We met in the first year of the new millennium in London, at SOAS, where we both studied for our Master degrees. I immediately noticed your enthusiasm for making the world a better place and your keen interest in theory, in explaining the social phenomena that we observe, your desire to engage at the practical and theoretical level to bring people together to overcome their differences. I admired your passion and I fell in love with you. I didn’t even know it until we met again, by chance, in the corridor, a few weeks later. We started going out and you decided to come with me to Berlin to do a PhD. Just before we left London, 9/11 happened. One of the pilots who flew the planes into the World Trade Center was Egyptian and looked a bit like you. It was a harsh start in Berlin which was to become and remain your home. I was SO glad when you made it from Egypt to Germany, but even within my immediate family’s friends there was suspicion and it was certainly not easy to be from the Middle East in those times. We moved into a flat in Alexandrinenstr, and I suddenly felt very grown-up – moving in with my boyfriend, starting a household! And rather than me introducing you to Berlin, you already had many friends across Europe and Berlin who you introduced me to. It was already clear then that you had made many friends in your journey to bring people together to foster peace. It was a wonderful circle people to be introduced to.
We had many intellectual debates throughout the years. You always supported me and built up my confidence by completely believing in me – I so clearly and vividly remember, and continue to follow, the advice you gave on conducting interviews, when I debarked on my first field work in Ghana. You often read my draft work and commented, praised. I read yours and I do remember distinctly how much you need a deadline and how much you relied on those late nights at the end to get a piece of work over the finish line. You always loved reading and reading, and kept on reading more, until you really had to sit down and produce something NOW.
We were also quite different in many ways. I liked to walk quickly and to plan ahead. You liked to walk slowly and to vegetate. I like the sunshine, you preferred the shade. I so well remember a big fight over whether to sit in a sunny or shady space in a Berlin Café in spring, one of the first warm days of the year. I’m ‘just an Egyptian peasant’ you often said jokingly. After a couple of years of being together in Berlin, it became more and more apparent that we were in different stages in our lives and you wanted to let me go. It took me a lot longer than that to let you go but I did eventually. Reassured by the knowledge that you would always be there, should I need you. And I just realise now that I still took that for granted. In the last five years or so, we spoke less frequently. I got busy with my new family and it took a while for us to meet up again. We saw each other in Berlin, roughly a year ago – you now a German citizen and I British. Who would have ever thought that! I was so glad to hear how content and settled you were, still in Wuerttembergische Str, but now in a new constellation, still close to Michaela, but now with a new partner – and coming to meet me in Park Café with a dog! My dear Ahmed, your death comes as a shock to me and it feels even harsher given that it’s a complication from a successful kidney transplant.
My heart goes out to Michaela and Colinda, who I’ve not yet had a chance to meet.
Ahmed, my friend, fare well. You will remain close to my heart, always.