Ahmed and Mustafa

French wine is very famous. Wine is a kind of beer.

Mike, 13, Guangzhou in speech given yesterday.


Good Monday morning. Hope your weekend was a great one.

I was at the chalkface for much of mine (I’ll create a “breakout blog” with the name Chalkface soon). It meant I got to see people going to work and one or two colourful characters coming home late. Most seemed to know who I was which was a little bit awkward. Especially when they asked after my wife and daughters. Fine I said. What was I supposed to ask them in return?  How’s Granny? (“What Granny?“)  How are your kids? (“I’m not married!”).

Some of my fellow passengers may have been drunk.

But not Ahmed and Mustafa of the 42nd floor!

They are a couple of friendly Iraqis that buy and sell clothes in the large wholesale clothing market nearby. This place really is the U.N. of the city with foreigners of all shapes, sizes, colours, and dispositions.

It was a Saturday evening, after 10, when I arrived home from a lesson. Mrs Too-Cheap-to-Buy-Her-Own-Carpark (long story) had returned and was waiting on minus one. She’d closed the doors from the carpark to the lift lobby which was a little bit irritating. It necessitated a deep-sea bag dive for house keys and the attached microchip which allows access to this area. It added another ten seconds to my journey home. She was on her phone.

We stood there in silence, well I did. She carried on her conversation. Suddenly a loud banging noise came from the direction of the locked doors. I walked over to meet the angry bashing and saw our two Iraqi friends through the glass pane. They looked relieved to see a friendly face. “Thank you my friend” said Ahmed. Mustafa kept his head down as they walked towards the lifts. There Ahmed spotted his object of opprobrium.

“Hey, why you close de door?!”

It was not clear whether Mrs Too-Cheap understood his words or could even speak English. She seemed unthreatened or simply unaware, and ignored him

“There’s no need!  Leave the door open.”  He was really hot under the collar. By the way,  nice salmon-pink shirt Ahmed. Good style.

“How are you?” He asked, smiling at me.

Great thanks” I said as a tribe of strangers poured out of Lift B.

You’re up close and personal in an elevator. Sometimes too close. I was sandwiched between the two Iraqis and standing behind Frau Frugal. As Mrs Too-Cheap alighted, Ahmed flashed a white-teeth grin. His dark eyes sparkled.

How are you?”  he said in a thick Middle Eastern accent. The kind of accent a Western actor might try to adopt when playing the role of an Arab in some B-movie.

Fine thanks. Say, where are you from?”  I replied.

“Iraq. Baghdad. You?”

“New Zealand” I offered.

“Ah New Zealand, very beautiful. How are you?”

Are you kidding me?  You’ve asked me that question three times now. It’s turning into a kindergarten-level English class.

“(Exactly the same as I bloody well was 30 seconds ago) Fine thanks. That’s a nice shirt you’re wearing. Nice colour too.”



The shirt clings to his muscular body well. You can see why apparel companies are so keen for athletes to endorse their products. I’m not sure Ahmed is an athlete. Mustafa certainly isn’t. There seems to be a league of Arab nations that plays soccer nearby. He doesn’t seem to understand my comment until I point at his shirt.

“Ah, yes. You can have it if you want?” He moves to unbutton his shirt. He is literally about to give me the shirt off his back. I am not sure whether this was his way of having a little joke or an Iraqi attempt at friendship. In any case, his kind offer is refused. We’ve arrived at my floor and I bid them farewell.

I haven’t seen them again. This might have been the first time I’d met someone from Iraq. I hope it’s not the last.





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