In other news, I spent a good amount of time last week at the Suk (for all of you Hebrew speakers, that's the Arabic equivalent of "Shuk". Yes.) with my friend Emma. In the course of running all over buying this and that, we, at some point, stumbled into an antique shop for a peek. We walked in to a group of four men chatting, chirping and chuckling in Arabic. It turned out that three of them were antiques dealers, and the fourth was a doctor from Florida who had moved to America at the age of three but returned to Egypt for med school. He spoke perfect English but Emma still couldn't help talking to him in Arabic.
We were there for two and a half hours.
The conversation ranged from the weather in Alex to where we had been in Egypt to the synagogue on Prophet Daniel Street. Consequently, Palestinian coins from 1927, 1936 and 1943 were produced the discussion turned to Israel, and I was asked if I loved the Arab people ("of course"), if I understood that Islam was an inclusive, broad-minded religion ("it accepts the prophets of both Judaism and Christianity! It's wonderful!"), if I wanted to marry someone from Israel ("why would I want to do something like that?!). Eventually they intuited that I was Jewish. Not sure how. Maybe it was my excitement over and request to buy (denied) to purchase the Palestinian coins. Either way, the man who owned the store proceeded to tell me about his father's best friend, who was Jewish.
With other Egyptians I've spoken to, the conversation would have gone something like "My father's best friend was Jewish. Really. He was. And they're friendship was deep. Really. It was. Islam is inclusive. Really, it is." I would have nodded and smiled and sweated. But this man was genuine. He had been speaking to Emma, who speaks better Arabic than I, but when he gave this speech, he looked straight at me with more honesty than a nun. (Abba - Please. I know what you're thinking. His eyes were a clear, black and honest and I was touched by his sincerity.)
I will admit to not understanding all of it, but I got maybe 80% and know that the concepts of strangers, neighbors and locations of Jewish landmarks in Alex all featured prominently and that the entire speech was given without the typical claim of sincere love of the Jewish people which usually undermines the credibility of such stories. At the end of it he gave Emma and I some really sweet, old coins from King Farouk's reign to take with us as a sort of consolation price for not selling the beloved Palestinian coins. We went back the next day and the conversation got a bit more personal. He told us a bit about himself. He ended up reading to us from the Quran...but he might not have been actually reading as he has had no formal education. It might have been sheer memorization. Maybe we'll go back again.
The music of the moment is one of the songs I listened to one the way home from school today. Its called Out of the Woods by Nickel Creek. Its almost where I am with this program. I love it. If you don't - don't tell me[, Zack].