Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Bye bye Mr. Nahash

The urge to write this post, after more than three years, is not the rigmarole that has been going on ever since I last posted, in fact it is as far as it can be from the politicians clawing for the holy throne of Iraq.
No, I have lost all interest in the nature of evil; in fact I do not even keep track of most of what has been going on lately. At the present I am convinced that if you can’t change the whole world, at least change your own world. And I have been doing so in various ways; I have been keeping the promise I made to myself; to only do things I am interested in. I have had my share of traumatic experiences during the embargo, of working in uninteresting jobs, since having a job is better than no job at all; that is over for me, cause once you’ve looked death in the eye you realize that all the artificial “must(s) and should do(s) and ought to(s) ” are self inflicted.
Also, I am reading all the books I was deprived from in previous years; the banned books and all the books I had just heard of or read about before, and take my word for it; there is nothing more rewarding in life.
And the most important thing is that I have been, for the last couple of years, volunteering for charity work (nothing big, just helping a few people at a time), since I moved to a safer place than Baghdad (still in Iraq though). Of course, my helping a few did not make any major changes in the texture of time or being, but it did alter my world.
For months I volunteered teaching others; and … well a difference was born.
Once the projects I was involved in were over, I went back to work, but I am making sure to keep on helping and assisting anyone who comes across my path (as best as I can , nothing significant ) morally and materially, and that is my contribution to the world, and hopefully it will stay so till I die.

I am writing today to say good bye to a childhood icon that was a part of my life and the life of a whole generation. A couple of hours ago, I read that the Kuwaiti actor Ghanem AL Saleh had passed away, and that is why I am writing; to reminisce.
What! Amidst all the crises of not having a government, the explosive situation, may be even a new dictatorship of some sort, and God knows what else is awaiting you, that is why you are writing? Well, yes, once you are forced to leave everything you once identified with behind you , and yet still survive somehow , you realize that the things that really matter are the things you will always carry around with you everywhere ; your memories . They once asked V. Nabokov whether he missed Russia terribly. He said ‘No, all the Russia I need is with me ‘.

Ghanem AL Saleh and his iconic comedy (Bye bye London) is part of a generation’s consciousness and lexicon. I remember how back in the eighties when VCRs were the only escape from the news and the long running “Images of the battle fields at the Eastern Gate of the Arab Homeland” and the president’s visits to his adoring people , Bye bye London was watched and watched and watched. It was a breath of fresh air for all oppressed Iraqis.
Here was a play, poking fun at the sense of Arab self-grandeur and all the hollow patriotic slogans. We all have our favorite hilarious catchphrases by Mr. Nahash and Shari . And we recognize each other as fans when we find ourselves repeating parts of the play in various situations. Bye bye London is like Monty Python to the English or the Simpsons to Americans. Everyone knows what is implied when someone says : Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!, or bring out your dead1, or when someone says : Bonjour, you cheese-eating surrender-monkeys!, or meh .

The play was about Shari bin Jumaa’a , a rich Kuwaiti, who decided to go to London to enjoy what the old colonizers’ capitol has to offer , escaping from his wife Sabacha and his silly daughter. He writes to his nephew, who is studying in London, to meet him at the airport. The nephew, of course, thinking his uncle is really sick brings an ambulance to take him. Shari escapes, in his pajamas, from the hospital and goes to a hotel, and there he meets Mr. Nahash , an Arab tycoon who has been living in the hotel for years, and who is sprinkling his millions all over the hotel’s management staff , especially the girls.
The nephew and his girl friend decide to contact Shari’s wife to come over and stop her husband. The nephew and the girlfriend also decide to disguise, as a number of characters, to protect the uncle from crooks and girls who want to swindle him.
Finally, after loosing a whole lot of money, his daughter being arrested for shoplifting, and getting his heart broken by Janet, his supposedly English girl friend, who is actually the nephew’s girlfriend in disguise, Shari returns home.

That is the outline, yet there is so much more. The hilarious mix ups and the memorable characters are the best till this day. The actor Ghanem Al Saleh ( Nahash ) is a favorite of millions of Arabs . The filthy rich Arab who befriends Shari , and mentors him on the ways of the Engleez , who goes around London in his traditional Arabic clothes , holding rosary beads in one hand and a glass of Campari in the other, and who despite his wealth is still a Bedouin at the core .
Most of the play takes place in the hotel’s bar; Shari and Nahash are mostly drunk, slurring and swaying around trying to score girls at the bar, while talking about everything and nothing, coining catchphrases that still resonate.
Nahash is a living stereotype, a representative of all what is thought to be true about rich lewd Arabs. He pin points all what is wrong with the whole culture.

In Iraq, Bye bye London was very successful, despite never being showed on national TV, in fact it was branded by the government, in a very anticipated way, as a play full of denigration and insults to Arabs, which only emphasizes what the play was all about; here we are defeated in every way , full of ourselves, repeating slogans that only perpetuates a false self-image which no longer works in the modern world (the eighties! go figure), and which is in sharp contrast with the reality Arabs have been living in for a couple of centuries .
I remember in the nineties when I was at college, when the then Iraqi government invaded Kuwait, I was understandably sad, indignant and devastated for many things, but also because…. , well because I loved Mr. Nahash . He was who I giggled at when I was a kid, and whose humor I came to appreciate when I grew up.

Let me share some of my favorite parts:

Nahash introducing himself to Shari’s wife, after she asks him who the hell he thinks he is:
- Me! , I am Nahash ; Son of the mountain, wilderness and wastelands, conqueror of darkness and insect exterminator …

Or this now catchphrase that he says dreaming of a holy war with Israel, after the English trick him into buying a super gun:
- Mark my words; it will be an offensive non- defensive war.

Or ,
Janet says:
‘What is it with you Arabs? all ‘We were once at the borders of China’ this , and ‘ We were in Andalusia’ that , we were grand, we were ….’
Nahash replies:
‘Yes bless you, we are better known as the “Arabs of the verb were and all its conjugations.’

Or, asking Shari why he married such a woman if he has to run to London from her:
- ‘I married her before the discovery of Oil you know.’ Says Shari
- ‘Mine is no better, she is a she-wolf a she-wolf! I tell ya.’ Replies Nahash with fear in his eyes.

Or , how his Bedouin goat- herding vocabulary creeps in every now and then , even when he is trying to speak English ;
He comes back to the hotel after being stood up by a girl, who is now sitting at the Bar:
- Where were you? you betrayer of all covenants, I waited for you in the street till the tendons of legs snapped , don’t you stare at me you hungry goat.
The girl replies ‘Go to hell Nahash! . ‘
- Me? Go to hell , may you drop dead of thirst.

Another example; after Shari’s wife insults him, and tells him to put on glasses, may be that will help him discern people properly, he shouts at her:
- You listen to me you tent without a porch, I may put on glasses and look to the right -he looks to the right where English girls are sitting- and what do my glasses see? , ha … what do my glasses see? Graceful limber gazelles, and then I may put on my glasses and look to the left -looking and squinting at Sabacha and her daughter- what do I see? Ha… Stranded camels and goats. At that point the two women, Sabacha and her daughter, chase him and beat him up, while he ( the misogynist he is ) hides behind Janet using her as a shield.

Or, when he was trying to introduce himself to Janet, who was not interested:
- I offer you my friendship and advise you to accept it, I also dedicate you this poem. This is a poem I wrote in a dark night without a moon, consisting of 1000 verses , may Allah protect you and all those present here from its beginning and protect me from its end .
And the drunken party goes on and on. Ghanem Al Saleh had many other roles, but for everyone he was always Mr. Nahash.

By the way, Ghanem Al Saleh died in London.


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