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The Other Place

The Other Place

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid
Translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 316
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7mxd
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  • Book Info
    The Other Place
    Book Description:

    The Other Place portrays the shallowness of the petrodollar culture and the price one pays for quick money. The protagonist of this prize-winning novel, an educated middle-class Egyptian from Alexandria, describes his experiences and those of migrant workers and professionals in one of the Gulf states, and their interaction with the oil-rich country’s local elite and with agents of western businesses. The book pictures rather than states the desolation brought about when market values take over and the ravages that such an order causes to all who partake in it. Ibrahim Abdel Meguid succeeds in representing imaginatively the important phenomenon of migration and the barren landscape of the petrodollar culture, and at the same time penetrates the rationalizing mechanisms of the migrants and their psychological make-up. The Other Place was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 1996. “Ibrahim Abdel Meguid has already established himself as one of our major authors." — Naguib Mahfouz “What raises The Other Place to the level of a universal discourse is its combination of critical realism with a subtle symbolic dimension." — Award Committee, Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-183-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Translator’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter 1
    (pp. 1-6)

    The door of the plane opened and I saw the silence.

    A rare sensation: to feel the cool air-conditioning at your back as your chest and face meet the sun before you’ve even left the door of the plane. The person behind me pushed me gently and I took the first step. The moment I descended the few steps and my feet touched the ground, I felt that I, the earth, and the air, had become one thing: hot and empty. I had to walk the short distance to the airport terminal. It was a small airport with only one...

  5. Chapter 2
    (pp. 7-16)

    “It’s all right to be late the first day,” Faruq said as we drank our morning tea.

    “I was thinking of staying with you until I see you off at the airport,” I said.

    I was exhausted. I’d had a nightmare the previous night, in which I saw myself backing off slowly, fearfully, from four black men with bulging, rolling eyes, each as large as an egg. They were closing in on me, with long whips raised high. I didn’t know where to go. They were surrounding me, driving me as I backed off into a small dark alley. Behind...

  6. Chapter 3
    (pp. 17-24)

    I began to like the house and to like going home. At three o’clock, the world would open up before me. I hadn’t learned to drive yet. Every morning when he came to sign in, Arshad would ask me, “When are you coming to the garage, Mr. Ismail?”

    And I would answer, “As soon as possible.”

    But I hadn’t gone. I don’t know why.

    Abed gave me a ride every day. I usually arrived home around half past three to find that Said had prepared lunch. Said was the first to come home.

    Sometimes I helped him but often he...

  7. Chapter 4
    (pp. 25-36)

    “what a beautiful day!” I said to myself, as I stood in front of my office looking at the high, blue sky bathed in the brilliant sunlight. The silence had not yet been bruised by the heat. It was about eight in the morning. The workers had come and gone after signing in. I had done nothing since then except drink some coffee and sit around. I remember how they came in at seven in a hurry.

    Sabah al-khayr.

    Good Morning.

    Al-salaamu alaykum.

    These three greetings I heard every morning. In the afternoon when they came back to sign out...

  8. Chapter 5
    (pp. 37-46)

    “Why don’t you like to go to the market with me?” Said asked out of the blue, as he closed the backgammon case. We were sitting in the courtyard. It was early evening. “You’ve been playing absent-mindedly today,” he added. “You lost a bundle.”

    I didn’t want to tell him anything. What good would it do to tell him I was thinking about the silent treatment I had been getting at work for days now? I didn’t know what wrong I had done Arshad. When he came to request something from Abed and if Abed happened to be in my...

  9. Chapter 6
    (pp. 47-54)

    Agreat crush of large and small buses and different makes of cars: Peugeot, Mercedes, Chevrolet, Toyota, Datsun, Honda, and others that I didn’t know. The road from the north, the southbound airport road, was jammed. Tabuk was the first big town in the northwestern part of Saudi Arabia. Pilgrims would spend a night or two here in the open air next to the cars. Making it to Tabuk was reassuring. From there on, it was an easy journey and in the holy land. The hospital in Tabuk served as a quarantine station where pilgrims arriving from the north, Syria and...

  10. Chapter 7
    (pp. 55-62)

    Why are you going so fast?”

    “Why go slow?”

    I asked and Dr. Wagih answered.

    He had invited me to go along and spend a night at the hospital. He said, “Tomorrow is Friday and you can stay up with me till the morning.”

    I had accepted straight away, saying to myself that this was another chance to break the rigid routine of our life. I had gone out with Said to the market, and tonight I would be in Wagih’s company at the hospital.

    Wagih was talking a lot about how stressful working was around that time. The hospital...

  11. Chapter 8
    (pp. 63-66)

    “Why am I here?”

    A difficult question, Wadha. Even more difficult was seeing you face to face. As if I had known. Ever since I saw you under the sun, in the white light, and I yearned to see your body quiver, I knew that I was going to meet you. It must be like the witchcraft that’s causing the cars to overturn in Qaliba, as the driver with the golden tooth said. The question is, am I destined for you? I didn’t think either of us was destined for the other. Why then was fate placing you in my...

  12. Chapter 9
    (pp. 67-76)

    My mother did not wake me up today to the sounds of the radio, the chanting, the clamor, the voices of the children in the street, and the songs celebrating the Feast. Today I did not have to play host to my married sister, her husband and her two sons, nor to my divorced sister and her two daughters. My querulous college sister would not insist that they make room for her to sit next to me. Neither would my college student brother display any sign of discomfort about being so big yet holding his hand out to take whatever...

  13. Chapter 10
    (pp. 77-84)

    The Pakistanis had tans and were more energetic and merrier after they came back from the pilgrimage. I asked Arshad, who had come into my office and stood there, silently, “Was it that hot?”

    “It was cold, Mr. Ismail. We slept outdoors and traveled in an open semi truck.” Once again he was silent. It was about seven thirty. Then he said irritably, “What’s the story with Mr. Abed, Mr. Ismail?”

    “Has something new happened?”

    “Last night, after our return, we talked about the camp budget for this week. He’s come back from the pilgrimage even more stingy than he...

  14. Chapter 11
    (pp. 85-92)

    On my way to Wadha’s house I thought I would spend a long time with her. But I saw it: the beautiful house with the garden, and the palm, and lemon trees. A vicious-looking policeman stood guard outside the door. On the balcony Sayyid al-Gharib sat, wrapped in a blanket. He saw my car and stood up, but I didn’t stop. I felt claustrophobic even though everything was wide open in front of me. I couldn’t understand how nobody could tell the emir that the “judge” had forgotten to put the Egyptian doctor on trial, neither imprisoning him nor setting...

  15. Chapter 12
    (pp. 93-106)

    Mansur came into my office in the morning with the monkey on his shoulder and said, “Get ready to go to Medina.”

    I smiled. Whenever Mansur spoke with me I tried to fake a smile. I said, “Nothing bad I hope?”

    He said, “You’re to go to the Social Security organization and bring back the forms to insure the workers. It’s a new system. I think you have something like that in Egypt.”

    I was surprised at how much he was meddling in my job, though I forgot that Amm Abdallah often gave him the opportunity to do just that....

  16. Chapter 13
    (pp. 107-114)

    Here a person could forget everything. I knew that very well. Busy time and idle time could cause you to drown. The morning after I arrived back in Tabuk, I had to begin filling out the Social Security forms I had brought back from the main office in Medina. I had only stayed in Medina the following day; in the morning I went to the Social Security office and got the forms, and in the evening I took the plane back to Tabuk.

    I kept thinking that I was going to run into Beltagi again on the street or perhaps...

  17. Chapter 14
    (pp. 115-120)

    It was getting colder. It was the twenty-second of December. In the morning we found the water frozen in the faucet. That only happened in Arabian-style houses with their roofless courts exposed all night. Walking the short distance from the room to the bathroom was like swimming in a sea of ice. Television now was different; it no longer reminded me that there was a big, wide world out there. Now it gave me warmth. We watched it in Faruq’s empty room.

    “We don’t need a fourth roommate,” Wagih said and Said added, “We can turn his room into a...

  18. Chapter 15
    (pp. 121-132)

    I woke up at about nine. I could still hear the chirping of the birds outside the window. As I opened my eyes, I saw the three other patients in the room: Koreans, talking, their eyes gleaming with delight, with a strange sound in their voices. I saw their mouths move at an astounding speed as they spoke. I smiled at them and they all said, merrily, “Good Morning! Good dayinshaallah!” I smiled again. I saw Aida come into the room with a magnificent smile on her beautifully brown face, her wide dark eyes gleaming and her white uniform...

  19. Chapter 16
    (pp. 133-138)

    It was as if I had entered through a door leading to a hell with no exit. I couldn’t stay any longer even though I had caught myself anticipating Aida’s joyous entry into my room in the morning. I had forgotten the world outside. Nobody had come to visit me again. I no longer remembered whether I knew anyone here.

    I no longer knew anything except hurrying footsteps carrying plasma bags to save an injured person, nurses crying over those who died and who could have been saved if only this or that had been done, doctors shouting at the...

  20. Chapter 17
    (pp. 139-148)

    I was discharged from the hospital on the last day of December. I left Wagih in the hospital and didn’t find Said at home. There was nothing I needed more than sleep. I had left Aida’s room just before dawn. I described my situation to her and told her that I had recently discovered that I was the victim of a plot hatched by my father, a plot in which I acquiesced—out of unparalleled moral stupidity. It had erected a dam between women and me. I told her that I was seriously contemplating marriage. We bowed our heads in...

  21. Chapter 18
    (pp. 149-156)

    I missed my work and there I was driving my car fast and opening the car’s windows to the cold morning air to clear the fogged up windows. I cut short my leave and went. It was no longer possible to stay at home for a long time. We had gone back home in silence. Wagih left us and went to the hospital before the news spread. He said his going there first would make a difference. Said entered the house resignedly. He changed his clothes and when I asked him where he was going he said, “To the school....

  22. Chapter 19
    (pp. 157-162)

    We were now living in total silence. Said did everything quietly; he sat down and stood up as if he were a mere apparition. When he ate, his teeth operated independently of the rest of him and very slowly. He didn’t speak and didn’t turn on the television. He prayed a lot and read the Quran silently. I learned that Aida had left Tabuk, so I joined in his silence.

    On my way back after Rosemary’s invitation I felt pain in my wound. It was night and very cold; the vast desert seemed to shrink in the darkness around me....

  23. Chapter 20
    (pp. 163-172)

    I now had to try hard to forget. Nothing here made you forget anything. Tabuk didn’t make you forget your mother or your father. The long and short of it was that it was the foreigners who came here to forget.

    Our moving to a new house helped distract me for some time. Wagih had left the whole matter to me. With difficulty, I was able to rent a small two-room Arabian-style house in the same neighborhood, Faysaliya, west of town. The house, at the edge where the neighborhood met the desert, was brand new, still smelling of mortar and...

  24. Chapter 21
    (pp. 173-182)

    Cairo. We were now flying over it, but I could see nothing. A dust storm was delaying the landing. The captain announced that we might be forced to land at Luxor airport. I wanted very much to see the Nile and the Pyramids but the only thing I could see was a yellow horizon through the glass of the small window next to which I had taken pains to sit. On my way over I had not paid any attention to where I sat as I was too busy being afraid of flying for the first time in my life....

  25. Chapter 22
    (pp. 183-190)

    No Aida, no Wadha, no Rosemary, Arshad, Munzir, or Nabil; no Abed, Mansur, Wagih, or Salih Sanyur al-Thaqafi. No one and nothing enticed me to return or to stay, just a mysterious feeling propelling me forward, and another, equally mysterious, pulling me back. I was leaving Egypt to go to Tabuk. Twenty days earlier I had left Tabuk to come to Egypt. So where was I from? And in what other place was I born, and where did I grow up? The plane took off at five o’clock local time; we arrived at half past seven local time. The flight...

  26. Chapter 23
    (pp. 191-196)

    “Ismail, why did you let them do that to me? I love you. Don’t forget me. Wadha.”

    I wish I hadn’t started with your letter. I drove from Rose’s house at full speed to be by myself and open the letters. Did you know that I started with your letter out of carelessness and with the knowledge that the story had ended, that what happened was no more than a whim or a fit of madness? Wadha bint Sulayman ibn Sabil, delicate like a little sparrow, what do you expect from me, who came from the lands of the Nile...

  27. Chapter 24
    (pp. 197-204)

    No letters from anyone.

    “Please forgive me for being so late in writing to you. I have been in Egypt, where I spent twenty days on urgent business that I couldn’t beg off. Did I, perhaps, need to go without knowing it? Once I was there, I felt I needed to come back. Now I want to travel again, but not to Egypt. If there’s one reason for my coming back here, it is you ... I can’t say any more. I would love to come and visit you, but I am afraid. What sense would there be if you...

  28. Chapter 25
    (pp. 205-212)

    The world is beautiful and life is truly worth living for we live only once. Here and now, my head is opening up little by little and the vitality and rush of youth are being poured into it. I can remember every book I’ve read. Who said that, Ismail? Ostrovsky, as he ran through the White Army with his sword and bullets, behind a vanguard of optimism. But I am an old connoisseur of writers’lies and shouldn’t deceive myself now, otherwise it would be quite laughable. I do not need any new pain. The world appears to me like a...

  29. Chapter 26
    (pp. 213-218)

    The mice kept coming and I kept killing them. I have been by myself since Wagih left for Medina two weeks ago. We had a five-day heat wave that scorched the town then subsided, giving way to dust storms that blew all the time. No letter from Aida telling me her new address. No explanations for the many letters from W. S. S. appearing in the local and Arabian magazines I began to buy regularly.

    “Sister W. S. S. from Taif has sent us a letter asking: ‘Can afatwabe issued by the Kingdom banning marriage if the difference...

  30. Chapter 27
    (pp. 219-226)

    It suddenly occurred to me that my mother’s illness couldn’t be anything ordinary. There would be no need to mention that in a letter. When I received a letter from my brother asking me to send a thousand pounds right away, I was certain. But he didn’t mention what she had nor the steps taken for treatment. I had been in Cairo two months earlier and my mother was in the best of health. True, she was over fifty but that is not an age when illness suddenly strikes. My mother was too young for the diseases of old age....

  31. Chapter 28
    (pp. 227-236)

    I was inevitably going back where I had started; everything I drew close to had drawn away. How had I forgotten to be a smooth shiny mirror that raindrops fell off?

    The night and the day and one man between them, and that one man is me. The Arabs called the night and the day ‘the two fillers’ because they filled the world with light and with darkness. How can one see in dazzling light or in pitch darkness? The Arabs called the night and the day ‘the two new ones’ because they were forever new with darkness and light....

  32. Chapter 29
    (pp. 237-240)

    I was surprised to see the old Yemeni man again. Today he came early, at about nine o’clock. He just appeared, sitting in his place, thesiwakin his mouth, looking at me and smiling the whole time. Ever since he reappeared his smile has been broader. He must have heard the whole story about Mansur. Poor Mansur. At the very last moment his older brother found out about the banquet. It was said that his mother was the one who told him, as he came back home from the store, that Mansur had slaughtered the monkeys he had purchased...

  33. Chapter 30
    (pp. 241-248)

    I didn’t want you to reproach me one day, when we meet. Everyone has chosen to keep the news from you so it wouldn’t interfere with your work. But I realize how courageous and how capable of handling difficult situations you are. Therefore I have chosen to inform you despite the pain: your pain because she is your beloved mother, and my pain because of my breaking ranks with your family in this matter. Your mother passed away a few weeks ago; we have buried her and given her a proper funeral. Please accept my condolences and my family’s condolences....

  34. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 249-250)
  35. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-252)