a tattoo: a journey

Posted: March 27, 2007 in Uncategorized

Tattoo or two..


You meet people and you take a bit of each other with you as you part.

How did I meet Shahe ?

Must’ve been sometime in the early nineties in Dahab.. That used to be where circles overlapped..

I chanced upon him again when a friend was getting a tattoo of an eagle across his back. Friend was in need of a crib to continue his tattoo session, and I was the obvious answer- provided that we could lock ourselves up in my room and be serious about this tattoo.

So rings the doorbell and it’s Tim and the tattoo artist- none other than our old friend Shahe..

We tried to be as serious as we could about this tattoo business, but I guess it was more a night of friends, learning about, and from each other. So with all the giggling and conversation, tattoo was on hold..

That was sometime December, we met soon after because it was decided on that night that I was to retouch the sun tattoo on Shahe’s back. That done, we parted with a promise that I’d get a free tattoo if I would reciprocate the favor and give Shahe one from scratch.

Personally, I think it’s a story about trusting someone to carry their mark on you for the rest of your life. And them trusting you back.


Friday March 10th..

We met at around 9pm at a friend’s house that I constantly seem to be occupying in Zamalek. The first night was spent in research.. Over the net .. Getting a hold of Shahe’s brother on msn to give us the link to which the images

of the cross and the ‘wheel of life’ were uploaded.. Mesmerized by the work of some of the artists..

So on & so forth..

Saturday March 11th..

Wake up call..

Shahe: .. “serious let’s work on the tattoo.. go to a friend’s place so Ficas [my dog] would not be in the way.. 30 minutes..”

I : “k”…

[over to Hadidi’s].. Chilled music.. Chilled apple and cheddar sandwiches were a perk..

Time to work on Shahe’s tattoo.. An Armenian Cross..

I got re-acquainted with the machine, through comments like; “you’re not touching the skin”, “you’re biting into the skin”, “why don’t you try tilting it a little”. After more than 4 hours the basic outline was done. We could relax and watch the Real / Barcelona game.

Wednesday the 14th..

I’d decided on a lotus. Symbolic. Hopefully simple and straightforward. Shahe’s tattoo is looking awesome, even if I say so myself.

We Started working on my tattoo at around 11pm.. Worked nonstop for about 4 hours [breaking only for Thomas].. At 3something.. Shahe wet a tissue, wiped the tattoo of any Xcess ink.

“Go take a look”

That in itself presented a problem as it was on my left shoulder, so any real semblance of a view came sitting half perched on the bathroom sink. Kind of like the way ladies used to ride, back in the day.

“Still work to be done, but that’s the most of it”

Tip from Shahe: most people think it’s cool to get tattoos in summer, but it’s wrong because you need to give it time to heal like 10, 15 days. Otherwise the skin will flake off and the colors will fade. It’s the same idea as a scar, only a colored scar. But you still have to take care of it.

Earlier that night..

S: don’t worry brother.. I don’t do half-ass things.. I’m Armenian..

[little toast to Armenia]

S: 12 years ago.. I think maybe more.. 96.. Or before 96.. We lost track of each other for like 12 years, met up again the night I was doing that tattoo for Timmy .. We needed a place, went to yours.. And then things picked up naturally.. Then you did a tattoo for me..

S: then you did another tattoo for me.. The cross on my arm..

[discussions over contours and size of the tattoo entail]

I: [describing what is happening.]… Shahe has made a print of the lotus on my back and is now using a pen to add a few lines to further define the drawing of the lotus. [pause]. After he was kind enough to shave the baby hairs on my back. [must sound like I resent that fact].

S: We have to man.. Because the ink when it gets on the skin is different than its reaction to skin with hair. The hair can mess up the tattoo by taking the ink to different places. And I think it’s dangerous if you push one of the hairs inside..that may result in an infection.. Like ingrown hairs when you’re shaving… so we don’t want to have that.

[crowded house playing in the background]

The petals present a problem to Shahe, he thinks they look too much like hearts and was wondering if a more abstract interpretation was in order?

S: black..

Blue.. [Ficas is eating tissues already, and I ask Shahe to put him behind the revolving doors. Keeps him at bay. He can flap at the doors all he likes maintaining his right to speak, yet still come to terms with the cause and effect relationship of eating tissues.]

S: yalla ya bro..



S: this was what 3 / 4 hours ?  

S: usually people charge by the hour and not the picture. Some charge as much as $50/hour..and they work non-stop for the time, but it still takes 4 hours. My back took 3 sessions of 7 hours each.




S: it was a long time ago.. 14 years ago. Circumstances forced us to be older than our actual age, because of life in Lebanon. My idol was my uncle, who was an officer in the Lebanese forces. And you know how Lebanon was full of guns and I don’t know what.. So he was the one taking care of me, he and my other cousin. Ibn 3amti [he served 7 years in a Yugoslavian political jail for assassinating the Turkish Ambassador] That incident helped me to reproach Armenian history, and that resulted in a desire to do ‘something’ for Armenia. So I went and registered myself in the A.R.F. [Armenian Revolutionary Federation], it’s the one taking care of Armenians in Lebanon. So tab3an Seyya3a and all that [being young and foolish], I did the ARF logo on my right arm. That was a hand tattoo [improvises a hammer-like apparatus with his hands]..tik..tik..tik.. not a machine. Then it was in my skin. That was 1990, 92 I moved to Egypt. 93/94 someone mentions Dahab, says it’s a nice place to spend time, so I get there and find a tattoo parlor.. So I go in get this biohazard armband. Then I get the idea : I’m a diamond setter, an artist, so why don’t I provide this service ?

Back then there was no one in Cairo, that was 1995..

1997 I went to jail for giving tattoos. You remember the wave that went through the country with Satanism ? They were all rockers, and rockers get tattoos, and the only one that gives tattoos is Shahe. So all the guys [are] standing before the district attorney, he sees they’re all wearing tattoos.. So he asks ‘where’d you get your tattoos ?’ .. ‘Shahe’.. ‘Shahe’.. ‘Shahe’.. So eventually he says get me this Shahe. So I end up doing 45 days in political jail [state security]. 

I came out to get the sun tattoo on my back. I adore the sun.

[Shahe interrupts his line of thought to point out: my advice to anyone getting a tattoo is not to get something to showoff but more of something that carries meaning to them. Or else it would become nonsensical after a couple of years.]

So now that we’ve established my love for the sun, hence my love for all nature, especially the sea, explains why I next got Poseidon, god of the sea, on my leg. And now this cross you’re giving me..


I told you it’s addictive.. You’ll see .. [more laughs] aslan you’re on your way

[Shahe takes the time to remind me of where I need to focus on the technique of using a machine]

S: You gotta try to do smaller lines and go over them time and again, instead of the long strokes you prefer to do..saves time and energy.. It’s quicker and thicker because my needles have three points only, so the line is fine.. If I were using 15 needle points, then you’d need go over a line only once.

You should see my old machine .. It was an electric shaving machine..altered the mechanism, placed a needle and there you go..  

S: supposedly Egyptians don’t get tattoos because of religion. But really they don’t think too much about that, so they do get them..what kind of tattoos differs, but its not religious. You get a wide variety of tattoos and piercing.

When I had my first piercing, I used to get called gay. Now there’s a difference in people’s perception of tattoos and piercings. I think exposure to TV and lifestyles are the main cause.

S: some guy wanted a swastika.. But I don’t do these things, I don’t insult religion or dieties, or people..just out of respect.

I: the weirdest ?

S: I gave a mole to a girl once, just like in the movies.

I: your favorite ?

S: it was a guy without a face, in priest garb, holding a heart with chains.  

S: You have outline needles, and shading needles, all range from 3 needles to 15 in width. So 3 is for the finer lines, 15 for the thicker ones. You get original colors, and then any mix between those. Now you can get fluorescent colors or ones that glow in the dark or under black lights.  

S: it used to be Chinese letters, then old English letters became a fad, now the ‘in’ thing seems to be Arabic calligraphy.  

S: it is very beautiful, I’ve seen it on a football player, Simao he plays in Benfica, he’s Portuguese. he’s got his girlfriend’s name tattoed on his forearm. Perfect.

S: that brings me back to popular tattoos, for instance why Chinese letters, if you’re not Chinese ?

S: Arabic looks exotic, Finnish looks exotic, anything different from your language will look exotic.

S: yes, the dragon the scorpion..etc. some people come telling me I want a tattoo like eminem’s.. he could just point to the place, but in his mind its tied to eminem. Yes. And the old fad was the tribal or surreal.. Now faces are coming back.; native Indians, coz it shows the age and the wisdom, Viking warriors with the horns and the beards, and of course you get famous faces- Elvis, Madonna, Umm Kalthoum, and to some artists the body is just like a canvas, the sky is the limit. Now you get tattoo museums. You know how when you die you can donate your organs, now you can donate your tattoo to the museum if they see it fit for display. It’s not that absurd.. Let’s say Picasso were to draw something on your hand, wouldn’t the world want to preserve your hand, this ‘canvas’ ?

S: another point is that it is popular belief that you can only remove a tattoo by surgery. These days you get companies producing solvents, with safe ingredients, that are available on the market and that will remove your tattoo.

S: I didn’t use it, but I believe that to be the case. Besides I would never want to remove a tattoo.

S: the meaning of a tattoo ?

S: that’s got many, many sides. You have the memories, like [when I got] my first tattoo I was only 14 and the predominant memory was that I was scared to show it to my father. When you started giving me the cross tattoo, my father called and we were talking and he asked me what I was doing and I told him I was getting a tattoo. The reaction was very, very different. This time it was like ‘when are you going to get enough of these tattoos ?’ Many memories can take form in tattoos, couples can get tattoos together as a confirmation that feelings are mirrored. Sometimes tattoos may have a deeper meaning if you intend them to. It’s the same frame of mind that gets you to make a t-shirt. You have something to say, and something to tell people.

S: [laughs] ..something like that


Friday March 16th

Go over the outlines of Shahe’s tattoo. Looks fab. He’s all peachy about it.


  1. dcgdg says:

    wow very long story just to say u got a tattoo.  congrats on ur lotus

  2. islam says:

    well the point is i didn\’t like it.. and it sort of disappeared.. : ) 

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