Thursday, November 15, 2007

Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: (Part 2) Egypt calls…

An ancient Greek wise man made once a very smart remark. He drew a circle on a patch of sand. He compared the knowledge we possess with the inner part of the circle and the outer part of the circle with the knowledge that we don’t possess and don’t know. He then noticed that the bigger the circle is the bigger its circumference is, i.e. longer the “border” of inner and outer parts is. The circumference, he said, was the essential. With growth of knowledge, it permanently grew, thus making us feel how much more we still don’t know, which in some cases proved to be rewarding (continuous drive to learn even more) or depressing (realizing the futility of our efforts towards possession of an exhaustive knowledge).

Switzerland cherished in me what no other country did: culture of learning. But there is a mistake in my previous statement. It wasn’t the country itself responsible for this development of my character, but several people, who showed me which route to borrow towards where it would seem to be lighter. I never ceased to be grateful to these people, who inadvertedly helped me transform myself from a total and proud ignoramus to a person who realized how much he didn’t know and who also realized that learning is the only path towards understanding, although the summit can never be reached…

Reading induced more reading. Learning induced more learning. Dreaming induced more reading, learning and consequently dreaming.

At some point, I came to realize that I needed to learn Arabic, if for nothing else, to at least be able to read the Koran in its original language. Arabs were famous since ages unknown to be masters in prose and poetry. The Koran was and still is considered an apogee, a supreme creation of such a sort. The beauty of its language not only enchants, but also leaves in awe a reader who forcibly thinks that such a book couldn’t have been conceived by simple mortals.

Yes, that is how it started. I wanted to read the Koran. And yes, I also wanted to visit Egypt. My solution: language course in Egypt for several months. My short-sightedness: not going deep into details of modern Egyptian life and modern traditional behaviors exhibited in every day lives of Egyptians. My arrogance: relying on my extensively confident self and my ability to adopt and to integrate, I thought I didn’t have to know more about Cairo – the city I would be spending several months in – than what I remembered from a history book: it was founded by Fatimids in 10th century of our era.

I went to the Egyptian Consulate to obtain a visa. By precaution or curiosity, the Consul General of Egypt in Geneva, Switzerland, wanted to see me in person and ask my motifs and plans for future. He had a hard time believing that I wanted to go to Egypt for language studies. His reaction was rather normal considering the bad timing that I chose to apply for a visa and my background in nuclear physics. The timing was bad because Egypt was on the verge of reactivating its nuclear program, and it was a very sensitive issue in the whole of region. The Consul General suspected I had something to do with it. A derisory idea, while I was trying to already rid myself of longstanding bonds I had with science once and for all.

I got a tourist visa for one month. I was told I can easily prolong it in Cairo once I have an invitation letter from the language school. Everything seemed to be set for me to start a new page of my life.

I bought tickets to Cairo with Swissair. In the airport, just before boarding, I took a good look at the sky, at buildings in the airport, at people and their dresses, at their eyes and their movements. I tried to memorize as much as I could because I knew that my eyes will not perceive anything I saw just then in the same way. I also knew the life will never remain similar to what I used to have during last four years. I turned around boarded the plane…

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