“Hanz! Kitab Al3arabi!”*

1_123125_123050_2111751_2120150_050609_cb_arabic_tn.jpg.CROP.original-original* “Hanz! Bring the Arabic book!”

This is the phrase my father uses to describe what it was like getting his children to learn Arabic. Specifically:

Going over Arabic lessons with you was much like a torture scene out of a Nazi movie, “Hanz! Kitab al3arabi!”

While my brain has opted to spare me of those memories, I don’t doubt my father’s claim. Arabic was hard.

Is hard.

Arabic is really hard,  especially when you’re a teenager who doesn’t live in an Arabic speaking country and can’t see the use for formal Arabic when what you speak at home is some weird mixture of three languages, only one of which everyone in the house speaks fluently.

I don’t have too much to complain about, in reality. I studied my first 5 years of school in Sudan, which meant that I at least have a basic (/solid) understanding of Arabic grammar. That, of course, doesn’t really carry any weight 8 years later when you’re trying to take your “mother tongue” as an easy A, only to find that the best you can hope for is a mediocre B if you try really, really hard and pray even harder and get some other people (read: your mom) whose word is a lot stronger than yours with the Big Guy Upstairs to pray for you.

Hmm… I guess there is something to complain about…

It also doesn’t help when your Arabic teacher is Lebanese and all your other Arabic-speaking classmates are Lebanese or Algerian or Saudi and can speak in a Lebanese accent. It’s especially not-helpful that you are in no way capable of faking a Lebanese accent. Hell, you can’t even fake an Egyptian one. As a result, you mumble when asked to read aloud in Arabic, and don’t speak Arabic with your classmates.

That is, until you are in college and realize that Arabic came in handy for, you know, life and work and you could make money with this language that you totally took for granted. Then before you know it, you’re back to “Hanz! Kitab al3arabi!” status – only this time it’s:

Sara, jeebi aljareeda… yala agri bei sot 3aali (bring the newspaper. Now read aloud)

And just like that, I am transported back to high school, huffing and puffing and bumbling through sentences trying to sound “legit” when I have no idea how to pronounce what I am reading until after my tongue is done tripping all over it. Funnily enough, I can understand everything I read without knowing the correct way to pronounce it. But that doesn’t matter, because people don’t care if you understand when you sound like a remedial third grader. So now I avoid reading things to people, preferring to simply thrust whatever written item I meant at them, or opting for the “oh, it wasn’t that interesting anyway” line, or, my personal favorite, “I mean… basically what it was saying was…”

<insert English explanation for the paragraph that took  45 minutes to read>

In my defense, though, I can speak with ease and no accent….. which makes it extra infuriating when folks (my own people) want to assume that I can’t express myself. When I ask a perfectly normal question in a perfect accent and perfect grammar and folks want to act like they didn’t understand what I said. When I make a comment with a perfectly placed (yet BASIC) saying and folks want to act surprised that I know what it means.

Why do you do us like that, locals? Just because we grew up abroad doesn’t mean we can’t speak/understand what you’re saying…. especially when I just got done having a full conversation with you. Don’t tell me you’re “impressed” by my level of Arabic. Don’t tell me “hai? bita3rifi alkalam alzay da min wain ya bit Amreeka?” (how do you know how to say that, American Girl?), and please, don’t tell me, “walai mashallah, ga3dat alSudan salla7at laik al3arabi” (Your stay in Sudan has really improved your  Arabic).

Y’all don’t know me like that.

Besides, don’t act like y’all are Arabic language aficionados…. I know all about those extra classes you took last summer.

One thought on ““Hanz! Kitab Al3arabi!”*

  1. That .. was .. touching. I feel now your struggle ya bit amreeka lol. Amazing how we take a lot of stuff for granted. And yaaaaaay, you have a blog lol.

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