INGULFED

In Shanghai

محمد و محمد و احمد Mohammed, Mohammed, And Ahmed — “او “لن تجتاج الى هذه هنا Or, “You Won’t Need These In Here”

Sunday morning and the start of a new work week found me taking old business cards, restaurant coupons, and pharmacy memberships out of my wallet like someone checking into prison. You won’t need these in here.

I put them in a desk drawer only to be reopened upon my departure, my return to a world where “Duane Reede” and “Amtrak” actually mean something, where “Queens” is just a word for a place, and where plurals are made just by adding an “s”.

And in this new world of office hustle and bustle, I can’t help but notice that adding an “s” to deadlines makes deadliness. Having too much to do is deadly — it says so right in the English language.


And speaking of the English — they have made equally many nests in Abu Dhabi as have Americans or any other single expatriate group. Of course, as are 85% of my statistics, this information is all gut guesswork and no solid fact. For this information here, I rely on accents heard in the elevator and the number of local cricket clubs.

Prefaced by saying that everyone born abroad has just as many uncooked and half-baked reasons to be here as everyone else, let me go on to say that the English in particular tend to flock to the parts of the world that still use their electrical sockets. Driving on the left is a luxury relegated to fancy vacation spots where bridge is played teaside (think Cyprus), but these bastions of 240 Volt current house the true heart of Queen (a person) and Country — the thick, three-pronged vestiges of a once powerful empire.


Too big to fail.

At night I accompanied a friend in search of a calligrapher for a school event. (An event at which, one email told me, certain things would need to be lamented — a typo just one letter shy of a misspelled “laminated”.) Luckily, in addition to our electronics-adjacent location, my apartment is also near the calligraphy district. In shop number one, “Drawing and Calligraphy,” we were told the calligraphy department was on vacation in Egypt. He would be back in two months. Or so.

Two storefronts down, they told us they only did computer printing. Their by-hand calligrapher was also on vacation for at least the month of Ramadan. In Egypt. But the owner didn’t give up and ran outside (probably to the first store) to make sure — to make sure there weren’t any more calligraphers in the whole city.

He popped back in. Humaa fi Misr, “The two of them are in Egypt.” He used the dual — a conjugation for a pair of things, rare outside of formal contexts. Let’s not forget how many calligraphers we’re talking about.

“We have two calligraphers in all of Abu Dhabi,” the owner said, smiling slightly. “Muhammed… and Muhammed.”

Hatha nukta? I was laughing. “Is this a joke?”

Wallah! he answered, “I swear.”

Suddenly, something occurred to him and he hopped up and raced out and back into the store.

“Mohammed, Mohammed, and Ahmed,” he said. He’d found a third artist. “But he’s in Egypt, too.”

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2 Comments»

  felice holman wrote @

This is such vibrant writing to start my day with.
I am following it like a novel. I love the insight into the sneaky structure of words (lamented).
G/LEECIE

  Ahmed Saidawi wrote @

Following your posts, too. You are such a good writer, although some of your words I couldn’t understand, but I still enjoy reading and discovering more about your journey in this city.

Keep it up,
Ahmed


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