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AUSTRALIA | Saturday, 28 March 2009 | Views [523]

My Arabic is mishkweis[1], but enough words have crept in that aiwa and la have replaced the regular yes and no of English. So it was automatic, one morning while drinking tea in the roof garden of the Dahab[2] Hotel, to reply in Arabic when asked if I was Australian. Aiwa – yes!

The conversation moved on. The joys and perils of living in Cairo. How to practice Tibetan Buddhism in a city so obviously devoted to a different god. The rate of Egyptian import duties on prayer flags and stupas[3]. Sociology, history, religion, politics. All the things that pepper conversation in this part of the world.

M, the Buddhist, teaches English to local students and tests the limits of his calmness in a city that is never that. Easy, he says, to be Buddhist in the mountains of Nepal when all around you are marching, or rather sitting lotus position, in step. Much harder to do the same in a city that is drowned in a sea of noise, and where mention of the absence of god sits uneasily with the profusion of mosques and churches.

D, in Egypt for the first time to visit his friend, was not coping. The traffic and pollution, though positively benign compared to Delhi and Lahore, is still remarkable by the standards of European cities. He was hiding upstairs, drinking tea, and waiting for the flight home.

It was a shame, for while it is certainly busy on the street, the chaos is handled with good humour and a certain balletic grace. Walking is also the only way to discover the treasures of the city, the mosques with garden courtyards that sit as islands of peace and calm, the more precious for the surrounding din.

Tea finished, I said goodbye and began to head downstairs. Just a question, D asked:  which part of Iowa are you from?


[1] not good

[2] gold

[3] un-translated [not an Arabic word]

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