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October 25, 2010

On Sunday mornings, even if I don’t set my alarm, I get awoken promptly at 9 AM by some seriously loud church bells that ring right through my open windows. Like the most perfect of snooze buttons, they repeat themselves at 9:15 and 9:30, and then are replaced by the soothing sound of familiar hymns sung in Arabic. By that point, I am usually drying my hair and contemplating how much more nuanced life is around here than I first anticipated. Waking up to church bells and walking home to the adhan. Unexpected.

In another news, sometimes, being here feels like this:

try fail try fail try fail try succeed! fail fail fail try fail…

At least it keeps me humble. And laughing. Thursday, during a conversation section of Arabic class, it came out that I’d studied fusha in college. I like to downplay how long, to keep people’s expectations low, so I said something like “two and a half years.” Technically true because of a semester abroad, even though I finished with three years’ worth. Still, I felt a twinge of shame when I said it. Like I was admitting, Two and a half years, and all I have to show for it is my mangled version of a basic sentence! Here ya go! And sometimes, it really is frustrating: granted, I never worked as hard as I should have during those 2.5 years, but by my last semester I was reading poems and newspaper articles, discussing forced marriage and political protests. But none of that helps me ask for a half kilo of nuts at the dukkan (small shop). Not to mention…learning colloquial is wiping out all the more sophisticated words from my brain. Jordan’s about to have national elections, but when someone mentioned them to me, I completely blanked on what that word, “elections,” meant, and I had to ask. Whoops.

On the flip side, I feel a disproportionate amount of excitement when I get complimented on my Arabic, which honestly doesn’t take much. A correctly constructed sentence will do it. Or even an incorrectly constructed one. While visiting with a lovely family on Thursday, the father showered me with praise (you speak Arabic very well!!) when I treated them to this winner: “In my country right now, it is colder and the tree, the trees changed leaf…”

Yeah. Pretty eloquent, huh? In my defense, I made a calculated move at that point to plow ahead without stopping to conjugate properly. Conversation becomes painfully sluggish if I try to make every verb come out right, and you all know I’m incapable of speaking slowly. So I prioritize pace over accuracy and hope someone will correct me along the way.

That’s not to say that those 2.5 years at school have gone totally to waste…I am more proficient at reading than most students at my level, and I have a bizarre range of vocabulary. I attend these weekly theology lectures at my church, taught in English and translated into classical, which is actually great for keeping up my fusha. Last week, the translator paused  when he couldn’t figure out “literature.” I piped up with the word he was looking for, and everyone looked at me like I had just grown a third arm (I’m sure they all remember the first time they met me, when I wandered into their class straight from the airport and stared at them blankly when they tried to talk to me). He teased me this week when he got lost in another sentence: “Help me, Stephanie!” Everyone laughed. I never told them my secret: the only reason I knew “literature” in the first place was because it was one of the first words I ever learned (thanks Maha!). Along with “United Nations,” lonely,” and “humidity.” And then I had to use it every time I talked about myself for the next three years (because I was a “specialist”/major in English literature, see?).

Other adventures: I accidentally communicated interest in a married man when I tried to refer to a couple as “cute” (in English). Apparently the concept of “cute couple” doesn’t quite translate here. / I think I am winning over one of my students, who wreaks havoc in my classroom, although his parents and brother love me. But when his mom asked me if he was behaving in class and I said, “Of course! He’s wonderful, always wonderful,” instead of ratting him out (a tricky situation in an honor/shame culture). And then today he stopped by my house for a few minutes to get some homework help. So maybe we’ll be friends soon? / I went on a trip to the forest on Saturday and saw green like I never knew existed in this desert country. See:

And here’s a picture of me teaching an “Einghlish” class:

Just kidding. On Sunday I was talking to some people in the classroom that I use during the week and noticed some…fascinating text on the board. Most likely, one of my students was so inspired by my awesome teaching skills that they decided to start a class of their own. Or they were making fun of me. Let’s go with the former.

As for the post’s title: “y3ni” (or يعني) is a word that literally means “it means,” but is a common filler word in Arabic. Like “you know,” “well,” “actually,” “like,” or “um” in English. It’s one of my favorite words because when I do take a million years to conjugate a verb properly, I can say “y3ni” while I think and it makes me sound less pathetic. Plus, it can go anywhere, y3ni. And along with “bas” (but/only), “mumkin” (maybe/possible), and “shway” (a little), it has crept into my English sentences too. Y3ni another post coming soon if I ever remember to finish writing it, inshallah. Sorry I always take so long…and lots of love!!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    October 25, 2010 10:52 pm

    This reminds me of the time you wrote about how you came up with the sentence, “I eat foods.” “The trees changed leaf” might be better though.

    • November 1, 2010 6:14 pm

      hahaha i totally had a flashback to that moment when this incident occurred…

  2. Daniel P permalink
    October 26, 2010 12:48 am

    perhaps they were just playing “einghlish class” because they have so much fun in the real one

  3. Susie permalink
    October 26, 2010 2:29 am

    LOL. LOL. LOL. ” the trees changed leaf…” LOL. so funny my tummy hurts…. p.s. i always think of you during the fall at charlottesville. i know its your favorite season and unbiasedly uva is extra beautiful this time of the year but all i can think about is how much i hate this getting ready for winter. maybe next year you can visit me! love you skim.

  4. October 26, 2010 5:12 am

    mumkin! shway! i need to assign funny english meanings to these posthaste! hang in there, champ. preflighting every little conversation you plan to have on every errand yo have to run sucks, but you’ll wake up one of these days and realize out of the blue while running errands that you’re not even planning your sentences anymore.

  5. Dad permalink
    October 26, 2010 5:19 pm

    i remember how i used to write down what i wanted to say before i called someone on the phone, only to hang up because they would say something i hadn’t expected. oh, how i used to be so frightened when someone abruptly or randomly would ask me a question and i didn’t understand what they were saying! my favorite reply used to be “i don’t speak english!” then one day in my dorm in beckey, west virginia i woke up from a dream and realized i dreamt in english! sweetheart, your day is coming soon.

    • November 1, 2010 6:12 pm

      thanks daddy. you are the best. and i totally do that…writing down what i’m about to say before i leave the house or before i make a phone call. haha.

  6. jkim6 permalink
    October 27, 2010 3:06 am

    You didn’t mention any of my favorite words/phrases: “habibi,” “yalla bina,” or “ana masry ibn masry”

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