Ahmed Mohamed Fahmy Yousef has spent the last academic year at the University of Colorado conducting research on learning technologies and instructional design in computer science education.
His time in Colorado is coming to an end, so on the advice of friends he went to a Boulder County thrift store to purchase a suitcase for his trip home to Fayoum, Egypt (Fayoum is to Cairo, he said, as Boulder is to Denver).
“When I tried to put my stuff in, I found something was not balancing,” Yousef said. “I open this suitcase and I saw a lot of gold.”
Many people would likely look upon a suitcase full of gold as a windfall, but Yousef said that his upbringing and Muslim faith dictated he find the rightful owner of the gold.
“In Islam, if you find something, you return it to the owner, even if it takes 100 years,” he said.
It ended up taking Yousef, 37, a week, in part, because he found a man‘s name in the suitcase, James Noble, and an address.
First, he returned to the store to see if anyone knew who had dropped the off bag — he surmised that James Noble was dead — but when he came up empty, he decided to do some research.
He searched the name James Noble online and sure enough found a person fitting the bill who died in 2013. From that search, he discovered that James Noble had a wife named Alice, who passed away in April.
“I collected 76 phone numbers,” he said. “I called these numbers.”
‘I have the right person‘
Yousef didn‘t tell anyone he called about the gold — only that he had found a message from James Noble. After numerous wrong numbers, people who could provide the correct information, and dead end numbers, Yousef found Forrest Noble. Forrest knew the right answers to Yousef‘s questions. He realized he had found his man.
Forrest Noble has been taking his mother‘s belongings to area thrift stores since she passed away in April, but he never expected to have any of it returned — much less what he says are about $10,000 in gold coins that Yousef hand- delivered to a Boulder hotel last week.
“She passed away April 10, and I‘m still doing it,” Noble Forrest said. “It‘s been a month of getting stuff and dropping it off.”
Forrest Noble said he received a call from a man with a thick Middle Eastern accent who at first asked after James Noble.
Forrest Noble was sure it was a scam — or at the very least, a pesky telemarketer.
“He was like, ‘Is this James Noble?‘” he said. “That‘s my dad. He‘s passed. He was like, ‘Oh, you are the son of James Noble. Do you know Alice Noble?‘ He was like, ‘I have the right person.‘”
The man, who Forrest has since come to know as Yousef, said he had something for Noble, but would only meet in person. The two eventually decided to meet in front of the hotel on a rainy afternoon.
“I stood in front of the hotel in the pouring rain,” Forrest Noble said. “He pulled up and it was him. He showed me a picture of this (bag) and said, ‘Do you recognize this?‘ I said, ‘No, I really don‘t.‘ I was just like, ‘That could be my dad‘s.‘ He pulled out the coins.”
‘I couldn‘t sleep‘
Noble said he immediately knew the two dozen or so gold coins — which were in a manila envelope — must have belonged to his father, who was a collector. He said they are likely worth about $10,000.
He offered one to Yousef as a reward, but ended up cutting him a check for $500 and giving him his raincoat (after an aborted attempt at giving Yousef a ride, which ended in a fender bender) and the two parted ways.
“I hope he knows how cool that coat is,” Noble said.
Yousef — who has a doctorate from RWTH Achen University, Germany — is returning home on Wednesday and has a faculty job lined up at Fayoum University in his home town. He has invited Forrest Noble to visit and added that he would like all Americans to come see his home country.
Noble, 50, added that the experience has made him contemplate his biases toward those of the Islamic faith in a post-9/11 world.
“I had a buddy who went to CU and was on one of those airplanes,” he said. “My thinking has been tainted toward profiling as far as Middle Easterners. It‘s not right. But I just think a lot of people in our age in America (do this). After that I was like, ‘Holy cow.‘ I‘ll never do that again.”
Noble added he was blown away at the depth of Yousef‘s honesty and his persistence in returning the coins, something he is not sure many Americans would do.
“It‘s unbelievable that something like this would happen with this amount of money,” Noble said. “It really helps you to restore your belief in humankind again.”
Yousef said he took a week off from work to find Forrest Noble, because he couldn‘t return home in good conscience without returning the gold.
“During this week, I couldn‘t sleep,” he said. “This is not mine, and I wanted to give it back to the owner. I‘m leaving soon, so this put on a lot of pressure. … I‘m very happy, because I met the right person. This is a great experience in my life.”