Thursday, December 25, 2008

By Rock to the Desert

The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. Albert Camus

My journey in Cairo hardly begins in Beijing. Nevertheless, lifting weights alongside a 300-pound Egyptian named 'Big Rock' [DaShi] did leave an impression that perhaps can best serve as a bridge between the Beijing-based origins of this blog and its current sphinxian rebirth along the banks of the Nile.

DaShi's name was no accident. But the first thing that captured my attention was not his size but the fact that we used Chinese to communicate. Dashi's real name was Mohammed Basry, and the real reason he was learning Chinese may have been, as he told me, to allow him to serve as a specialized tour guide back in Cairo--or the reason may have been that he was still serving as the military intelligence officer he admitted to serving as in the recent past. As part of his military service, Dashi had attained near fluency in Hebrew. But we did not speak in Hebrew, nor in English, and of course the Arabic that I was two months from begining to study was hardly an option. Instead Chinese served as the tools for an improbable friendship that began over barbells and spot-requests and continued...where I cannot say.

--This summer I could not have realized where our relationship kindled over learning Chinese would take us. A short time after we met, Mohammed moved away and I was left alone with my curioisity, wondering what the future had in store for a skinny Jewish kid sporting a purple Nikayon Zion t-shirt and the growing number of Chinese speakers in the Arab world. Six months later I finally have a chance to see where that path continues, as I have arrived in the land of the Nile to engage Egypt's Chinese speakers. What I find, within and especially beyond the classrooms of modern Egypt, will hopefully appear in future posts.

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