To tell you how I got to know Mohammad Ali Al-Kurdi, I have to recount how I met his son, Samer, my best friend of my teenage days: Sometimes you have to write a message in a bottle or travel across the globe to find a friend in your city.
In the mid 1980′s, a school friend, Khaldoon, and I were computer-crazed kids. Our passion was called the Sinclair Spectrum. We were the too-young customers of a tiny computer company in Jabal Al Hussein, run by a Jordanian Engineer who had something to do with the UK computer scene at the time.
In that company’s office we found old copies of a magazine that was never sold in Jordan: Your Sinclair. Ever the networker, Khaldoon decided to send a letter to the pen pal section of the magazine (remember pen pals?), even-though he had no way of knowing if that magazine still existed or not. Even if it did, we would never have had the chance to see if the pen pal letter was published. These were the pre-internet days, you know. But the letter was sent..
Cut to a european airport.
A 15 year old kid is accompanying his father on a business trip, was going through the magazine racks of the airport’s bookshop before boarding a flight. He too was a computer freak. One magazine caught his eye. Fate had it that it was the issue of Your Sinclair in which the name and Amman address of another computer kid were published!
A few weeks later, Khaldoon and I were intrigued and excited when he received a letter in the mail from a guy called Samer Kurdi! Soon enough, us three 15-16 year old Ammani kids were meeting in the Shoman computer library..
Befriending Samer affected me profoundly, in more than one way. Beyond a teenage friendship (of sharing music, films, computer software and early intellectual discussions) that lasts till this day, visiting him in his family villa near 4th Circle opened up new windows for me to witness the life of a Ammani family that was quite different than mine.
Samer’s father, the Pharmacist was a businessman and entrepreneur. Mohammad Ali Kurdi, was a man with a booming, loud voice, a somewhat harsh accent and a large presence (and a healthy dose of humor). Always in a grey or grayish-blue suit. In business since 1954, heading his Kurdi Drugstore (an importer of pharmaceuticals), he had still enough entrepreneurial zeal in him to start a pharmaceutical manufacturing business in 1994, under the name Hayat Pharmaceutical Industries.
Endearingly, he always called me ‘Humeid’. My encounters with him where either in the Kurdi’s large kitchen (where he once offered me to taste a salad ‘enriched’ with tartaric acid) or in his office located on the 13th floor of then-new Sayegh building in Abdali, where Samer and I went if we wanted to use the company’s computers to print out something.
Then there was Samer’s mother. The kind, cultured Lebanese lady who switches effortlessly between speaking Arabic, English and French. In later years I always saw her at classical music concerts. And she had large gatherings at their villa in which Bridge was played.
In my own circle of family and friends at the time, a certain sense of ‘economy’ was always present. Thus, experiencing the ‘abundance’ of the household of an established man of business was a contrast that I always remember in a positive light. Be it videotapes, audio tapes, 3.5″ floppy disks or magazines (which was the stuff we kids cared about), this abundance was wealth shared by Samer. As were the sweet desserts and cups of tea in the kitchen.
As we grew older, “Al-Saydalani Mohammaed Al-Kurdi” as he was known in business, or Abu Maher, as he was called at home, , was always willing to talk to us about History with great enthusiasm. Maybe I should have paid more attention, as the particulars of his stories escape me now. But I vaguely remember his broad-stroked sentences about ‘The Romans’, ‘The Jews’, ‘The Persians’ and other historical monoliths.
A year or so ago he called me into his office and handed me large envelopes and boxes full of old pictures of Amman, which he gathered from a number of his friends whose age was threatening to take away their memories of Amman as they experienced it. Perhaps a city that grew so fast that it barely had time to develop a history.
Abu Maher’s project, which remains unfinished, was to author a book of Ammani pictures and memories. Those pictures of people and places, where scanned and now safely reside on a hard disk.
Pharmacist Mohammad Ali Al-Kurdi passed away August 15th, 2006.
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