Archive for Arabic
The rerelease of this legendary and illustrious video is dedicated to Joshua “Issa” Casteel, an endlessly positive Middlebury Arabic scholar with the power to brighten every door, the kind of soldier who returns home not with enmity but with curiosity and compassion — a true Muathifakhr if there ever was one.
In 2010, a group of Middlebury Arabic School students left nothing on the rhyming fields of Oakland, California. Two years later the ornery former director of the program, who shall remain nameless in this sentence, achieved a lifelong goal and had the masterwork taken down from video sharing sites, including انتم توب. Kenneth S. Habib’s image has been removed.
But the message lives on.
On the grounds of Mills Young Ladies Seminary (as it was known in 1852), the Thalith Alif Allstars rhyme about a life with thoughts in one language and speech in another. Words divide, but they also unite, and in this grappling with confusion we can follow new pathways to understanding. Like the diverse coalitions still struggling for freedom across the Middle East, this group — which features an Arab doctor, a UN relief hero, a veteran, scholars of the Middle East, and Jews — is united in its message: we shall not be divided by language if we recognize difference not as obstacle but opportunity. And if we take silliness for what it is.
Issa, this one’s for you.
This is INGULFED‘s 200th post! A thousand shukran for coming back again and again.
He handed me the card below:
“GRAND MOSQUE: western perception of islam dept.” Wow. I don’t think anyone has ever cared so much about what I think. He was our tour guide, Khalil, a short man with a long beard who spoke bits and larger bits of a million languages and answered his phone with, “I hope it’s not my wife!” He knew just how to make us laugh.
Gulf countries are, for the most part, young and successful parvenus that don’t seem to need your help or give half a damn whatchu think, but it isn’t so. In Kuwait especially, where George Bush the First finds his framed place among family photos, allies are more precious than gold, and blood runs thicker than oil.
Yet, to borrow the title question from one chapter of Werner’s Fassbinder’s 16-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz, “How is One to Live if One Doesn’t Want to Die?” How can a country thrive it is afraid to be vulnerable? Good question. The answer, as always it appears, is spin. Perceptions are monitored and framed in a manner made possible by Kuwait’s particular circumstances: small population, strong governmental oversight, little economic disparity amongst citizens, high percentage of unassimilated residents, money. If this is starting to sound like a political science paper, it’s not. Look at this silly picture:
This border is not one-dimensional like the fine, fountain pen line between the US and Canada; the vague area between the Emirati back door and the entrance to Oman could be drawn faithfully with a Crayola marker on a globe. But after ten minutes of driving through no man’s land, we were in every man’s land.
Fiftyish men puffed fiftyish shishas, drank tea, and watched us be Western at a roadside cafe half-hour into the country. A huge projector blasted Spanish soccer to the going-out crowd of northwestern Oman. The coffee tasted dark and sweet, not like the light brew served too often in the Emirates, and the mint tea smelled like Morocco and older traditions. I went to ask for more coals for the shisha.
“You speak Arabic?” The owner asked me. Again, same words — completely different question. A minute later, he was introducing me to his favorite customers — a group of five Omani men — and we three American travelers were welcomed into their circle.
We talked about soccer, about Oman, and about finding a wife for the owner in Washington before telling them our travel plans (drawn on a napkin) and the difficulties of making reservations anywhere without phones or internet.
“Ahmed, go get a SIM from the car.”
My useless Emirati phone was taken from me, popped open, and charged with Omani hospitality (and a ton of credit). And after sitting for hours, Malik paid for everything we’d touched the entire night. No, no, a friend explained as we squirmed at the niceness, he’s the boss.
To the sound of the afternoon call to prayer, we set off in our Nissan toward Oman… east. Yeah, let’s go east.
Our car of three sped away from the eyes of city-center radars, toward Al Ain where we aimed to cross the border. Once there, I found myself having trouble finding the biggest thing I’d ever looked for — a whole country. We knew it was there — three million people were right there hanging out — but according to the map, it seemed to have been out for the afternoon.
My friend asked a shopowner in Arabic where we could find Oman, and I listened as he gave us directions that were clear, but seemed to contradict the existence a dead-end I’d seen. So I tried to clarify. And in that moment, he said something that had been said to me so many times before gently and in surprise, this time curt and with disdain: “Do you speak Arabic?”
I had never had a relationship that was purely based on Arabic — even Arabs I’ve met and known only through Arabic have understood that it was a foreign language for me, taking my words at more (or less) than face value, and giving me more credit than I pronounced. But here I was assumed to be an Arabophone. The jab echoed the sarcastic taunts of “You speak English?” heard a million times on the streets of New York, always with the assumption that the insulted does speak English, fluently in fact, but misheard. In his assumptions, this salesman was — in a way so rare and re-encouraging — a total douchebag.
الجزء الثالث — Part Three
In my job, I wear many ghutra. “I’m a Program Coordinator,” I tried to explain to an Egyptian security guard, Hasan. “I… coordinate programs.”
“What kind of programs?” he asked.
Going from here to there, that’s a program. Gotta be coordinated. Setting up rooms: program. Staffing an event: program. Telling people things: program.
Just then a parent of one of the students rushed in holding empty boxed lunches, looking around for a place to throw them out.
“Where’s a trash can? I should’ve just left this on the bus.”
I told her she could just leave it with me, no worries. And there I was, business casual and holding (oddly warm) trash.
Hasan smiled. “Welcome to your new job!”
After seeing Inception two nights in a row, I feel qualified to make enormous statements about the theater experience in the Gulf. The first shock to the western movie-goer is the assigned seats. While something about choosing your exact place makes going to see Leonardo more like an outing, it forces certain stressful decisions not found at American first-come first-sit Loewses or AMCs. The teller shows you the layout of the theater and asks you to pick as you force yourself to imagine,
Will that be too close?
Next to fat people?
Behind the tallest building in the world? (The Emirates are unpredictable.)
Turns out not that many people are out at 21:00 on a Wednesday and it doesn’t really matter. Though Midnight the next night was packed full of an even more animated crowd laden with take-in from surrounding mall restaurants, answering their cell phone calls, and yelling warnings at Leo and Ellen Paige.
Leaving the mall at 1 a.m. after Inception Night One, we found shoppers steaming in the night heat and an hour-long cab line. But a friendly enough-looking Indian man stood offering a private car (a no-no in your mother’s book of Travel Safety Rules) like a scalper offering last minute tickets to your own house. So, like any smart shoppers, we weighed our life against our patience. Read the rest of this entry »