Tag Archives: arabic

Arabic! AND HOME TALK!

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I’m not an Arabic scholar. I’m still in the single-digit chapters in Book 1 of Al-Kitaab. However, I know enough Arabic to say things like, “My paternal uncle is a translator at the United Nations in New York,” or “I have 8 sisters and 4 brothers who live in Cairo and study English Literature at the university there.”

However, I DO know enough Arabic to feel validated when complaining about it, or making fun of it, or making memes out of it. So, to all of you who don’t study Arabic, I’m sorry. These won’t be funny. Well, maybe they will! I’ll try to be both entertaining and instructive.

I think this meme perfectly (PERFECTLY) embodies what studying Arabic, both Fousha and spoken dialects, is like:

There is nothing simple in Arabic. One does not simply doanythingin Arabic.

For example, at its most basic level:

Arabic. That’s the one written right to left with the pretty connected letters, right? Well, yes. But there are several rules about how to write the letters, which are simple once you learn them but also objectively hilarious. There are four ways to write each one: its independent symbol, its starting position, its middle-of-the-word position, and its ending position. Don’t even get me started on calligraphy, of which there are 6 main types (and probably a bajillion other kinds too), and in which the shapes of the letters change even MORE.

Anyway, several letters never connect to the left butdoconnect to the right, while others always connect both ways. There are also some half-letters or non-letters that may or may not connect, that serve different grammatical or stupid purposes. You know, like hamzas and tamarbutas, which aren’t letters. Tamarbutas are just one of the Hs (there are 2 Hs) with the two dots from the taa (there are 2 Ts) on top, and they’re sometimes pronounced like the taa and sometimes pronounced like ah and are ridiculous. Hamzas – just – don’t ask.

This is the alphabet! I got the image from Wikipedia. Hamzas, Tamarbutas, and other stuff not included. This is just the alphabet, woo! 25 consonants and 3 long vowels.

ا    ب    ت    ث    ج    ح
خ    د    ذ    ر    ز    س
ش    ص    ض    ط    ظ    ع
غ    ف    ق    ك    ل
م    ن    ه    و    ي

Now you’ve learned the alphabet. Good for you!

There are also short vowels and other diacritical markings in Arabic that aren’t written in formal Arabic (in fact, they’re only written in textbooks and children’s books). They tell you how to pronounce the word, which is essential because one short vowel can differentiate completely different words. This makes reading Arabic tricky, because you’ve got to already know the words before you read them. Trickyyyyyyy. However, every so often in Al-Kitaab (our textbook), you’ll come across a passage written with the short vowels included. It’s weird.

That is how I feel whenever this happens, sort of a combination of joy and confusion.

In Arabic,

Plurals are a mushkil. That’s all I’m going to say.

مشكل

What a great topic to write about! The Arabic script above is pronouncedmushkil, which means problem. However, the word no longer directly translates into English because it’s become a more meaningful term among those of us studying here.

It’s like the difference between the word “home” and “my house” in English: mushkil is a specific term that encompasses an entire spectrum of sentiments and contexts, and the English word problem just doesn’t have the same effect. Therefore, some things are mushkils that aren’t problems, and some things are problems that aren’t mushkils. Mushkils (this is funny because the plural of مشكل is المشكلات or مشاكل, not “mushkils,” which is adding an English plural onto an Arabic word, and this whole thing is funny because plurals are mushkils ANYWAY HAHA IRONY) are a perfect example of what makes wonder if I’ll ever be able to effectively relate my experiences in Morocco to the people I love at home. Oh, let’s talk about that.

I fear sometimes that the enormity of everything I’ve experienced here will stay trapped in my heart, unreachable by my loved ones simply by virtue of the fact that they weren’t here to experience it. It’s a 4-month-long inside joke that nobody at home will get but me, which is bound to be lonely.

I also know that this is one of those “duh that happens to everybody” feelings, so what are we going to do about it? Keep in touch, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to maintain our connections to those who DO get it, and tell crazy stories to let everyone else in on it best we can and you know what? Whatever, dude. This is going to be great.

I’ve been thinking more and more about those little things that define our everyday life lately: mushkils, tea, mosquitoes, Darija, our concrete bunker classroom, medina life, Temara days, the ridiculous Qalam administration, french fries, dirhams, blankets, old walls, street food. Bees. Men peeing all the time. Avocado juice. Grody Eye and Fidget, two of the Qalam cats I named. The walk from the Fac to Qalam, the walk from the tram to Oudaiya, the walking all over Rabat. Cafés in Agdal, buying phone recharges, pickup soccer games, eucalyptus trees. So much comes to mind when I think about what life is made of here, and I’m realizing more and more how much I’m going to miss it all!

I’m having those goodbye thoughts, as of course I would: thoughts about how in four days, my way of life is completely changing. How, even though I’ve spent so much time missing home, I really don’t want to leave the home I’ve found here. Holy crap, I don’t want to leave! I KNOW. WHAT? Who’d have thought?!

Yet, won’t the little things that I’ve forgotten about at home be just as wonderful to rediscover, even while missing those little things I’ve grown to love here? Probly. I’ll let you know.

You know what else is funny? I said in some post awhile ago that I’d probably tell you all about these mixed feelings when I was feeling emotional or hungry, and I’m STARVING. I got hungrier and hungrier as this post went on, and it’s funny because now you can reread this and observe my descent into NEED FOOD the more emotional and philosophical I get.

NOW HOME FOR FOOOOOD. LOVE Y’ALLZ!!!

 

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English Lessons

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One of my host moms, Jamila, is all about learning English, and I love giving lessons whenever we find ourselves with a free hour. We’ll translate misspelled French sentences into weird Arabic transliteration, then she’ll write try to write out the English in Latin script and I’ll correct her spelling. Or something like that.

Native Arabic speakers have difficulty WITH: the P sound (which does not exist in Arabic), the American R (that one, I believe, periodically causes aneurysms for many non-native English speakers trying to learn the language. It’s a rrrreal killer), and the “th” sound, both voiced and unvoiced (which I actually don’t get, because those exact same sounds DO exist in Arabic: ث and ذ; but hey, I sound like an idiot when I try to speak Arabic, so who am I to judge?). Anyway it’s great fun, because I learn a lot of Arabic, we both practice French, and I get to discover over and over how FIDDLY the English language is.

When Jamila and the kids borrowed a French and/or Arabic-English dictionary the other night, the first word they decided to yell was: “BLOW!”

I giggled. They were using it as a noun, as in “hit” or “punch,” and I could already see them heading down hilariously dangerous path of noun/verb usage (“I BLOW YOU” as opposed to “I HIT YOU,” for example) and proceeded to define what “to blow” meant as a verb (AS IN BLOWING OUT BIRTHDAY CANDLES GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER) and told them to be careful of their usage because it’s got a sexual connotation as well. They giggled  too.

too?

Oui, ça veut dire “aussi.”

“What about to?”

“That’s a preposition, as in I go to school, or a part of the infinitive form of a verb.”

“…what about two?”

“deux.”

“…merde.”

Yup.

Today, during teatime, I taught my host family the verb “to fart” and its proper usage when referring to the Rim the Farty Kitty (I’ve renamed her now, since she’s no longer pregnant. I think Rim the Farty Kitty goes rather well with Tomi the Barfy Kitty, don’t you?). As Abir, Abdenmabi, and Jamila repeated, “da cad – the cad- the CAT…FARDED!” I recalled walking to school with Ernie and his host brothers one morning in Buknari.

(For new readers: I went to the Republic of Georgia for spring break to visit Ernie, who teaches English there.)

“Ernie, you are suck,” Tengo said, as Temo walked stoically beside him.

Tengo and Temo are Ernie’s ninth-grade Georgian host brothers. Tengo is tall and talkative and Temo is short and silent, though Ernie says that’s only because he speaks less English. Tengo tied a piece of brown yarn around my wrist one evening to join the other bracelets there, which was probably some kind of weird Georgian marriage proposal. Temo is a wrestling champion who changed into his tight blue wrestling onesie and medals when I brought out my camera so we could take pictures of him, his medals, and his muscles. Temo enjoys doing backflips off the giant Soviet truck in the yard, and Tengo enjoys swearing at Ernie.

“You are sucking,” Ernie corrected him. “It’s the present continuous, remember.”

“Fuck you,” he replied, and looked over at me. “Ernie is beautiful woman.”

It’s funny: here in Morocco, saying bad words can either be really, really bad, or a strangely hilarious translation misfire. I was talking to another of my host moms about how weird it is to try to translate directly from French to English, from French to Arabic, la dee dah, and she agreed.

“Par exemple,” she said, “le mot: fucky.

I choked on my tea.

She laughed and went on to explain how that’s the way this particular Arabic word is translated into English, though it has a more pedestrian and everyday meaning in Arabic. Shit’s bizarre.  Also, who decided that “fucky” was an acceptable English swearword in the first place, much less one that could serve as a decent translation from Arabic?! “That’s pretty fucky” is a swear that makes “motha’ flippin” feel better about itself.

Anyway, this weekend’s pretty awesome thus far. I was going to do work, but I ended up sitting up in the room on the rooftop terrace listening to the rain and working my way through the View Askewniverse: Clerks, couldn’t get Mallrats to work, Chasing Amy. Next up, Dogma (again), and then Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, then Clerks II.

I love Kevin Smith. I love watching Kevin Smith movies while the pouring rain pounds the roof and terrorizes the cats on the riverbank fifty feet below us. What a delightfully improbable situation!

Oh, I like that phrase. A Delightfully Improbable Situation: A Memoir.

Pax in terra, bros.

Guys, I can’t stop watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

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or,

A Proclivity for Purchasing Pants
and other stories

I think someone should stage an intervention.

“Katie, your recent inability to stop watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has negatively impacted my life in the following ways:”

“…welllllllll…”

I can’t think of how it’s negatively impacted your life, actually, except perhaps if you don’t want to read this crap. If you don’t, go away. If you do, Congratulations! MEMES NOW!

let’s talk about HAREM PANTS.

Harem pants are awesome. They’re comfortable, stretchy, and awesome. They don’t show dirt if you buy a brightly colored pair, and they’re quite cheap if you haggle a bit. Harem pants are the best, and I love them. So,

This is how I feel about harem pants.

However, harem pants are undoubtedly daring when it comes to fashion. You’ve got to be really feeling harem pants when you decide to take them out for a spin, otherwise you’ll feel more like:

I’m curious to see if this is how I’ll feel like back in the States, or if I’m so used to people staring at me that I won’t actually notice.

It does make one feel quite comfortable and awesome though, completely worth the confusion come bedtime…

Well, now I’ve done it. I’m in a sort of meme-ish mood.

MORE ABOUT LIFE IN MOROCCO!

So. Moroccan tea.

HAHA. For some reason, this makes me laugh. Probably because Moroccan tea is made and servedeverywherehere. EVERYWHERE. Teatime is a big part of my family’s everyday routine, and I think sometimes that Moroccans measure their days by teatimes: morning, mid-morning, noon, afternoon, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, evening. The middle of the night. Whenever. I love it. The most common way to make it is with green tea, mint leaves, and a metric butt-ton of sugar. Sometimes, it’s made with absinthe or rose water as well. It’s wonderful.

Taxis are another part of life in Morocco that takes a bit of time here to understand. Petit taxis are simple enough: found in every Moroccan city, and each city has its own color. Rabat is blue, Casablanca is red, Marrakesh is yellow, etc. Petit taxis have a maximum capacity of 3 passengers, making it a rather spacious way to travel, and only drive within the city limits. They’re relatively cheap and easy. Time and a half after 8pm. In the bigger cities, especially Marrakesh, drivers easily fleece foreigners who are used to ridiculous taxi fares (one time, a taxi driver tried to make us pay 100dh for a 5dh ride to the gare. Ridic, we said), but in Rabat they almost always turn on the meter, or do it willingly if you ask them to.

No: it’s the Grand taxis that you’ve got to look out for.

These are taxis with a max occupancy of 6, making a full grand taxi ride a rather squashed ordeal, and they go between cities. So, rather contradictorily, though you can have a spacious ride in a petit taxi for a 5-minute ride, you’re going to be cramped and hot for the 5-hour grand taxi ride.

I still don’t quite understand how they work; grand taxis seem to act a bit like buses; if you catch one on its route, it’s only 4dh. However, if you simply have 6 people and need to go from, say, Marrakesh to Imlil, it’s suddenly a multi-hundred-dirham and immensely complex price-navigation process. I just. Don’t. Get it.

Grand Taxis: something about Morocco that may always be shrouded in mystery for me.

Also, this.

is how.

I feel.

About

Arabic.

We went over hours on Arabic class, so we canceled it last Thursday and for the entire coming week as well, but to keep up, we’ve been instructed to learn all of chapter 3 by ourselves. I mean, nbd. Whatever. That doesn’t sound properly daunting for anyone that doesn’t study Arabic, and to any one-uppers out there: I’LL TAKE YOUR 20-PAGE PAPERS. I’LL TAKE YOUR DISSERTATIONS AND SENIOR THESES. ARABIC WILL DEFEAT YOU, AND I WILL LAUGH!!!!!

The highest grade I’ve gotten on an exam thus far: 35/50. Good thing none of this has anything to do with my actual degree. TrolololololololololololANYWAY, I really do like it, but in studying Arabic, one goes straight from the Alphabet book (the ALPHABET book. Consider that fact for a moment) to learning shit like: “the linguistics professor is a specialist in his field,” and “the translators (FEMININE PLURAL!!!) work for the United Nations in New York.”

UH. WHAT.

Anyway, I have a lot of free time the next few days, so WATCH OUT.

PAX, Y’ALL.

La Vie en Couscous

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I’d totally forgotten that today was Friday, until Boushra called me to lunch and the huge earthenware dish made for serving couscous sat, piled high, on the low round table in the room on the terrace. We didn’t talk much as we ate, though the dialogue from the familiar Darija-dubbed soaps on satellite TV provided the ever-present background noise I’ve grown so accustomed to.

Family life here in Oudaiya is wonderful, though not without its quirks and challenges. My current awkward and silent battle is with the leaky septic tank in the downstairs toilet; after one incidence of desperately attempting to flush it by hand (which, I’ll have you know, takes forever when you don’t have good water pressure. By no-good water pressure, I mean a shower head with uneven water flow), I’ve resigned myself to pooping in the upstairs bathroom. It’s totally fine, I just never know if it’ll flush or not. It makes pooping rather stressful, but also a sort of forbidden adventure. HaHA! I mentally cackle evilly when everything flushes properly. I have defeated you, septic tank.

Other than that, living with Moroccans is fascinating. They are a kind, generous, raucous bunch, with their own traditions and habits that I’ve grown accustomed to and learned to love. Eggs with salt and cumin, salad dressing of vinegar and dijon mustard, flan (FLAAAAAAN!!!!!!). We’re allowed nowhere near helping with the laundry, though I do help with dishes every so often. Someone is always in the house, and so whenever I return I need only ring the birdsong doorbell to be let in, amidst bisous and salaams, to the whitewashed house in the Kasbah that I’ve learned to call home.

The ebb and flow of their conversation (as I begin to understand more and more) doesn’t sound anything like English conversation: their words are more forceful, their speech more intense, and everything is a level louder than it is in English. Oftentimes, normal conversation is conducted at a volume that might indicate a fight in the States, and I’m never sure if it’s because Moroccans just talk louder, or if it’s because the TV’s always on as well.

TV is different here too. Even in the poorest of poor families, there is a TV with a satellite dish; I believe satellite TV is either free or very, very, very cheap, and many researchers (such as Fatema Mernissi, who you’ve probably heard me rave about before) are looking into the effect that satellite TV is having on the creation of a pan-Arab identity, and on North-African and Middle-Eastern society in general. Driving past slums and cities is so strange: thousands of brown clay buildings, thousands of satellite dishes. Satellite dishes are how one can tell if a shantytown’s abandoned or not.

Slowly but surely, the number of programs in Darija is rising; most, but not all, Moroccans understand fousha; fewer actually speak it. The news and most programs are still conducted in either Fousha or Maasri (Egyptian). My favorite soap is “N’Oubliez Pas,” which is a Darija-dubbed Turkish show in which one of the main characters bears a striking resemblance to my friend Kenzie back home. Her character just gave enough money so that her would-be fiancé (-but-isn’t-because-she-married-somebody-else-for-his-money-and-that-guy-died)’s family could afford a lawyer for him so that he wouldn’t get hanged. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Most Moroccans love Shakira with every fiber of their beings, as well as – to a slightly lesser extent – Adele. I’m getting to know their popular artists, too, but I couldn’t tell you their names. The girl with the weird eyebrows sucks, the middle-aged dude’s really good. It’s a science.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the slow days and hazy sunshine, the distant sound of the ocean, the sea breezes and the long walks by the beach that I’ve been taking as the sun sets. I sit on my windowsill and look out at the river, watch the boats go by, and imagine what I must look like to the tourists below: a white girl in harem pants reading a book in one of the windows set high in the imposing wall of the kasbah like some modern-day Jasmine or reclusive weirdo. I spend the slow days folding socks and walking around, and now that I have five slow days ahead of me (most of my cohort is out traveling, but I’m hanging around to enjoy some peace, beach, and whatever else strikes my fancy), I’m really looking forward to all the books I’m going to finish and all the papers (yes, I have papers, but that’s all right) that I’m going to write. My time here in Morocco is truly winding down, and as I reflect a little bit on everything that’s happened, I feel pretty awesome about it. It was a lot harder than I expected it to be, but also a thousand times more rewarding, enriching, and fulfilling.

BUT MORE ABOUT THAT LATER, I’m sure. This sort of rambly type of post is probably going to come back as I wander through my last few weeks here, breathing the ocean air and smiling serenely to myself. It’s hard to believe that this place ever felt strange to me, as crazy as that sounds. Aw, MAN, we say when the topic of conversation turns to our looming departure, I was just getting USED to this place!

But you know what? I’m also excited to get home, so I can hear the inevitable question: “KATIE! Oh my gosh, how was MoROCco?”

I already have my reply ready.

Peace out, kitty cats!

(back to watching Harry Potter!)

How the Other Half Poops

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My stomach and intestines are currently groaning like I imagine the Titanic did just before it split in half. Yes. It is dire. It is dramatic. Thousands of lives are at stake. Just wanted to let you know.

So using toilet paper and sitting down to poo isn’t a Moroccan thing at all. They prefer to poop how (from my perspective, anyway) the other half poops, involving squatting over holes and water. Frankly, it’s a bit more hygienic than what we do, but I wouldn’t say I’m any good at it yet. My style thus far involves bad aim and water everywhere, but I’m told that practice makes perfect, so we’ll see.

Since Morocco is such a tourist draw, it’s about 50/50 whether you’ll get a Western or squat toilet; the fac has squat toilets, Qalam has western. In the cities, mostly Western, in the countryside, a bit more on the squatty side.  Head for a more modern-looking hotel or café if you’re not crazy about the squatting, but if you are, GO for it! Here‘s how!

All of our homestays have Western toilets, though I’m also fairly positive that all of them suffer an eternal shortage of toilet paper. This dearth is not, I have concluded, brought on by some nefarious plot to make our pooping experiences extremely uncomfortable, but rather by the fact that they’re just not used to using toilet paper. I now confront Western toilets everywhere armed and ready.

Squat toilets, well…let’s just say that a nine-year-old with a super soaker might be able to get me wetter than I manage with that stupid bucket, but it’d be a tough call. Either way I feel like I need a blow-dry or a beach towel or a mop afterwards (ALL THINGS YOU CAN BUY IN THE MEDINA, FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION THAT KATIE. YOU COULD BUY THEM AFTER HAGGLING WITH A MOROCCAN BLOW DRYER/BEACH TOWEL/MOP SELLER. HECK YEAH).

While we’re talking about personal hygiene, I took a shower tonight, and I now feel like an Egyptian goddess. Or any goddess, really; any clean goddess. No, I don’t shower frequently here; this bumps the shower-count up to 4, I think, including hammam, since arriving at my homestay.

Now, before all you surgically-scrubbed US-ians squeal in horror and unsubscribe and run screaming from such an unsanitary blogger, let me point out that sponge-baths are not included. Furthermore, you’d conserve water if you didn’t shower every day. Furthermoremore, shampooing frequently strips your hair of its natural oils, which it then overcompensates in replenishing, which is why your hair gets so oily so fast. Try shampooing less! Experiment! Your body will adjust, I promise. WOO!

Furthermoremoremore, it makes showering incredibly satisfying, and the scrub-down I just gave myself would rival any magical hammam lady’s. I feel amazing (except for my digestive system, which seems to have taken up a rather violent form of yoga. It’s struggling to contort itself into unnatural and rather painful positions while making a lot of noise and farts, which is exactly what happens when I attempt yoga).

Here in Morocco, and in many Arabic-speaking countries, when one comes out of the shower (traditionally the hammam, but they say it for regular showers too) or has new clothes or something, they’ll say b’sa7a, which means to your health, and traditionally will also give you food and stuff.  The reply is allah ya36ik sa7a (sorry about all the numbers. Each of the numbers represents a sound in Arabic that doesn’t exist in the Latin script, which is confusing and awesome. Ask me to pronounce it for you sometime. Or a Real Arabic speaker, better yet), which means something about God and you and health. It’s a neat tradition, and it’s also nice to hear a b’sa7a or two when I bounce upstairs for dinner.

Remind me to write about why I shower so infrequently. I’ll probably just post a picture of the shower situation here. It’s awesome and ridiculous and I’ll never take showers for granted again.

SoooooOOOOOooooOOOOoo that’s a bit about personal hygiene in Morocco. Poop on, comrades!

Enlightenment

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or,

The Heather Post

This is probably a crime against poetry:

My Bodhi tree has garbage leaves, and I’m in love with soup;

Siddhartha is my nose, and I’ve been meditating as I poop.

Also,

The I’m No Good at Spirituality but I’d Sure Like to Figure it Out Sometime Post

HEATHER DAY TODAY. YOU SHOULD READ ABOUT HER AND OTHER GREAT PEOPLE DOING GREAT THINGS HERE.

This is sort of stupid, but whatever. It’s my Heather post. It all got started when, in our intensive Darija class, we were instructed to write a paragraph about a friend. Heather! I thought, I’ll write a beautiful, eloquent paragraph about Heather’s awesomeness in Malawi and stuff!

This is great. If you don’t speak Darija, this looks really cool. If you do, you’re lolling because it’s kindergarten talk:

Roughly translated, it says: “My friend’s name is Heather. She is working in Malawi, where she is helping women. She is good and kind. She lives in Seattle with me, and I LOVE HER!”

Then, I remembered how Heather and I eat pho all the time in Seattle and started really craving pho, which I don’t think they have here.

So, Heather, I thought of you today. You are in Malawi. You are great. Let’s get pho.

Also, spirituality. This is an idea that sparks in my brain every so often, as it did today. Late-night brain sparkler:

I remember writing somewhere that I hoped this trip would help me to restore a little faith in the world. Whose, though? Mine? Other people?  Who needs faith right now? In what? Do I?

I can tell a lot of funny and weird stories from growing up Catholic, like this one. I think they’d call me a baggaged Catholic; I’d call me (I dunno) an atheist? A humanist? A whateverist? I like that. I’m a whateverist. Still, though, as I passed one of my host mothers praying as we left for school this morning, my thoughts turned to the dry and silent riverbed of my own faith journey.

No matter how cornered the once-Catholic or how cynical the once-pious, I don’t think that faith is quite useless; but I’m not sure what to do with it, either. It would just curl in the palms of the unbeliever, to be dropped unnoticed on a sidewalk or (more likely) slipped into a pocket to be never quite forgotten. So here I go, clutching bits of pocket-lint faith, heading toward the sound of running water. Faith? Spirituality? YOU GOT ME JESUITS. I’M POKING IT WITH A STICK CALLED STUDY ABROAD IN A VERY RELIGIOUS COUNTRY.

There’s just something about people that have figured out their spirituality ishs that invites calm and confidence. I have a lot of ish where stuff like that is concerned, and generally steer clear; that’s probably a sign that I should explore the ish a bit more. Just a thought.

Also, last night we had the most AMAZING SOUP EVER. I WILL BRING BACK RECIPE AND MAKE ALL THE TIME. HOLY CRAP IT WAS GOOD!!!! HEATHER! I WILL MAKE SOOOUUUUUP!!!

Oh, yeah. I was going to talk about enlightenment. Derp. Whatever. WOO!

I’M LEARNING TO REEEEAD!!!

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or,

كاتي

IS MY NAME EFF YEAH

Today, class, we’re going to learn how to learn Arabic hellza fast—or, we’ll learn all about what frustrates me while attempting to learn Arabic hellza fast. Mezien? Good.

Arabic is a varied and complex language, with (I am so eloquent here) bajillions of different spoken dialects spanning North Africa and the middle east. I’m studying the very particular dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco, Darija, which is often incomprehensible to Arabic speakers from anywhere else (this incomprehensibility is, interestingly, one-way; since the media is largely in Fous7a and Egyptian Arabic, Darija speakers have no trouble understanding other dialects). Darija is an entirely oral dialect, and so the rules that apply to written Modern Standard Arabic do not apply in our Darija classroom; this makes spelling and pronunciation sort of whatever-you-want. Cool!

We conduct classes using a mind-bending combination of Arabic script and latin-script phonetics (there is no International Phonetic Alphabet here, we just write what sounds right, which is different from the weird Peace Corps textbook, which is different from the class handouts. BRAIN). So, for example, here are some verbs conjugated in the past tense:

(Pretty, right? I friggin love this script.)

AND THEN we are instructed to write a paragraph about something, using the verbs that we just conjugated. Easy, right? NOPE. We’re not fluent enough in the alphabet to be able to spell out a paragraph using Arabic script, so we’re supposed to do it something like this:

(It looks like jibberish, yes. Yes, that is my nose. Yes, these are my notes. JIBBERISH NOSE NOTES.)

I’m struggling a lot with the brain acrobatics, I just thought I’d share that with you all. Good thing Allie is a fous7a goddess. Good thing we have 12-year-olds to be way better at this than us. WOOOOO!!

Sometimes in class, I get frustrated with myself for not understanding immediately, for messing up sounding out words, for not learning it all perfectly as soon as I open the book. It’s the classic measure-self-worth-against-performance-in-class complex, which is silly, and so I’m working on being patient with myself. This is only week 2 and I can DO this. I AM doing this! I WILL LEARN THESE SKILLS TO PUT TO USE FOR A MORE JUST AND HUMANE WORLD! RAAAAAAAWR!!!

Still, the combination of difficult classwork, new culture, new place, new language, new everything, feeling isolated and starved for news of you—I find myself sometimes becoming overemotional about things like numbers and verb tenses, laundry and showering, eating and sleeping. It’s the little things here that yank the comfy chair of familiarity out from under me at every turn; sometimes I get tired of falling off the cultural merry-go-round, and every-so-often attempt to steal a meditative moment of solitude in the bathroom.

(Pooping is becoming a very spiritual experience for me. It’s the ONLY time I ever spend alone here.)

It’s just that before I left, 4 months was no big deal. I think of my friends who have left for months and months, years and years, and my heart fills up; 4 months looks pretty scary from here.  But I have found a wonderful community here, too, and I know it’s something we can all pull off together (cue high school musical. Yeah, and I know a dance to it, too. NO SHAME! WOOO), as we share our linguistic triumphs and awkward moments. Let’s DO this.

أحبك

!!!!!!

THAT MEANS JE T’AIME, EN ARABE! WOOOOO!!!