Arabic classes are in full swing – a large group of the ex-pat faculty is taking classes four days a week, a huge commitment when you teach four periods a day. It is very much worth it though. Even after only a few weeks I can feel myself getting better and better instead of just stagnating in our English dominated environment. Better yet (but don’t tell my Arabic professors from college yet), the formal Arabic is starting to fade from the tip of my tongue and the spoken Arabic is taking its place, something for which I have been struggling for two years. Here are a few recent Arabic victories, and one defeat.
1. Though I don’t like cutting my hair now that I need to treasure every bit of it before it falls out, I was way past due for a haircut by my terms last week. I went to the same guy I always do, Nasri, the same one who once lifted me on his shoulders in a restaurant, but sadly he wasn’t there. There was a number on the door to call, but I was too nervous because I hate speaking Arabic on the phone – it is so much harder! I walked around and looked for another barber, almost committing high treason, but I must have picked a bad time because no one was in their shop (surprising because it seems like some dudes spend almost all of their waking hours at the barber). So I went home. The next day, I returned, and BAM, same thing. No Nasri. But, I really needed a haircut, so I got up the guts to punch in the numbers and call him. I explained to him in Arabic that I was outside his shop and really wanted a haircut. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was a pretty cool moment for me, as I didn’t feel as helpless and stupid as I normally do. He trotted out and we ended up having a pretty exciting hour and a half long haircut. Now, as I have griped about previously, it’s not like I have much hair, so that’s not why it took long. I decided that I wanted to talk instead of sit there awkwardly like I normally do, but the problem is that Nasri talks with his hands (especially to the dumb foreigner) and thankfully does not try to cut hair and talk with his hands at the same time, so every time he told a story, the haircut would get the pause button, and I would sit there somewhat mangled while he would confused me with stories. But we talked about some really cool things, and after telling me that Jordanians in his income bracket lie all the time to pay less income taxes, he pulled out his store’s tax folder (all in Arabic) and went through it with me. It was a really cool experience, an interesting insight into the inner workings of the country. I love that dude, even if he sometimes gives me a bit of a comb over (though that might be my scalp/genetics fault not his).
2. The guy who cleans my apartment, Lo’ay, left me a really nice note the other day wishing me a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, happy new year for the rest of my life, holiday wishes and lots of other things (it took up a whole page even though it was only pleasantries). He knows I can read Arabic because I went back and forth one time with him when he broke one of my mugs and felt awful, and I kept writing notes saying I could care less. The note is proudly displayed on my fridge, and I am going to get around to writing him back as soon as I get a breather in my schedule. I love interacting with the housekeeping staff at the school because they are always so surprised and happy when a honky like me can speak Arabic, and seem very appreciative that they are being treated like peers at the school, not underlings.
3. Which brings me to my defeat though. At the end of the day I say my favorite housekeeping friend, Muhannad. He is such a friendly guy, always smiling, always asking me how I am. The other day, we went through the usual pleasantries and I asked him how he was, and he responded “not good”. I asked him why, and he obviously wanted to vent. The week before, a few students had purposely stolen his cell phone as a malicious prank (even though they certainly have a BlackBerry or iPhone or both). He knew they knew what they were doing because he had someone call the next day and they picked up. Somehow he managed to get back the battery, which he was holding in his hand as he was talking. He vented for a good 3 or 4 minutes, and was really upset because he has gone a week without his phone and can’t afford a new one (the housekeepers don’t make much money). I was happy that I could be there for him and listen, but I was very upset by the whole situation. This guy is the same one who told one of my colleagues that he could make more money working somewhere else but really likes working for King’s because he likes the idea of working for a school, and being a part of something good. I kept apologizing, because that’s all I could really say. He seemed happy to be able to tell someone this, but really affected by someone dumb kids who had no clue how this would make a great person like Muhannad feel. I guess with learning the language you become privy to not only the good but the bad too.
Good or bad, let the Arabic continue! I can’t imagine leaving this place without developing some solid language skills and I finally feel like I’m on the way!