You’ve probably heard about Burhan Aldroubi ’15 at some point over the past two weeks: His unique dietary preferences have earned him a campus-wide reputation.
But when we met for the first time in Paresky’s Henze lounge, I got to see other facets of the famously fruit-crazed first-year – including his formidable FIFA skills, his (questionable) taste in art and his desire to pop the purple bubble by publicizing international issues.
So I hear you like bananas.
Well, they’re not particularly my favorite food. But my entrymates and I were having dinner and for some reason, this question comes up: What meal would you have for the rest of your life? I chose mangoes. I was adamant that mangoes would work! Amir [Hay ’15] told me I wouldn’t last one week on mangoes. So I told him I’d last two weeks.
So how did you earn this “Banana Boy” reputation?
Then we said, “We don’t have mangoes.” So I said, “I’ll do it with bananas.”
Why would anyone agree to that?
I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal! But I left the table for a few minutes, and when I came back they had this whole contract written down with so many clauses.
So you ate only bananas for two weeks?
Well, we can’t really do that because that would be unhealthy. So we added protein shakes, water and milk. And nothing else. I was having protein shakes for a few days, but then I stopped because I realized they’re terrible.
How did the diet affect you?
By the end of the second week, I was having an average of three to four bananas a day. And I wasn’t hungry. I lost 20 pounds.
In two weeks? Is that physically possible? What did you do after you’d completed the challenge?
We had a huge banana party in our entry and invited everyone over. But the next day, I woke up and went to the dining hall and got a strawberry.
Seriously? You broke your banana rut with a strawberry?
I wanted something flavorful. The great thing about this banana thing was that I was never hungry! I was satisfied with such little food. And I got my potassium levels checked afterwards because we were worried that they would be too high, but they were actually low.
So maybe you’ve caught on to something. First it was Atkins, now Barhan’s Banana Blast.
[Laughs] People came up to me and said they’d like to try it. I was worried it would hurt me in my studies or I’d be tired or something. But nothing. I was perfectly fine.
Aside from bananas, what are your interests?
I’m thinking of majoring in math and economics because where I’m from, Syria, it’s really the best career. Not only will I be successful, but I also want to influence politics. The trend in the Middle East is that actual politicians have really little power, so you have to be successful in a different field to be influential.
Such as what?
A lot of people who represent the public in Syria are businessmen. The way the Middle East works is that if you know someone who knows someone who knows someone, you get where you want.
I hear you’re an art connoisseur.
I really love art history. If I am successful in the future, I would I want to be either an art critic or an art collector.
What kind of art is your favorite?
Definitely European modern art – the ’30s or the ’40s. It was a beautiful time.
I’m a fan of classic art, but I don’t think it really fits into our society as well.
I’m not too familiar with art. Are you talking about the edgy, modern art where you turn a urinal on its side and call it an enigmatic exhibit?
[Laughs] No, that’s like pop art. I find it interesting but not very deep. The kind of art I like is innovative but at the same time has serious meaning. One of my favorite artists, [Mark] Rothko, just makes these blocks of beautiful colors that had much more meaning than what you’d see at first glance.
Let me look him up. [Googles Rothko]. What is this?! These are just red canvases!
No, no these are huge! They have so many layers, and it sort of comes at you.
Couldn’t kindergarteners paint this?
What he did was essentially said that [with] 3D art, you have to leave with architecture. When you do something in 2D, you want to immerse the person in a meditative state. It’s the type of experience you don’t have when you look at Michelangelo.
I’ll take your word for it. But let’s hear a bit about this magazine you’re looking to start up.
Yeah, so Yale 10 years ago started this chapter of The Globalist. They wanted to replicate an Economist magazine where their sole purpose would be to use the resources on the campus. Yale has fantastic professors, but if you never take a class with them, you never know their opinions. Nobody actually knows what your professors, who are experts in their field, actually think. So they take these interviews [with professors] and write op-eds and news stories.
What kind of articles will you feature?
For example, one article they published at Yale talked about how schools in China are sponsored by cigarette companies. Stuff like that is interesting and cultural and brings forth subjects to the school that nobody really reads.
Sounds like a nice, personal twist on hard news. Are you following the same format as the Yale publication?
We’re adding new features. We’re talking to people who went abroad. Another feature is the obituary. But instead of talking about people who died, we talk about things that died culturally.
Like Silly Bandz?
Umm … Yes. [Points to silly band on wrist]
Oh, gosh. I totally didn’t notice you were wearing one.
No, it’s hilarious, actually! It’s a banana.
Just when I thought we’d gotten away from them!
Someone just came up and gave it to me. But anyway, we’re having obituaries for cultural things like silly bands or dubstep. Real dubstep.
So I hear you’re a Manchester United fan.
When I was a kid, I went to England and my cousin was a huge United fan. I really got into it. We have this group on campus where we watch the games together. Sometimes when I want to distract myself from the news back home, I read news about United. We also play FIFA a lot in my dorm.
My entrymates played FIFA all the time!
Yeah, me and Amir [Hay] have played so much that I doubt anyone could compete.
Are you issuing a challenge to the entire campus?
I guess so! [Laughs]
Is there anything that people on campus don’t know about you?
A lot of people think that I wouldn’t be able to be comfortable on campus [because I’m Syrian], but Williams is the place I’ve been able to feel most comfortable of all the societies I’ve been part of. In Syria, unfortunately, there’s a huge problem of non-intellectuality. My family and society are very restricted. They don’t open their minds to different things. One thing people don’t know is that I’m totally different from how typical Syrians are.
In what way?
The typical Syrian student wouldn’t engage in society much. They would have a lot of prejudices. They wouldn’t be open-minded. But they also have their positives. They’re very cultural. They would probably engage with peers from their culture much more than I do.
So what brought you to Williams?
I think people who come to Williams truly feel like they can make a difference here. And that’s different than, say, Harvard or any of the Ivies. I love it. And I would love to tell everyone that I’m having an amazing time.
And to buy your diet book.
This has been a great interview. I never give presents to my 1 in 2000s, but I couldn’t resist. Guess what this is! [Presents plastic grocery bag filled with mysterious contents]
You got it! I imagine you’re tired of them.
Awesome! No, I actually miss them. You know, I find it hard to eat any other food now.