Wednesday, 7 March 2007
Clearly not from Alaska
Alex Horne – 7th March 2007
‘Hello Mo’, I say, reading his name badge. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘He’s from Alaska!’ shouts Edvardas, emboldened after the conclusion of his interrogation.
Mo (short for Moutaz) is clearly not from Alaska. With Sudanese parents, he grew up in Dubai, was educated in Egypt but was actually born in St George’s hospital, Westminster. ‘I can definitely be your Sudanese representative though; I’ve got a Sudanese passport – although I don’t actually know where it is at the moment’. Thankfully this is a fairly red-tape-free project and I saw no reason why I shouldn’t immediately approve his application.
Mo has led an eventful and varied life. After studying law in Egypt he returned to Dubai, a somewhat eccentric decision considering Dubai had just that year banned internationals from practising law. He therefore spent the next few months selling cars and photocopiers (‘not at the same time!’ he laughed) before moving to the USA to take a masters in criminal law.
Predictably enough, his itinerant inclination followed him to America. ‘It was too expensive so I quit and worked in restaurants and donut stalls until this guy came along and asked me if I was “interested in making big bucks.” At that point I knew it was time to move again – I didn’t want to spend my time pushing drugs – so I made the small journey to London. That was in 1997.’
Since then he’s studied alternative medicine and graduated last September from the College of Naturopathic Medicine. ‘That’s what I now know I want to do. That’s my passion’. So after a couple of decades and one marriage (‘I’m happily divorced’) Mo is finally showing some signs of settling at the age of 39. ‘Am I going to move again? Well, not for a while. I have to pay all my debts first!’ he laughs yet again.
One country Mo hasn’t visited over the last twenty years is Sudan. His family are from Khartoum and although a few of his relatives still live there, it’s not necessarily a place at the forefront of Mo’s mind. ‘Do I feel Sudanese?’ he ponders. ‘That’s a good question. I don’t really know what that means. I don’t think patriotism is necessarily good. If someone invaded England I’d stand up for it. I love it here. That’s the link – that’s how I feel. But I’ve made friends everywhere. I like everywhere’.
‘My Dad’s stories are all set in Sudan so there’s an echo of the place in my head. I’d like to help Sudan – if that’s not patronising. Dad didn’t live there for long but he was born in a beautiful spot there. But now he’s passed away and all the people he knew are gone. And now I’m here and this is where my life is… Oh, I’m so self-centred!’
I didn’t think Mo was at all self-centred. To be honest, I didn’t think he was really anything-centred. But he was definitely interesting, entertaining and the duty manager at the hostel so it was soon time for him to return to his desk.
And that, for now, was that at the hostel. Becky assured me there were many more nationalities who were unfortunately not around just then and I’m sure I’ll return before the end of the year. Instead of heading back west, however, the four of us then bundled into Becky’s car and drove south (past a Finnish Church by Southward library which I must also remember to revisit) to Peckham Rye, Becky’s house and Becky’s husband, Nathan.