The Alpinist: Pure Passion

On my flight back to Switzerland I watched a documentary called The Alpinist. I gathered that it was a documentary about climbing, and given that I was out doing a via ferrata with Motaz and Janis a few weekends ago, the documentary caught my eye.

I expected the documentary to be entertaining to watch, and it was, but what I didn't expect is how this documentary triggered me emotionally, and how I felt that there was a lot to take away from it.

The documentary talks about the life of a then relatively unknown climber called "Marc-Andre Leclerc". This climber had, for some time, been quietly doing some crazy "solo onsite" climbs (i.e. alone, without ropes, and having never done the route before). He was the first person to ascend a number of very difficult peaks, solo. The danger he put himself in on these routes was nothing short of jaw-dropping.

So far, this is what I'd somewhat expect from a documentary on climbing. What really resonated with me emotionally though is how passionate Marc was about climbing, and the tragedy of him dying in pursuit of that passion. I can go as far as saying that watching this documentary made me rethink what passion really means.

Marc's passion for climbing felt.. just.. so very pure. Marc was not at all interested in competing with other climbers nor in even publicizing his climbs. He had no social media and for a long time he didn't have a phone. He started becoming known via word of mouth within the climbing community. The film crew actually bought him a phone, and even then he'd disappear randomly and often try to avoid filming. I felt that he genuinely had no extrinsic motivation to show people what he was doing, despite all the attention/fame this could bring him. What came across to me was that, for Marc, climbing was a state of mind - a form of meditation, and the intrinsic reward he got out of climbing far outweighed any external rewards. His passion for climbing seemed solely intrinsic - in other words, a "pure passion".

Marc's partner Brette is also a climber who shared the same passion, and together they were doing what they loved doing. At times they were living in a stairwell because they didn't have much money, and other times they were living in a tent in a forest in their town in British Colombia.

I was really moved towards the end of the documentary when I learned that Marc died at the age of 25. An avalance burried him as he was repelling down a summit near Juneau in Alaska. So sad.

It's a story of someone who lived and died doing what he loved. He only lived till 25, but he arguably lived more moments than many of us do in a lifetime.

Wochenende in Hüffihütte

Dieses Wochenende bin ich mit Freunden im Uri wandern. Wir haben eine 5-stündgine Wanderung gemacht. Wir sind zu Hüffi gegangen und haben in der Hüffihütte übernachtet.

Die Natur war toll. Wir haben Wasserfälle, Berge, Gletscher und Wälder gesehen.

Ich habe versucht barfuß zu laufen. Es war schön.

NOTE: This post is written in simple German to help me practice the language. Excuse any mistakes.

The Zen Retreat

I spent this weekend in Glarus, where I attended a 3-day zen meditation retreat at Lambda Zen Temple. I accidentally discovered this retreat two weeks ago, and given my interest in meditation and how little I know about Zen, I was intrigued to sign up.

So, what is Zen, you might ask? I have no idea. Contrary to my expectation, there were no instructions on what to do. We did sitting meditations, a "hiking meditation", and various "work meditation" sessions, where we did various chores around the temple. Alain, the Zen Monk, asked us to focus on the tasks we were given, but apart from that, no instructions.

I realized, as the retreat went on, that Zen isn't meant to be taught by instruction. But, instead, one has to contemplate on certain questions, and by doing so they will start building their understanding of what Zen is.

In my interview with Alain, I asked him to explain to me what I am supposed to do in the various meditation sessions. He then narrated to me the following:

In 8th century China a student asked his Master.

Student: When a student didn't raise a thought, would it still be a sin or not?
Master: Mount Everest.

He then asked: what did the Master mean?

Ignoring the awkardness of the grammer in that short dialogue, I pondered. I made some wild guesses in terms of what this could mean, but none were considered. My task, then, is to contemplate on this question, and get back to Alain when I have the answer.

Of course, in this day and age I can simply look this up, but that would obviously defeat the purpose. I'll keep chewing on this question and maybe one day an answer will hit me.

Ironically, this retreat was the most Swiss experience I have ever had. We were a group of four students along with Alain, his wife Monika, and his mother-in-law. Everyone apart from me was Swiss*. The temple, which is also their house, is a classic Swiss home, situated in a small 6,500 person village in a valley between heavenly mountains. We dined together, worked together, hiked together, started a fire in the mountains together, and had great conversations during our breaks.

I was happy to notice that my German has improved quite a bit. I am not fluent by any means, but I was able to hold my own having some more-than-basic conversations. Normally, when a group sees that I am foreigner, they immediately switch to English, but they were kind enough to try to speak to me in German on many occasions, and listening to them chat amongst themselves in Swiss German was, while not fully comprehensible, quite enlightening.

It was a very short retreat, and I can't exactly materialize everything I got out of the retreat just yet, but I am definitely coming back feeling some form of inspiration.

* Well, except one person who was from Liechtenstein, but close enough.

On Audiobooks

I'm not sure what it was that prompted me, but two weeks ago I started listening to audio books. And, all I can say is... wow.

I never really gave audiobooks a chance before, but the past two weeks made me realize how invaluable they can be. With audio books I manage to make better use of my down time. I am now listening to audio books when I am cooking, when I am stretching, when I am cleaning, when I am walking to the grocery store, and everywhere in between.

In those two weeks, I fully listened to Bill Gates's "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster", Feynman's "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!", and now I'm listening to Obama's "A Promised Land" as well as an excellent German audio course that I discovered.

I was never able to read this fast without a significant time commitment. Now, going through a book per week feels nearly effortless. This is very exciting for me.

This evening I ended up going to a portrait drawing class at Kunsthaus in Zurich. I had never really taken up drawing before, so tonight I ended up going partially to fulfill my curiosity, and partially to give my social life in Zurich a little boost.

I really enjoyed the workshop even though we had to wear masks the entire time. I had never stared at a portrait this long in my life, but the more I looked, the more I saw. The details of the face, the hair, the dress, the hands... Drawing was surprisingly meditative, and one thing I particularly enjoyed drawing, it seems, was the dress. Drawing fabrics with all its intricacies may seem deceptively simple.

The portrait we drew was of Suzanne de Boubers de Bernâtre by Hyacinthe Rigand

The workshop was only for two hours and I unfortunately didn't finish, but I decided to focus my effort on the dress. Not great, but not terrible. Also, I'll need to work on making the face, and specifically the eyes, more realistic.

Life Update and Hello Switzerland

This is the first "real" post that I publish in months. Shame on me…

Although I was silent on this blog, plenty of things were going on:

  1. We decided to shutdown Elk and cancel our Kickstarter campaign.
  2. I went to Berlin in an attempt to build a life there, get a job, etc after ~2.5 years of nomadding/instability. Details aside, it was a difficult time and that plan fell apart, but…
  3. Of all places, I found a job in Switzerland that I am very excited about.
  4. Prior to Switzerland, I took a two-month sabbatical where I:
    • Took horseback riding classes in Egypt.
    • Took a full indoor skiing course, also in Egypt, to prepare for the Swiss winter.
    • Studied quantitative medicine and did sixteen blood tests to measure various aspects of my health
    • .Did a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Sri Lanka - a profound experience.
    • Broke my big left toe in a scooter accident in Chiang Mai.
    • Spent three weeks at a spa school in Thailand and have become a licensed masseur in aromatherapy.
    • Started publishing and sharing some of my experience in video with my friends and on YouTube for the first time ever (see my YouTube channel). I'm not getting much views, but that's not unexpected and creating them has been a very enjoyable experience for me.I started learning German and now on track to finish the A1 level in two weeks time.
  5. I moved to Switzerland exactly one month ago. Since I got here I have:
    • Gotten a phone number, bank account, and health insurance.
    • Received medical treatment and my toe is now (almost) fully healed.
    • Found a beautiful studio apartment that I'll be moving into on March 1st.
    • Started my new job, and so far I have very positive impressions of it.
    • Last but not least, I worked with my friend Islam to release Phomo, an Android app for measuring phone usage. It's the first time I ever publish a mobile app.

Funny, when I started writing this post my overall impression of the past few months was that they were painful and highly uncertain, but now that I have enumerated some of the happenings of these months, it's starting to feel more like these were good months. Maybe this is a gentle reminder for me to always remember and think of the positive experiences.

The Kickstarter Eve

I'm now back in Cairo after 11 days in Berlin. There's a lot going on in my mind from that trip and certainly lots to reflect on.

I'm going to focus this post though on our Kickstarter preparations. Our company, Elk, is on the verge of releasing our first ever product on Kickstarter. It's a development board for building blockchain hardware applications and what we call "Decent" IoT.

Admittedly, I think our chances of success in this campaign are rather low. Having said that, I feel quite proud of the work we've accomplished. In some ways, this work is a manifestation of my childhood dream of building something technological out of the Middle East. It has certainly been a challenge building a blockchain/hardware company out of Egypt, and that to me makes this journey for me special, despite many of its drawbacks.

I feel very grateful for the people I work with and my friends and family out here for their support over the past few months. I am not at all regretful of this phase of my life even if this work doesn't pan out. Regardless of what the Kickstarter campaign holds for us, I feel content, and whatever comes next shall be more grand and more audacious.

The Wild Herb Tour

Today I attended a "wild herb" tour, which I can confidently say was the closest I've ever gotten to being a hunter gatherer. I joined Chris, our guide, to a park in Berlin where he explained in detail the vegetation in the area - very informative!

Yarrow: leaves and flower are edible. The stem can be strong enough to be used as a meat stick.
Flower of wild carrots
Horse radish (tasty!)
"Beifuß": Can be used as incense
Egg plums found on the street

Check out all the photos here. It's a work of wonder to see how resilient plants are and how they survive and thrive. Maybe worth exploring how that resilience can be used in, say, building more resilient software or machines.