“Kayf-diira?” —how are you?
“…Anna Ta’baana Jiddan Jiddan” —-I’m very very tired.
Except, the truth of the matter is, I’m not actually tired–I’m exhausted. I’m frustrated because the homework last night was difficult. I had the best meal for dinner last night–but it made my stomach hurt this morning so now I’m not exactly sure. But I don’t know how to say any of that–so I stick with tired and hope the person who asked me understands.
“Min aayna enti?” —-Where are you from?
“Ana min Minnesota.” —I’m from Minnesota.
Except, what I really want to say is, I’m from the land of 10,000 lakes–the place where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average. I’m from the Midwest, I’m from a small town where there’s beautiful pine trees, incredible stars at night, and enough meat and potatoes for everyone to share. I live right of off Highway 95, in the last white house on the top of a big hill–right before you see the river. But I don’t know how to say that–so I just say, “I’m from Minnesota,” and when I know they don’t understand what I mean, I’m disappointed with myself.
“Kayfa al-thowra fi-Misr?” —How is the Revolution in Egypt?
“Hunak mushakil kethira wa al-naas thaarun ala Mubarak.” –There are a lot of problems and the people rose up against Mubarak.
But what I really want to say is, Egyptian politics are messy–the political parties all support different ideas and policies and no one is really listening to the other people. Morsi won an election that wasn’t fair–it wasn’t rigged, but it wasn’t fair. The future is muddled; the Parliament just got annulled, there’s problems with speech freedoms, and the economy is going downhill. I worry for my friends from Cairo and Alexandria–I worry for their families. I read Al-Jazeera every day, and I hate seeing violence. Protests are a good thing in my opinion, mostly because they keep the government in check and they keep the world’s ear tuned into what the people need. Is Egypt a democracy? Certainly–is it a fast-moving, successful democracy? No–but the US isn’t one either. But, while I know the words for “revolution” and “democracy,” I lack the grammar and ability to clearly convey my opinion about Egypt in Arabic. And, when people misunderstand my opinion, I get frustrated with my inability to accurately convey ideas concerning Political Science–something I’m about to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in.
Learning Arabic is frustrating. Retaining the words and understanding the grammar is mental gymnastics. Learning Arabic is challenging–it stretches me to consider grammar, dialect, and communication in a new way every day. I’m challenged to view myself differently–I’m a college-educated woman who is re-learning how to use the subjunctive, form adverbs, and match appropriate adjectives to their nouns. Every day I’m humbled by how much I don’t know and amazed and excited by how much their is to discover. I’m inspired by the students above me–those who have already mastered the subjunctive–and encouraged by those who are below me–because they have courage beyond my own. My ears and my eyes are open to what’s going on around me–I’m a sponge soaking up all of the language and culture that I can.
I’m learning that Arabic is beautiful. Grammar structures exist to convey moods and meanings on a level far superior to English. Learning Arabic is gratifying–yesterday, in the Medina, I correctly identified the busy street as “Izdeehaam”–or busy. A word that only applies to streets–people and bees are described with different words. I was proud–just for that moment–because I had finally remembered one of the 150 new vocabulary words that I’ve been studying since I got here. Every day I discover new words, new roots, and new ways of expressing myself. Today I learned about revolutions, and tomorrow, Inshallah, I’ll learn what case endings adjectives require when describing a revolution in progress—who knows, maybe someday, I’ll be busy starting one.