I first met Mr. Akthar when my family and I moved to Oman five years ago. I needed to have shoes repaired and a colleague recommended going to Ghubra to find a shoe repair place. I walked the narrow alleyway that contained his shop, dodging cars cars traveling up and down the alleyway in either direction. When I finally entered his shop, Mr. Akthar smiled and said, "Welcome, how can I help you? I'm Akthar." I explained what the issues were with my shoes and Mr. Akthar just smiled and replied, "No problem. In the 5 years that I've known Mr. Akthar, this has been his standard response to most questions, "No problem."
Fast forward 5 years later. It's a Tuesday night, around 8pm and I'm on my way to Mr. Akthar's shop to have the drink that I promised. At night, Ghubra comes alive. Its a small, gritty area populated with shops and many Afghani and Pakistani men. I entered the shop and Mr. Akthar and his dad were sitting cross-legged in silence meticulously working on shoes. The shop was as bright as a hospital operating room and slightly bigger than a cubicle with sandals for sale on the walls and completed shoes and various types of bags in plastic bags awaiting customers to retrieve them. I sat on a stool in the corner, Mr. Akthar looked up, saw me, smiled, and said, "Our drinks." He quickly ran out of his shop, went next door, and returned with 2 cans of Pepsi and 2 cups. He handed me a can, opened the other, poured a little bit in a cup for himself and gave the remainder to his father. I sat in the corner, drinking my Pepsi and spent the next hour observing what took place in the shop.
Between customers we would talk. I asked Mr. Akthar where he learned to repair shoes and bags. He looked at his dad, pointed to him and said, "I just learned from him, you do, and you learn." He entertained my question as if it were somewhat ridiculous. He then said, "You've been coming to my shop about 5 years and this is the longest you have stayed. This is good." Between customers, the coversation would bandy from the Boston Marathon bombings that had recently taken place. In regards to the bombings, Mr. Akthar looked at me and said, "Senseless, just senseless! Why would anyone want to do such a thing?" Then, we discussed the recent return from exile of Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharaf to which Mr.Akthar replied, "Don't like Musharaf. All politicians in Pakistan are corrupt, crooked." This was interesting because this was the exact same repsonse I received recently from my Pakistani barber regarding politicians in Pakistan. Then, he showed me photos of his family, home, and friends that reside all over the world. The photos of Mr. Akthar's home revealed a beautiful gated home surrounded by a lush verdant landscape in Northern Pakistan as he was dressed in stylish shalwar kameezs. The setting and photos were a stark contrast from where he spends the majority of his year in Muscat. Mr. Aktar returns to Pakistan to see his family either anually or once every two years. And this got me thinking, be it a white collar professional from a Western country or a blue collar professional/laborer from the Indian subcontinent (Which are in large numbers in Oman) we are all in Oman to do a job and to provide for our families. Some of us are fortunate to bring our families with us as we perform our jobs and some of us unfortunately are not. But, we are all here to take advantage of the opportunities afforded us and many of us have more in common with one another than we realize!
At the end of this enlightening and fun hour and after yet another customer said I resembled the Los Angeles Laker basketball player Kobe Bryant, Mr. Akthar looked at me and said, "The next time you come to my shop you bring your family, I would really like to meet them. I replied, "I definitely will."