Archive for September, 2010

Language Lessons

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

I just finished taking my third formal Arabic course. Hooray! It’s peculiar to speak a language almost fluently, but be incapable of reading and writing it. There are tons of people like me around the world who have grown up with Arabic singing in our ears, while leaving us illiterate and gawking. I never dreamed that one day I would understand what that scratch actually said! Since I’ve come to Lebanon, I chose literacy. Ha. Well, I took on the often grueling and exhausting task of learning how those curves and swerves and dots work together to mean. For those of you who don’t know, there are two languages, for all intents and purposes, in Arabic – the one you speak and the one you read and write. In other words, there isn’t just the complexity that the alphabet is not Roman, but also what you speak to your grandma is different that what you read in the morning paper. It’s not the same difference as in English when we distinguish “slang” from “formal.” More accurately, perhaps if you compared Medieval English with contemporary Facebook English, then we may be closer to an analogy.

Yet, the language and its environment is opening up in front of me as my tongue rolls the oscillating accents, the rhythm of the language. As the wazan and the jezr reveal the complex and very logical patterns of words. As the increased difficulty resides in its elaborate nature. And as the raving mad curious rules, especially the rules, the grammar lessons, twist me up, have me asking Why? and making amateur connections to the psychology of the Arab mind.

All non-human plurals take the singular feminine adjective.

This one is what really got me from the beginning. When the teacher announced this, I snorted under my breath and looked around the class for some mutual contempt for this obviously sexist grammatical truth. Nothing. And the teacher didn’t even say it with a hint of irony! I looked closely at her and waited. Nothing, no remark about how rude this rule was. I began considering: cars, phone booths, tables, books, doors, music stands, computers, buildings, floor tiles, street signs, well, actually all things in the world. Objects. Now you’re thinking, relax feminist. And though I will not backspace and delete, I will spare you the speculation on the “singular” aspect…

However, I will not spare you of this cleric’s recent and most disgusting and objectifying pontification on men’s “rights” with women. Disclaimer: This is probably the worst of it.

\”Allah Honors Wives with Beatings\”

The masculine form is what is conventionally used in dictionaries, as the “standard” form.

Somehow, I never cease to be surprised by the sexist things that come out of men’s mouths. I am one of those obstinately naïve people who thinks that everyone is more morally and ethically sound than they really are. Even when they say the sexist thing, I think, they don’t really mean it. I’m sure this is partly because I don’t want to believe that people are so unfair and partly because I don’t want to hate them. But, despite myself, their honesty eventually registers, and I lose respect and slowly the hate seeps in…

The dumbest sexist comment I heard recently was the clichéd “Women can’t drive” theory. It’s funny, I never heard this spoken by a woman. I mean, if it were TRUE, then we would all be able to somehow objectively observe it, right? Women talk about other women all the time. But I never heard them talk about each other as “bad drivers.”

He was adamant: “I swear, they really don’t know how to drive. They are too hesitant in making decisions on the road… they really are dangerous.”

“All of them?”

“ALL of them.”

“Oh, so, women’s ‘hesitance’ is worse than certain men’s speeding and showing off their tires’ musical genius in the streets?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, I know men speed, but at least they have control and they can make decisions.”

He seemed to think that men’s driving and decisions were standard, and women’s nuisance on the road was a given.

I asked him, “So who taught women how to drive in this country?”

For future tense, you may use one of two prefixes. You decide.

This rule’s practical application is simplistic and differs by just one letter. But I thought the rule revealed liberalness. Not only do you have a few choices to construct the future tense, according to your whim, but making it is quite simple in itself where you simply add a prefix to the root word.

I found it funny that Arabs once thought the future so simple.

‘Sun,’ ‘moon,’ ‘sky,’ and ‘war’ are all feminine words.

Whaddya think Alanis would say?

The superlative is the “easiest lesson.”

Does this surprise you? That to claim the biggest, the best, the smartest, the most beautiful, all have one standard conjugation in Arabic. My teacher claimed that this is the “easiest lesson.”

What Business Is It of Yours? : UPDATE

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Today at the corner of Sanayeh Gardens, I saw a familiar figure leaning against the wall in a way that triggered my memory: His left leg slightly bent, his foot pressed up behind him. I almost passed him when I suddenly stopped and turned to him.

“Were you the one who saved me from the walrus taxi driver who wanted to slap me in the middle of the street?” I asked.

He hardly hesitated, “Yes!”

“Oh my gosh, thank you!” I proceeded to give him a hug (a natural inclination).

He laughed, we laughed.

“Thank you so much! You saved me! You were like an angel!”

“That guy came back and gave me trouble at work…”

I raised an eyebrow.

“After one hour, he came back, got out of his car, and asked me, ‘What is it your business to get involved… she swore at me! She deserves to be beaten!’”

Here he looked at me and said, “I’m Sudani, we don’t let a girl get hurt in front of us. Moustaheel.” And so he told walrus, who was having none of it.

“Inta, it’s none of your business! I’m gonna get the police and have you arrested!”

And evidently, his employers at the pharmacy felt the same way. Why did you get involved? They had asked. What business is it of yours?

Again, it was reassuring to know that my countrymen are so freaking protective of each other – from the taxi driver to the pharmacy owner… (see if I ever buy another deoderant from him)…