Learning Arabic...Again

Two evenings a week, after all the children have scattered from the TYO building, my Arabic classmates and I set aside an hour for some learning of our own. Our professor, Fawaz, who teaches at An-Najah University by day, patiently guides us through our butchered Palestinian dialect lessons, teaching us useful words and phrases we can use in our classrooms. Mark, Tala, and I make up the "Advanced" class (where "Advanced" should be interpreted liberally), but each of us come with different Arabic backgrounds. While Mark has spent a lot of time conversing on the Syrian street and Tala seems to have a special relationship with food names and Lebanese colloquialisms, I bring in my meager knowledge of the Egyptian dialect. Having studied fusha (formal Arabic) for a few years and the Egyptian dialect, I figured I could handle myself in Nablus on a basic conversational level. This feeling of confidence lasted all of two days until I was shot down by our resident taxi driver-turned-professor, Munir. I soon discovered that not only do my aizas have to become badees (the Egyptian and Palestinian colloquial phrases for "I want"), but that I would also be mocked on the street for my "guh" sounds, which here become the more dignified "juh." I had to adapt quickly.

So, as my struggle with Arabic continues, I have attempted to implement my new phrases in class since my kids are easy test subjects and always willing to teach me a lesson in Arabic. I teach them and they teach me. Disguising my actual intent of getting them to read more during story time, I've taken to sitting down with them and attempting (and failing) to read as they correct my pronunciation. I guess seeing me struggle is good motivation to prove their reading talents to the flailing American. But it's worth making a fool out of myself to see them get excited about reading to me.

Back in Arabic class, I continue to trip over words, mispronounce my "juhs," but mostly enjoy learning the best way I can communicate with my kids. A little Arabic goes a long way here, so I get great satisfaction from surprising my volunteers with a new phrase or seeing the kids get excited because I can write their names.

On a final note, in typical Palestinian hospitality, last week Fawaz brought our class out to his farm.  We learned the names for many fruits and vegetables (Tala, of course, excelled in this) and spent a wonderful afternoon sipping mint tea while gazing at the view. Going above and beyond, Fawaz then drove us around the hills of outer Nablus where we snapped some amazing pictures and got a sense of what a truly beautiful area we live in. Always good to gain some perspective.

Until next time...masalema.


Alex is a summer intern at TYO Nablus.