In memory: Mohammad Ali Al-Kurdi, Pharmacist

15/8/2006

Mohammad Ali Al-Kurdi

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.

10 Comments

  1. Phree says:

    Well first sorry for your loss. But Man, did you reminded me of my childhood! The only difference is that I was a kid in the Nintendo/Sega days. I used to read any piece of gaming magazines that I got my hands on like a 100 times (I give them mags credit for developing my english more than anything I did at school). Better Days. Cool, the spectrum was available in jordan. Ever played Elite? :P
    Also reminded me of gramps, who was a pharmacist since the 1950s as well. I’ll bet they knew each other since there weren’t many of them back in the day.

  2. Ibrahim says:

    Sorry for your loss …
    reading your post, you reminded me of my childhood with computer.
    but it was with 386 PC, and also Sinclair sometimes and Radio Shack, Skaher and another one i forgot its name. i think i have to write about this in my blog, since also i still have them :)

  3. Kiko says:

    Allah yir7amo, he is my relative.

  4. manal y says:

    sorry for your loss

  5. Humeid says:

    My condolences kiko.

  6. Hal says:

    Allah yer7amo, and how kind of you to recognize the passing of someone who is so obviously an icon in your life and others. How much more can a person ever really desire than the knowledge that he or she will be acknowledged and appreciated should they leave our lives? For you to have taken the time to bid your own adieu to this man is testament enough to his greatness. My deepest condolences to you and to his family.

  7. Humeid says:

    Hal,

    Thanks for you comment. I attended funeral and house of condolences. Some of the stories shared by friends there echoed the memories I had of the man and his family.

    As my generation progresses in age, we start to feel the influence and inspiration that some people impressed upon us. I have no doubt that my teenage encounters have influenced the direction I ended up taking professionally and personally.

    Our parent’s generation is growing old. We’re having kids ourselves. It’s a point of important transition for many of us 30-somethings :)

    Maybe that was part of what compelled me to write.

  8. Zeid Nasser says:

    Very touching account of growing up and the affect Samer’s father and family had on you.

    I never knew about the ‘Your Sinclair’ letter being how you met ….. amazing!

    What issue was it, I’ve got full scans of every Your Sinclair issue…. I’d love to see the pen pal ad.

  9. Rania Mubarak Casey says:

    Thank you for recognizing a great man. I worked with Ammo Abu Maher from 1988 till 1993. He was still in the process of the preliminary plans for his factory. He was a man of great vision and determination.

    I learned a lot working with him, as I was only 18 when I joined Al Kurdi Drugstore. I know the whole family, and I also went to the same school as his children.

    I have been living overseas for the past 11 years, but have always wondered how he was. I was very sorry to hear that he had passed away.

    I have great memories of this very kind, well educated and great man.

  10. Gerhard A. Straub says:

    During the 80 ies I was working as Area Manager for the German Madaus Pharmaceutical Company in the Middle East. At that time I had the privilege to work with Mr. Kurdi and know his fine family. I am very sorry to learn that this great and broadminded gentleman has passed away. I shall be visiting Amman together with my wife from April 12, to 15, 2009. I would be glad to be able to personally express my deep regrets to his family.

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