Hottest woman in life."Taco Bell!" He exclaimed, smiling and nodding his head. "Burrito supreme."

It wasn't much, but it was enough for a guy like Kafir, desperately looking for someone to talk to about anything. He leapt to his feet and snatched a DVD case from his entertainment center. He waved the metallic cover at me.

"Transformers," he said and picked up the case. "Blu-ray. Hi-Def. Optimus Prime."

He seemed to be describing objects like an intro level language teacher.

"Shia LeBouf and Samantha Fox," I replied.

"No, no, no! Megan Fox!" He fell to his knees melodramatically. "Hottest woman in life. March 2007 FHM!"

"She is very hot."

"I, panther!" He exclaimed.


"I, panther!" Kafir repeated his non sequitur.

How do you respond to a declaration of pantherdom? I smiled and nodded, but Kafir could sense my confusion. He bounced to his feet and grabbed me by the sleeve.

I guess if I have to go, appeasing the gods is the way to do it."Come!" He gestured down the hall. "I show you. I show you. I, panther."

I was suddenly wary. I had gone along with Kafir to this point, suppressed my genetic American urge to be fearful of all things too far from me on the color wheel, but did I really want to discover this lunatic's panther den?

I had images of Mayan panther warrior costumes, stone knives, and videocassettes dropped surreptitiously into an embassy mailbox. I knew such suspicions were unwarranted, but if Kafir truly wanted to get a feel for life as an American he needed to start living in beneath an intoxicating cloud of paranoia.

Somehow, I summoned my reserves of courage and allowed myself to be led by this strange Muslim man into the panther's jaws. What I found there was more startling than I could have imagined.

The room was small and windowless. It trapped and compounded the overwhelming stink of strange chemicals.

"I, panther," Kafir gestured expansively and his meaning was clear.

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