Friday, March 21, 2008

Updates 4: Arabic

Since I'm thinking I may be around a little longer, I'd like to get better at Arabic. Especially if I might need to work with Arabs in the country/region on environmental work. I'd like to know that I'm communicating clearly (as my run-in (literally) with the Egyptian proved earlier this month). Also- I'd like to have another language under my belt so I don't feel like a stupid American when interacting with other nationalities.

I already take 2 Arabic classes here through Carnegie Mellon- but that's only 4 hours a week of so-so curriculum. One class is only devoted to learning the alphabet for pete's sake. So I'd like to learn more and try to practice when I can.

I tried in the souqs, asking the football scarf vendor 'how do I say, 'how much?'' and Darbi and I ended up getting a half-hour Arabic lesson. ('They were totally flirting with us' as Darbi would put it). I also took out my sketchbook to prove to them that I can write the letters and then promptly forgot my sketchbook in the shop. That sketchbook held almost a year's worth of thoughts/musings/doodles and travel notes. I was bummed and went back the next day to recover the book- which I swore must be in the shop. No luck but I left my business card anyway. I was bummed.

1 week later I get a call, saying that my book had been found in the shop. And since he had found the book, I was to bring some 'sweet books'. Huh? I feared that this was some sort of come-on or that he was requesting porn. :/ I asked others what should I do, especially if I wanted to show my thanks but not send the wrong-messages. Others (Qataris) deemed a monetary reward would be insulting/weird and a gift would be awkward/unnecessary and suggested I just offer extreme thanks.

I showed up and he did indeed have my sketchbook. However, he asked, 'where are the sweets?' and made an eating motion. Oh that's what he meant! I quickly ran out and returned with 2 scoops of rich gelato as a thanks. He was appreciative and promptly handed over my book- pointing out that there was a message for me in it in Arabic (and a mobile number). It may very well be an Arabic love letter (it does include drawings of hearts) but I'd rather not find out right now. I'll figure that out after break.

After recovering the sketchbook, I swung by the Technical Care Center (an electronics store with the worst type tracking and horizontal/vertical stretching I've ever seen in a sign) and lingered for a long while over the electronic speaking dictionaries/translators. I had been attempting to look up Arabic words during class in my little fat student Arabic/English-English/Arabic dictionary and things had not been going well. So now I have a funny orange Nintendo-DS looking dictionary that can speak the words and also gives conversational phrases and could recite the Quran if I wanted.

Why plunk down the dough for a talking dictionary? Because I'm that serious about learning (I already have Rosetta Stone Levels 1-3). But to learn a language- you really need dedicate time and teacher-student interaction. So I'm proposing to take advantage of CMU-tuition reimbursement/assistance benefits and study Arabic at the University of Chicago this summer. If I took all 3 sessions- that would be 6.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 9 weeks. Whew! Hopefully I'd be as fluent as a kindergartner by that point! I'll also find out more details about that after break.

Speaking of break- I'd better get on that. Take care and Happy Easter!

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