Monday, July 01, 2013

Hangin' With Mr. Akthar

"The next time you come to my shop, you need to stop and have a drink." I replied, "Y'know what, you're right, I will." Those were the remnants of a conversation I had with a gentleman named Akthar who owns a shoe repair shop in a section of Muscat, Oman called Ghubra the last time I was in his shop.

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.
As a counselor, when meeting with students, parents, and/or colleagues, I've been trained to be an active listener. To be cognizant of nonverbal cues, to restate what a person has said in order to clarify, and to try and be brief and Mr. Akthar is no different. Customer after customer would enter his shop in hopes that he could refurbish, restore, and/or repair their shoes and various belongings. And, he would listen, restate and try to clarify what was said in the variety of languages spoken to him be it Arabic, Hindi, English, Urdu, or Pashto and he communicated in all equally well.  He would look at an item presented to him and say pretty much one of three things, "Ok, no problem, I can fix. See me day after tomorrow," "No, I can't fix, it's trash, or "Take off your shoes, I fix now." Then, two minutes later as I sat transfixed by Mr. Akthar's skill, efficiency, and craftsmanship, shoes would be repaired and he would ask the customer usually for 1 Omani Riyal ($2.60 USD).

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."


Anthony Johns said...

Mr. Haynes,

You are one interesting fellow. I only wish I could spend more time in your presence. There are many thing I would like to talk to you about, but I am not sure this is the venue to have such discussions.

One thing I picked out of your post was the response Mr. Akthar gave to you about how he learned his trade. He made me instantly think about Deuteronomy 6. The whole chapter is too long for me to quote here (though I do suggest you read it, for I believe it to be an "the" model God has given to us as fathers on how to train our children.) I will quote verses 4-9, 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." We as God's covenantal ministers to our household, need to take God's methodology for teaching and training up of our children very seriously, and be prepared to do so in the mist of life ( in life training), for this is true living that brings Glory to our God. As John Neal wrote, "...the christian life, like riding a bike, is about doing something and not just knowing something, it involves skill. The Bible makes plain that the skills we are expected to walk in are not too difficult for the Spirit-filled cain to learn and apply with increasing success. However, such skills are not too easy either: they require both learning them and then constantly using them." Mr. Akthar's keen and acute ability to analyze shoes is the process and product of his watching his father and replicating it thorough practice of such skills. So we have a model to look to that our Heavenly Father has given us, namely Jesus, and so we do as he did. The great commission that he has given us is to replicate the his work. Matthew 28 "16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Ryan, not sure if this was your intention, but wanted to thank you for pricking my heart with this word picture that has again encouraged me to be a better father, and to follow the pattern of my Father in Heaven.


Jennifer L Melton said...

Love this story!