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In 1991, I made my first acquaintance with a Bedouin nomad. We had filmed a student commercial in the Negev Desert in Israel and spent the night there. When I awoke in the morning, a man in white garb lay close by, his curved dagger by his side, observing me with his calm gaze. My eyes furtively traveled back and forth between my blissfully sleeping companions, the dagger and the Bedouin, while at the same time trying desperately to reach the zipper of my sleeping bag, when he suddenly jumped up and handed me a glass of hot tea. While we had been totally unaware of his presence, he had made a campfire and calmly prepared a gesture of welcome for us.

This turned out to be the ticket to a fascinating world, one that I was to enter again, years later, in the Sinai with my Bedouin friend Adel. During one of our excursions, he showed me an old fishing boat, which had been abandoned in the middle of the desert. The boat had no name and no one knew how it had managed to get there. It seemed, as though Noah’s Ark had fallen from the sky. Through Adel’s small transistor radio, BBC broadcast constant news of the intifada raging somewhat further north. Suddenly, this boat, sticking out of the sand, seemed to be a metaphor for the gridlocked peace negotiations. That Jews and Arabs could ever become friends was just about as likely as a sudden rain shower fushing this deserted boat out to sea again.

Adel and I had talked about everything under the sun, but what had left the biggest impression on me was his mild-mannered perception of the Jewish people since I had yet to hear an Arab person say anything positive about them. Gradually it dawned on me, that it must be the desert which gave this man such generosity of spirit, because it allowed human beings – regardless of background – to look not only inside but also beyond themselves. And so, during further journeys to Egypt and the Middle East, this story evolved slowly and inexorably – all because of a lonesome boat stranded in the sand.

Stefan Sarazin