in its quest to become a modern successful country.
As we descended from the chartered Saudi Arabian Airlines flight, we were met by a group of young Albanian students fluent in English. They were to be our guides for our stay in Albania. I looked at the nametag of my guide and to my surprise I saw the name 'Elvis Mohammed' attached to the young gentleman's lapel.
I asked him how he happened to have that name which seemed very unusual to me. He said that his father was an Elvis Presley fan from the 1950s onward and, although Elvis music was prohibited in Albania during those times, his father listened to short wave radio, picked up the sounds of Elvis and became a fan. He said he decided to name his son Elvis because of his love for the music of Elvis Presley and the fact that Elvis represented freedom to him. So the juxtaposition of those two names is now history, at least in Albania.
When we moved to Memphis we happened to arrive in Memphis in mid-August. While our house was being finished (And furnished), my family and I decided to come a week early and stay in a local hotel. When we arrived, we contacted almost every hotel in the Memphis area and were told that there were no hotel rooms to be had within a 100-mile radius of Memphis. It was Elvis Week! We had to sleep on the floor.
According to the American Demographics magazine, 84 percent of the American people say that their lives have been touched by Elvis Presley in some way, 70 percent have watched a movie starring Presley, 44 percent have danced to one of his songs, 31 percent have bought an Elvis record, CD or video, 10 percent have visited Graceland, 9 percent have bought Elvis memorabilia, 9 percent have read a book about Presley, and 5 percent have seen the singer in concert. There is no question that Elvis is one of the most phenomenal cultural icons that the world has ever seen. However, there was another side of Elvis that doesn't make the news very often.
Living in Memphis for the past few years, I have had a chance to meet many people who knew Elvis personally and they have recounted numerous tales about Elvis in his hometown. One of the most touching came from an Arab-American friend of mine, Farid, who was born and raised in Memphis. His father was an immigrant from the Arab world and started a retail business in Memphis. My friend told me that Elvis, as a young high school student, worked for a short time as a part-time truck driver for his father.
My friend was a couple of years younger than Elvis and went to the same high school. Farid told me that one day at his high school, some of the school bullies started teasing him, calling him names like 'you dirty Arab' and threatened to hit him. He said Elvis came along and said, 'Hey, you leave him alone. I know him and his family and they are very nice people. Those 'Arabs' treat me well and you better treat him well also'. The bullies moved off and Elvis told Farid that if anybody ever tried that again, he should let Elvis know.
Ask anybody in Memphis who knew Elvis and they will tell you that he was a nice polite young man who had great respect for his parents and friends. He also fought quietly against racial and ethnic discrimination. He was very patriotic and extremely generous with his money, particularly for humanitarian causes that related to Memphis. For example, Elvis was regular contributor to the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, ALSAC, the fund-raising arm for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
This hospital is the premier children's cancer hospital in the world and was founded by Americans of Arab descent in honor of their Arab-American heritage. All children treated at St. Jude are treated at no cost to the parent or child. Farid's father was one of the founders of ALSAC and the hospital.
Elvis will always be remembered for his music and his role as an entertainer. But to Elvis Mohammed in Albania and Farid and his family in Memphis, he will be remembered in other ways. He will be remembered as a symbol of freedom and as a kind considerate person who would not tolerate ethnic discrimination. He will also be remembered as someone who supported humanitarian causes that honored Arab-American heritage.
Elvis was clearly a true humanitarian.
Source : Arab News (Friday August 24, 2007)