Spring 2009

Table of Contents - Vol. V, No. 1


Poetry     Interview     Translations     Fiction     Book Reviews

KH Solomon



A college classmate called out, "Hey, Solomon - you make it home for the holidays this weekend?"
Confused, I replied, "What holidays? I've been here all weekend."
Stunned, he stammered, "What? You're not Jewish?"
Now it was my turn to be stunned. I'd never thought about it. "No," I confessed.
He fixed his eyes on mine, and said, "With a name like Solomon, and a nose like that, you look like you come right off the streets of New York."
It was the last I ever heard from him.

Palmach squad leader turned irrigation engineer, David Karmeli told me how he'd taken his name [which means my Carmel in Hebrew] from the Mount on which his adopted city grew. Our conversation wound around, late into the night.
At one point he asked me, "Are you Jewish?"
I told him, "I don't know."
"What a strange answer," he said.
"By religion? No. But by heritage? We just don't know."
I explained, according to our family story: "My great-grandfather was found a young orphan, wandering along the Oklahoma trail. He knew little of his past and was raised by the family that found him. He later became a circuit-riding Baptist preacher in the Oklahoma Territory. But we know nothing of what came before."
"Ah," Karmeli sighed, "another soul lost to us."

Lawrence Dooley, a Syrian colleague, seemed agitated and ill at ease, but I didn't know why.
"Are you sure," he asked me, "that you're the best one to be going to Saudi Arabia? I know you'd do a great job for us there, but Dale could handle all that, and we could really use you on the Venezuela project instead."
He couldn't help kissin' up. It was his nature. Still, it was irritating. And I knew he didn't care about the Venezuela job - it was out of his territory.
But I didn't get what he was driving at, at least not at first.
Dooley kept dropping his less-than-subtle hints.
"If Dale went to Saudi, he could meet with Sabour in Cairo on the way back."
At last I figured it out, but went ahead with my plans for the trip anyway. I wanted to see the Saudi-Shirock job site first hand.
Finally, Dooley came into my office and closed the door behind him. His look was more than serious.
"You know" - he paused for effect - "in some parts of the world it may not always be safe for someone with a name like Solomon."

Four of us had been selected for the technical exchange with Egypt. We were to spend a week in Cairo discussing the latest advances in irrigation and water management with experts from the Egyptian Society of Agricultural Engineers.
The host delegation met us at the airport in Heliopolis, and everyone introduced themselves. As it happened, my Egyptian counterpart was named Dr. Suleiman.
As he greeted me, he grinned and remarked heartily "Ah, Solomon - a good Arabic name!"

Fresno and Dzhambul had recently been paired as sister-cities. City in Russian is a masculine noun, so as ceremonial jokes would later point out endlessly, we became all combinations of sister- and brother-cities.
Exchange visits were hurriedly arranged, and I joined the first group from Fresno State University to visit the Dzhambul Irrigation, Land Reclamation and Civil Engineering Institute. As Galiya, our translator, introduced everyone, I found myself face to face with Vice-Rector Zhusup Suleimenov. We shook hands, and he spoke:
"Mozhet Bwet -
"Perhaps," he said, "you and I are brothers."

-- Earlier version published in ZYZZYVA, Fall 2006.


© KH Solomon



Poetry     Interview     Translations     Fiction     Book Reviews

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