(My Middle East)

77 days with a journalist, Lebanon, and a list of non sequiturs

What did you say?

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It can be wildly frustrating to learn Arabic. I’ve studied the language part time, for about 2 years now and situations like this can play out on a regular basis:

I’ve got 20 minutes to get to someplace in Beirut for a story, but I’ve rehearsed the phrase I need for a week, I’ve been practicing the “hah’ the “gha” and the “kha” and this is my chance to use it. I walk up to a taxi and ask him my question…and it ends up having the same effect as speaking in gibberish, he has no idea what I’m saying. Sometimes I get angry and I just want to yell “I”M SPEAKING ARABIC.” But its obvious its not his fault, it’s mine.

It gets discouraging when that situation repeats itself again and again over the course of weeks or months, you can feel like you will never learn enough to speak to anyone in a meaningful way. Thats why run ins with people like Joesph, can be so special.

I was on my way back from work after 3 hours of Arabic class, a trip to a press conference at the Indonesian embassy and writing 2 stories. I was doing my Arabic flash cards, but didn’t feel much like talking to anyone. Thats when I got into a cab with an older taxi driver named Joesph.

After the initial how are yous, Joesph was incredibly excited to learn I spoke Arabic. We talked about where I study Arabic, what I did here and about Beirut. He talked about living abroad for 20 years, moving back two years ago and being an Aounee (supporting Michel Aoun). He spoke slowly and clearly and corrected my pronunciation, when I didn’t understand words he explained them to me by using other Arabic phrases, not speaking English, The whole conversation probably didn’t last more than 10 minutes but it was probably the most encouraging conversation in Arabic I’ve had in a year. In the end I decided to pay him for the cab ride and the Arabic lesson.

My Arabic has slowly gotten better over time, but without people like Joesph learning this language would be so much more impossible than it is already.

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Written by stephenddockery

July 21, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Day in my life

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