Thursday, 3 May 2007

Man United 7 - 1 AS Roma

10th April 2007
I slept on the couch in the sitting room, then moved to my cousin's room and slept till I had had enough. Got out of bed at 1 o'clock and had a cup of tea. I had rice and mlookhiya (spinach and meat). It wasn't too tasty but I had to pretend to be overwhelmed when my uncle's wife asked me about it. After lunch (or breakfast - you decide) I went out with my cousin to the older parts of town. My uncle instructed me to visit a very old market called Soog Al Mbarekiya, where he and my father hung out during their heyday in the 60s and early 70s. The journey to the market was an experience itself.
The taxi went past buildings that were imprinted in my mind. As The Corr's Breathless played on the radio, my cousin was being typically rude to the Indian driver. I chose not to interfere because I had spoken to him many times regarding the way he addresses and deals with labourers - no use. He accuses me of being ignorant to the realities of life and of being idealistic.

"Stick to your sociology.. this is how the world works"

Looking out of the window, I saw grand villas that obviously belonged to affluent families. The irony lay a couple of hundred metres ahead in the form of a set of rotten, slum-like buildings. The apartments inside them were stripped of windows and I could clearly see their dark-skinned residents, wearing yellowish sleeveless vests. One was looking at the cars whizzing by his modest abode, while the other stood in front of the mirror, closely scanning his face. This sight evoked in me a strange sensation; I felt like a criminal, like a witness who refused to testify to save the wrongly-accused. Why was I in a car with someone who made fun of the Indian driver's inaccurate pronounciation of Arabic words? Why wasn't I telling the Kuwaiti emir to improve the lives of these people? Shame on me. Shame on us.

I decided to swallow the big gulp that had been forming in my throat; there was nothing I could do then. I would talk to my uncle about it later at night.

We arrived at the old market and I fell in love with it at first sight. For some reason, it wasn't too pleasing to my cousin's eye. If I want to be good to him, I would say it's because he's used to it. Otherwise, and from the way he was walking and talking to the old date sellers, he was far more interested in the trendier world of designer clothes, fast cars, sleazy girls and crude remarks. I, nonetheless, absolutely loved everything about it. The small, condensed shops; the narrow streets that the market occupied; having to push myself onto the wall to avoid getting run over by the seemingly-blind drivers who choose to bring their cars there - everything about the place had a touch of magic to it.

The market was partly-roofed, a feature that reminded me of Soog Al Hameediya, the famous old market in Damascus where we would go to have a scrumptious ice-cream at Bekdash. This place lacked the variety in goods that its Syrian counterpart boasted. The market's shops were grocers; butchers; antique and clothes. Having missed my family very dearly over the past two days, I decided to buy one of my brothers a present; a head-cloth (shmagh) with an unusual twist -creamy colour- seemed an appropriate gift. The salesman greeted me with a delightfully warm smile and showed me the garment. I looked at it from all angles then asked me cousin whether he thought it was nice or not. He nodded.

"You're nicer" said the salesman, showing boundless warmth towards a complete stranger.

"Thank you. You're too kind!" I replied, with an instant, slighty surprised sort of smile drawn on my face.

I hope none of the readers think the guy was flirting with me; I believe it was a hearty display of true Arabic/Islamic manners. The specific compliment is usually used when someone describes something as being nice. In London, if I told a girl that her shoes were nice, she'd say "yeah, I bought them from TopShop, aren't they just to die for?" What makes this part of the world special, what draws me to glorify these people, despite their pathetic attempts to become 'modern' by having semi-nude singing contests - is their unparalleled courtesy. Of course, no country is free from the obnoxious nationalists, racists, etc. Believe me, there are plenty here!

I bought the shmagh for 1.5 Kuwaiti Dinars. He had originally told us that it was priced at 2 Dinars but after speaking to us and finding out that we were Iraqi, he said "Tistahloon" (You deserve it, i.e: the discount) I thanked him for his kindness and walked away feeling good about myself.

We then went to a working-class sort of restaurant called Al Shahad Restaurant. I couldn't believe how cosy the place felt, despite its smelling of raw, uncooked meat and looking nothing like any of the places I had gone to yesterday. I had some delicious Kebabs and a cold can of Pepsi. The best bit was knowing that the entire meal had only cost us four and a half Dinars, that's nine Sterling Pounds - the most I could buy with that sort of money in London is a couple of chicken burgers from Chicken Cottage - poor man's delicacy. The difference in size and taste of the meal was too hard for my cousin to stomach, so he ordered more Kebabs!

We had tea at a big restaurant near the market's entrance. The Egyptian waiter brought a whole tea-pot that was being kept hot by the flaming coal underneath it. As we poured tea into the smaller version of an Iraqi istikan (half its size) we drank and talked about the uncomfortable slippers that I had bought. When evening prayers were called for, scores of people headed to the mosque in front of us. After a while, I went there, too. I stood and prayed and saw that almost everyone that passed by me looked at me strangely, as if I were from another planet. It could have been the bright red United jersey that I was wearing; but it could have also been my unorthodox prayers; I had not folded my hands like they all did. I didn't mind their staring eyes, the place made me easy at heart. I hadn't been to a proper mosque for a very long time. I was explaining the significance of entering a 'proper mosque' to my cousin by saying that the Islamic centres in London tend to be built for social purposes rather than religious and spiritual needs; for a long time I hadn't experienced what it was like to stand before God in a place where He likes you to be. I sat there, reading Al Fatiha for my mother and grand-father who raised my father and uncles in Kuwait - while people stared at me. I didn't care. I was elsewhere.

After spending around 20 minutes in the mosque, I left and met up with my cousin at a bookshop nearby. I headed to the poetry/literature section but found it to be too advanced for my liking.

"Mehdi, let's leave. This is their place!"

I clicked on what he was suggesting, so I smiled and said "Wait a little, I want to see these books"

After a few minutes, I realised that I wasn't going to buy anything from the shop anyways so I would rather leave than embarrass myself. Besides, we were going to be late for the game, and we hadn't even decided where we were going to watch it.

It was fast approaching 7 o'clock so I started urging my cousin to make a move so that we guarantee watching the night's highlight.

The happiest footballing night I've ever lived. European Football isn't extremely popular here, so I was nagging my cousin to find a place where we could watch the game; he took me to a spacious open-roof cafe called Salamat.

I arrived there thinking that I was just in time for kick-off, only to realise that the match kicks off at 19:45 BST, 21:45 Kuwait time - it wasn't even half past eight! My cousin ordered a nargeela (shisha) while I ordered a Pepsi.

The enormous TV set was showing Al Jazeera Sports channel; I tried to understand what they were saying but I couldn't; the cafe was packed with teenage and early-twenties Kuwaitis who absolutelty refused to speak to their friends in a civilised manner. All I heard was obscene remarks, sickeningly-foul language and shocking manners with the waiters: an Egyptian and an Indian.

The match started and I became tense. Roma had greater possession of the ball in the opening 10 minutes. Then..

Michael Carrick (whose replica football jersey I was proudly wearing!) curled a glorious ball past the dumb-struck Roma goalie. Usually, when I watch United play, I actvicate my reflex muscles and become prepared to spring them in any direction. If the ball goes wide I smack my thigh with my right hand; if it's saved or hits the post or crossbar I put both hands on my head very quickly and say 'wwwssooooo' in an inaudible voice. However, if it's a goal, I stand up straight and shout 'GET IN!'

I did exactly that when Carrick scored.

Seeing that I was the only one in the crowd who celebrated in English, I sat on my plastic chair feeling rather embarrassed and decided to shut up for the rest of the game, lest I blurt out something like 'PASS IT, YOU PRICK!'

I was staring at the giant screen in amazement. United were passing the ball as if there was no opposition. They were simply sublime.

The ball came to Giggs, the undisputed emperor of Old Trafford, who lobbed it to Alan Smith.. BANG.. 2-0! This time, I jumped so violently that my chair flew backwards! I didn't care much to be honest, I was consumed by what was unfolding in front of me - history was to be made tonight. This goal was the decisive goal because it put United ahead on aggregate (complicated football rules)

The rest, as they say, is history. United dismantled one of Europe's strongest defence lines to complete an unrivalled achievement. After the game, I was imagining what MZ (die-hard United fan in London) was doing.

We walked back home; one feeling tired and bloated, the other overjoyed with the result. When we sat with my uncle for a late night chat, he started telling my eldest cousin about some business developments at work. Listening to them talk about new recruits and telling off bad performers gave me the overall impression that Kuwait is good for those who have authority over others. If someone has an authority over you, you are stripped of your status as an equal in humanity. It's tragic. I asked my uncle about the law and its protection of ethnic minorities and workers and the like. After smiling for a moment, he looked at his eldest son and said "He's got a lot to learn." My uncle was always sarcastic so I wasn't really offended by his reply.

"Workers from ethnic minorites work for no less than 15 hours a day, earning $1oo or so every month. Some even buy their work-permits with money they are yet to earn, so they'll be working for 6 months for no money" He spoke with an air of hopelessness, as if to suggest that he knows what I feel but also knows that nothing can be done about it.
"Are there no governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations or whatever, that lobby for their rights?" I asked with a clearly frustrated tone.

After smiling again, he looked at the television for a second then looked back at me quickly, as if finding the answer to my question.

"There used to be an office for the Palestine Liberation Organisation! Well, that was closed down too, I'm afraid."

What life is this? What humanity is this? What injustice are we subjecting people to?

The tide will turn and only God will have mercy on us.

I will post some pictures soon.


Konfused Kid said...

I enjoyed this post. Did you ask your uncle about the 'Bidoon'?

Cheers friend.

Little Penguin said...

Not really.. but I spoke to a couple who told me that they get the worst treatment in terms of official procedures and what-not.. one of them, who's originally Iraqi, said that even indians don't endure what they endure..

it's a really screwed up place.. I couldn't wait till I got out of that place..

3eeraqimedic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A&Eiraqi said...

Hi Penguine
I appretiate that you have relatives in Kuwait so do I, but, still there is a wound which couldn't heal .
I don't wish any hurt to Kuwaitis but, I don't think I can ever deal with them.
Have you ever asked them what they used to say about us during the embargo, they were quite pleased as our children were dying because of hunger and sickness.

I know that it sounds racisit but, they forced us to be so.
It's good that you're getting your posts back


Through Grace Peace said...

Our Eyes Dream Acid Tears

One land, one people, all asleep
one dream in every mind
all see words of scripture, captive
in a vise of hatred, crushed
distorted words of God, acid
tears, with screaming lips, the captor
feels the kiss of Satan
on his heart.

Hassoun said...

Salam LP
Yalla bruv! we're waiting for your next entry!
montly posts isn't what we want! atleast weekly?
safeness ;)

Glory Rose! said...

This kind of treatment you are talking about is a very common thing in all gulf countries.... They think that simply because they pay them, they have the right to be rude which is something I can't understand or tolerate!
Enjoyed your writing, keep it up.

P.S Mlookhiya is not spinach :P

Lady Z said...

What a pleasure to meet you and read your blog. I'm glad you found me over at LiveJournal.

Lady Z (zugenia)

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