December 20, 2009

So much I don't know

December 20-January 6.

The plan: Cartagena, Valencia, Barcelona, Paris, London, Madrid, home.

It's amazing how daunting Western Europe and its cities are. I breathe easier imaging that I am going to Istanbul (metro, Sultanahmet, mercimek çorbasi, Galata Bridge) or Kathmandu (dhal bhat tarkari, my old 'hood at Ratopul, the German bakeries). In a few weeks, will I feel the same about these new destinations?

December 17, 2009


The problem with relationships that are supported by the internet: when something happens in the real world, the real world always takes precedence. 

Ashara faqat

I told my Arabic teacher that I loved the "q" sound. It doesn't exist in English. It's the sound you make when you pretend you are drinking something--that glug glug glug sound in the back of your throat. Turkish translates it into a "k" sound.

daqiqa (minute) becomes dakika

faqat (only, just) becomes fakat

At the cafeteria around the corner (my favourite food source so far), I finally ordered the ubiquitous fava bean soup. A hearty bowl was delivered, topped with a layer of olive oil and a spoonful of cumin. Bread, too, and a mix of potato and green salad. It was the perfect meal. After, I went to the counter to pay and handed the boy a 20-dirham coin. He handed me back a 10-dirham coin.

Ashara faqat?

Ashara faqat.

Incredible. Ten dirhams is $1.50. I may never cook again.

December 11, 2009

Vent frais

Last weekend, we hiked up the mountain Bounan. Pine and mint, donkeys, goats, cows, and a turtle. We ate sandwiches, olives, and homemade cinnamon buns. Eventually we were high enough to see the Strait of Gibraltar and the landmass of Spain. Oriane taught me a nice song.

Vent frais, vent du matin
Vent qui souffle aux sommets des grands pins
Joie du vent qui souffle
Allons dans le grand
Vent frais, vent du matin...

December 8, 2009

5 a day

pochoir (stencil)
tampon (stamp)
couche (layer)
rapport (rapport)
decouper (carve)

gobierno (government)
ministro (minister)
rey (king)
cuchara (spoon)
cuhchillo (knife)

muhim (important)
muthir (interesting)
fusul (seasons)
har (hot)
barid (cold)

almamiş (apparently I took it)
iyimiş (apparently I was good)
tabii (of course)
şişman (fat)
hafif (light)

December 4, 2009

Fish! Fish!

Samak. Samak.

Mohssin from Bordeaux looks at me in surprise. Fish! I say, happily. Fish!

He looks at Hagar. Elle...? Oui! Elle-- But now he looks back at me. Tu peux lire l'arabe?!

But I am looking at the sign.

Sa... La. Sau... Sou.... Souq. Souq asamak. Fish market.

He has stopped eating. L'accent, c'est bon.

Thanks, Mohssin. As a child in Arabic, it's nice to be around people who don't mind kids.

Teaching makes me laugh

New technology was the topic of conversation in Intermediate 6. 

"Can you even imagine life before internet?" I asked them.

Everyone was quiet. Zouhair raised his hand.

"Teacher, it was very hard."

December 2, 2009


Act V, Scene 2

Late evening, after class. The girls chat companionably, confident in the modern magic of antibiotics and looking forward to Dimetap dreams.

Alaina: I think it's the cold air. It was all of a sudden. I took a breath in and then I was just coughing and coughing.

Mary: I know. [She glances at the two barely-functional space heaters in the living room]. I feel like we're going to be cold for the next four months.

Alaina: Uh huh.

Mary: The other day was the worst, when the water wouldn't get quite hot in the shower.

Alaina: I know. We could start going to the hamam once a week.

Mary: Actually, that's a good idea. Then we could just take maintenance showers once or twice a week. My hair is so gross. I haven't washed it for a long time. 

Alaina: It doesn't look that bad.

A few minutes later.

Alaina: OK, when I said it didn't look that bad, it's because I looked over and I thought, "It looks fine. It looks like Mary just wetted it down." You didn't wet it down, did you?

Mary: No. It's that oily.

Alaina: Eww.

Mary: I know.

Scene 3

The next day. Mary comes in the front door and goes directly to the kitchen, where she turns a knob on a gas-powered water heater. The flame takes.

Mary: OK, man, it's time for a super overdue shower!

Alaina: Have fun. [She is reading an Arabic magazine in the living room].

A minute passes. We hear the shower running. Suddenly, the water stops.

Mary: Alaina, are you using the water?!

Alaina: What?!

Mary: Are you using the water?! It's getting cold!

Alaina: No!

Mary: Fuck my life--I'm going to kill someone if I can't take a hot shower right now! I'm covered in shampoo!

Alaina: Umm...I think we're low on gas. Yeah, the flame doesn't look right.

[We hear the tap turn back on in the bathroom].

Mary: Now it's freezing!

Alaina: Yeah, we're outta gas.


December 1, 2009

From the unfinished script of "Sick Abroad"

Act IV, Scene 2

Alaina and Mary, now both dying of the flu (symptoms include cough, nasal congestion, dizziness, aches and pains, and nausea) have been directed by their colleague Abdelrahman to Dr. Moline, whose office is next to the Avenida Theatre. Unable to locate the doctor's office, they limp into a money exchange to ask for directions.

Mary: Sabah al-khair.

Man: Sabah al-khair.

Mary: Parlez-... Oh, sorry, go ahead, Alaina.

Alaina: Smaali... [she asks in Darija for the directions]

Scene 3

The girls find the correct building and walk up a flight of stairs. They pause on the landing to catch their breath. When they look at the door of Dr. Moline's office, they see a sign. Mary reads only the numbers: 30 and 6. Alaina reads the words silently.

Mary: It's closed from the 30th to the 6th, isn't it?

Alaina: Yep.

Mary: Ok.

Scene 4

They have decided to go directly to a pharmacy, even though it means their Moroccan medical insurance won't reimburse them for the cost of medicine. Alaina leads them to a modern-looking pharmacy on the corner. They begin by addressing the man at the cashier. Alaina, in her weakened state, has opted not to proceed in Darija.

Alaina: Se habla español?

Man: [shouts for someone from the back]

A woman appears.

Woman: Oui?

Alaina: All you.

Mary: Nous cherchons antibiotiques pour [inhales and exhales, pointing to the lungs]... les...pulmo...? 

Woman: Bronchitis?

Mary: Peut-etre. Nous avons [mimes a rough cough]. Et ici [sniffles and points to nasal congestion]. Nous avons besoin d'antibiotiques.

Woman: Combien de jours...? [I forget how she said..."have you had this cough?"]

Mary: Moi, trois jours. Et elle, deux.

Woman: Tu penses que c'est le meme...

Mary: Nous habitons ensemble, donc...

Woman: Ah, oui, d'accord.

Woman nods and disappears to the back. The pharmacy feels uncomfortably hot, especially with all the layers. Both Alaina and Mary have scarves wrapped around their necks and their heads covered. At last, the woman returns. She explains in French how to take the antibiotics and the cough medicine. They pay at the cashier.

Man: Shukran.

Girls: Shukran.

Woman: [French equivalent of "Hope you get better soon"]

Mary: Merci beaucoup.

Act V, Scene 1

That evening, at the American Language Center, in the big room upstairs. Intermediate 4 students are trickling in. On the whiteboard: Movie Day!

Amina: Teacher, you are sick?

Mary: Can you tell?

Hamza [who speaks only with sincerity]: Teacher, you will be alright.

November 27, 2009

5 a day

unijambiste (one-legged person)
fin (filler word, like 'so...')
franchement (frankly, basically)
a vrai dire (to be honest)
vachement (really)

rebajas (sales)
joder (fuck)
me cago en la leche (I shit myself in the milk = shoot)
guay (cool)
chulo (pimp/cool)

musaida (help)
atakalam (I speak)
aqul (I say)
la aarif (I don't know)
ma (water)

acele etmek (to hurry)
şikayet etmek (to complain)
yardım etmek (to help)
fikir (idea)
tatlı rüyalar (sweet dreams)

November 25, 2009

Small victories

The two hippies from Normandie were so gentle in their French. We were walking in the same direction from the medina, along the cobblestones, in the afternoon sun. The guy began to translate his girlfriend's question, but I had already understood. Deux mois, I answered. Ça va? she asked. Ça va trés bien. Je suis trés contente ici. I led them to a bank where they could change money. Shukran bzef, he said. La shukran. They wished me good travels in France.

And yesterday my Arabic teacher elicited my most meaningful thought in Arabic so far. Well, it came out of a conversation as I was packing up my things.

Me: Al-an mada? (Now what? as in, What are you doing now?)

Fatima: Alan-an, dars. (Now, a lesson)

Me: Ma man? (With whom?)

Fatima: … something... (Two Spanish people)

Me: Limada yadrus alarabiya? (Why are they studying Arabic?)

Fatima: Liana …something... yaskununa fi Ceuta wa…something...  Maghrebi. (Because they live in Ceuta and interact with Moroccan people)

Me: Oh.

Fatima: Maryam, limada anti tadrusina alarabiya? (Mary, why are you studying Arabic?)

Me: Liana...ana... uridu an aamal ma ashkhaz… [here Fatima filled in ‘Arab world’] fi medinati fi Canada. (Because I want to work with people from the Arab world in my city in Canada).


5 a day

deranger (to bother)
bruillante (noisy)
centre-ville (downtown)
a mon avis (in my opinion)
je vous suis (I follow you)

un sello (a stamp)
una carta (a letter)
el correo (the post office)
un paquete (a package)
estuve contenta (I was happy)

awal (first)
thani (second)
thalith (third)
rabiaa (fourth)
khamiss (fifth)

basit (simple)
zor (difficult)
bu kadar (this much)
futbol seven (soccer fan)
hepimiz (all of us)

November 22, 2009

From the The Sheltering Sky

He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveller... Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveller, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home... another important difference between tourist and traveller is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveller, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he find not to his liking.
The Sheltering Sky is this weird novel by Paul Bowles, an American who lived in Tangier as an expatriate with his lesbian wife for many years. He recently died. In the novel, Port and Kit are unhappily married and travel through Morocco pondering their unhappy marriage. Port eventually dies and Kit runs off into the desert as the sex slave of some bedouin. The writing is not great--sometimes I think Bowles is trying (and failing) to be Hemingway--but then there are these quirky moments of depth or humour that must belong to Bowles alone. They made the book worth reading.
'If I watch the end of a day--any day--I always feel it's the end of the whole epoch. And the autumn! It might as well be the end of everything,' he said. 'That's why I hate cold countries, and love the warm ones, where there's no winter, and when night comes you feel an opening up of the life there, instead of a closing down. Don't you feel that?'

'Yes,' said Kit, 'but I'm not sure I prefer the warm countries. I don't know. I'm not sure I don't feel that it's wrong to try to escape the night and winter, and that if you do you'll have to pay for it somehow.'

'You are here with your wife?' asked the Lieutenant. Port assented absently. 'That's it,' said the Lieutenant to himself. 'He's having trouble with his wife. Poor devil!' It occurred to him that they might go together to the quartier [brothel area]. He enjoyed showing it off to strangers. But as he was about to say: 'Fortunately my wife is in France-' he remembered that Port was not French; it would not be advisable.

[Just after Port dies] She did not recall how they had agreed that one can be anything but anything but dead, that the two words together created an antinomy. Nor did it occur to her how she once had thought that if Port should die before she did, she would not really believe he was dead, but rather that he had in some way gone back inside himself to stay there, and that he would never be conscious of her again; so that in reality it would be she who would have ceased to exist, at least to a great degree.

November 21, 2009

5 a day

puente (bridge)
orilla (banks)
escultura (sculpture)
maestría (masters degree)
pensamiento (thought)

manquer (to miss)
pont (bridge)
pensée (thought)
sculpture (sculpture)
maîtrise (masters degree)

ev arkadas (roommate)
haberler almak (to get news)
mulakat (interview)
kabul etmek (to accept)
kusura bakma (sorry/no offense)

ashkhaz (people)
eshya (things)
mustaida (ready)
qisa (story)
fulus (money)

November 20, 2009

Un dia en el español

It was Independence Day in Morocco, so we celebrated our independence and drove to Ceuta, a Spanish protectorate just 45 minutes away. Alaina suggested we spend the whole day speaking only Spanish. Por que no? It was a challenge for me, but Alaina was super patient with the constant como se dice and otra vez, and we pulled it off.

We shopped:
calsetines (socks)
escoger (to choose)

We had dinner:
caña (glass of beer)
entrafacil (shot with vodka and lime)

We chatted with guys from Malaga at the bar:
happy (tipsy)
los sevillanos (people from Seville)

We made a whimsical decision:
Quanto es la habitation?

November 19, 2009

Tu me manques

= I miss you. French is weird like that.

Je pense que...tu me manques.

November 18, 2009

All in the wind

I never have headaches, but I have them here. One of the teachers blamed the westerly wind. He said that when it comes from the Mediterranean, like it did for days, it brings air with less oxygen. We inhale but our hearts only pump so much blood, so we want to lie in bed all day. The wind from the west, though, is dry and oxygenated. It makes us happy. All the other teachers nodded.

You can believe whatever you want, so I will believe in this wind explanation of things.

November 13, 2009


This little urchin followed me for three whole blocks, until I relented and asked the price of his pathetic bundles of Kleenex. Jooj. Jooj? Jooj. Fine, two dirhams, 30 cents, let's do it. The photo was free. After all, men in the plaza sell the same packages for one dirham.

Fun fact: 1-10, the numbers are the same in Darija (Moroccan Arabic)  and Fus-ha (Standard Arabic), with the exception of 2. Jooj here, ithnane elsewhere.

November 12, 2009


"English has only one regular plural pattern, the addition of s to the singular, as in students. Arabic has more than ten regular patterns that you will learn over the course of the year..."

November 10, 2009

I want blood.

If you learn a language in the real world--on a bus, in a café, with a native speaker--you naturally get the important words: now, later, what, time, come, go, where, good, want, can, have to. The nature of the language classroom, on the other hand, is that you learn a bunch of useless stuff along the way. In Arabic, for example, in which I still don't 'food' or 'water,' I have already memorized the following garbage.

United Nations alumam almutahida
translator mutarjim
admissions alqubul
employee muathaf
lonely waheed
spacious wasa
breakfast futur
blood dam
river nahr
mouth fam

With which I can say:

My mouth is a translator at the United Nations. Fami mutarjim fi alumam almutahida.

The employee at the admissions office is lonely. Why? Because the office is really spacious. Almuathaf fi almaktab alqubul waheed. Limatha? Liana almaktab faghalan  wasa.

I want a river of blood at breakfast. Uridu anahr bidam fi futur.

November 9, 2009

Flowers for the good life

The man remembered me from last week when I bought white flowers and he added an extra dos as a regalo. On the street, everyone smiled at them. Winter is coming--you can feel it in the near-constant wind--but the sun is still shining, and it lit up the roses. They'll last all week and make us happy. They smell so good.

November 8, 2009

The costs of things, Part 3

After the flight, every cost depends on where you are and what you do. In Tetouan, Morocco...

Flat loaves of fresh bread: $0.27
Café au lait: $1
A kilo of the best olives: $2
Local wine: $5
Soup, salad, couscous, cookies, fruit, and tea in a nice restaurant: $10
Bus to Tangier: $2
Balcony seat at the movie theatre: $3
French classes for the next 3 months: $90
Printmaking course: $28
Massage at the hamam: $4.50
View of the mountains: free

November 7, 2009

The costs of things, Part 2

The biggest single cost of travel might be the flight. Fortunately, any flight is cheap divided over enough time. If you spend $1000 to get where you want to go and stay one week, then every day costs you $143 before you do anything. This is insane. Stay a month, though, and a day costs $33. Stay 10 months and a day costs just $3.30 in flight money.

November 6, 2009

The costs of things, Part 1

"How can you afford to travel all the time? Isn't it expensive?" 

No, it is not expensive.

Think of everything you stop spending money on. No rent. No heat. No water and electricity. No landline. No cell phone. No internet. No car payments. No car insurance. No parking. No bus pass. (You might want these where you go, but factor them out first). No $4 coffee. No $8 drinks. No $10 cover. People are blind to how much they spend, because they are plugged into a Matrix-like system that sucks their money as fast as they make it. People call this system a "normal" lifestyle. Just remembering those costs makes me wonder,

"How can you afford to live in North America? Isn't it expensive?"

November 4, 2009

I heart my Intermediate 1 class

So, what were we talking about last week?


Bravo. Can you give me an example of a good experience?

Visiting the moon!

Absolutely, Ayman. That is going on the board.

October 31, 2009

It's a roller coaster

Learning! Exploring! Changing!

Hooray for Morocco.

Everyone at home is dressing up and drinking and laughing and slurring and making out.

Damn you, Morocco.

Maria from Sweden carries her baby on our walk and school kids greet us in French and Spanish. Later, her American husband Eric shows me his woven-paper tapestries. On the way home, the cute grocer on the corner sells me plums and dark grapes in Spanish and Arabic. Couples walk before the sun sets.

Hooray for Morocco.

I go for my first run and fall in the gravel, tripping over my loose pants. In Canada, I would have been wearing shorts or tights. Hands ooze and six dogs circle the corner ahead.

Damn you, Morocco.

The first day of Creative Writing 101. Eight students come and they are so into it, so engaged, that they keep going when the activity ends. We walk out to palm trees and honeysuckle swaying in the warm breeze. It is almost November and we are wearing sunglasses.

Hooray for Morocco.

October 30, 2009

If these got federal funding, so should I

The effectiveness of assistive technology for struggling writers

Touching intimate parts: the implications of early modern German men-midwives touching their patients

What motivates rugby players to continue competing

The role of headphones in the sonic constitution and social negotiation of space

Indigenous perspectives on teaching yoga

You are here: in pursuit of a literature of the Canadian mall

Important factors in the desert fathers’ withdrawal to the desert

Eight hours drive from anywhere: a geographic occupational study of clasical musicians in Thunder Bay, Ontario

Female romantic jealousy and extra-pair desire across the menstrual cycle

Creating community in medieval Aragon

Meanings of masculinity in the Fort Simpson fur trade, 1834-1887

Bad sex objects

A deleuzian ontology of Christ

*Each got $17,500 from SSHRC in 08-09. If they won, then surely this will:

Press here: Indigenous fathers’ geographic occupational perspectices on what motivates struggling writers  from medieval Aragon and present day Fort Simpson to withdraw and touch themselves across the menstrual cycle in a negotiation of space, masculinity, and ontology.

October 29, 2009

"fierce, dodgy seven-year-olds"

I'm reading a novel called Johnno. It's about two boys growing up and leaving Brisbane, Australia. The words are precisely chosen (the author, David Malouf, is a poet, after all) and the observations are unsettling because they feel true and familiar.

"Like most sons I suppose, I had forced upon my father the character that fitted most easily with my image of myself; to have had to admit to any complexity in him would have compromised my own. I chose the facts about him that I needed."

"[Johnno] felt the need to reach out only when he was either desperately miserable or in some sort of ecstasy, and I knew, as he must have, that by the time his words reached me, five thousand miles away, as I was rushing out of the house for a tram, his mood would already be gone--replaced by whatever it was his silences represented: long stretches of sitting alone in a tent at the end of nowhere..."

"We didn't go to Greece. Or even to Brittany. Johnno, I soon realized, was mesmerized by Paris, his dreams of leaving it for one corner of Europe or another were simply alternatives that he allowed to exist for a moment because they made Paris itself, and his presence in it, so much more solid and absolute. Paris was the city for which Greece, Spain, Sweden, and other places too numerous to mention, had been rejected. As for me, I was just a tool in Johnno's process of making Paris real for himself, and I soon tired of it."

"Meanwhile, after three years, people at home began to think of me as an expatriate.

An extraordinary denomination. What did it mean? It seemed too grand to fit anything I felt about my position, or any decision I had made to leave Australia and start again elsewhere. I had found it odd, gratuitous even, that I should be an Australian. I found it even odder, more accidental, that I should be anything else. Friends who came to visit on working holidays were resentful of my being so settled. Their resentment found its object in certain habbits that they thought of as non-Australian and therefore a betrayal. Like calling the pictures the "cinema" and sandshoes "plimsols". Like reading The Times. Like wearing sandals with socks. Impossible to tell them that all this was quite fortuitous. That I hadn't chosen "silence, exile, cunning", had never left Australia in more than fact. That going to sleep at night was still, for me, to climb high into the glossy dark leaves of the old fig tree outside our kitchen window in Edmondstone Street, with flying-foxes rustling in its darkness, and long golden strands hanging from its branches like a giant's beard, and butcher-birds or mynahs picking about in the sunlight, between roots that pushed deep in under the house, lifting the concrete under the washtubs and even sometimes shifting a stump, far away under our sleep. Expatriate? What did it mean? Nothing it seemed to me. Except that the tree below my bedroom window here was a weeping beech that in summer filled the whole view with its brittle leaves and in winter let through the houses opposite, with frost repointing the edges of their bricks. The children in the flat below hung gobbets of meat from its boughs, and all winter the birds came to peck at strips of belly-pork or pick the last shreds from a mutton chop. A red setter loped through the yellowing stalks of the over-grown garden, sniffing, freezing--hunting blind in his own territory. There was nothing exotic about all this. I taught school all week, drank at the Carnarvon Castle or the Queens on Friday night. Saturday afternoon shopping. A Sunday walk to the top of Bidston Hill, with a long view across open country to an estuary and golflinks by the sea. In the town itself men from the shipyards in their heavy lumbermen's rig and donkey jackets still grimy from work, dragging their boots over the sawdust in dockside pubs and bursting noisily into the street at closing-time, stumbling off for a piss in cobbled backs. It wasn't something I had chosen. I was here, that's all. I had never left anywhere..."

October 28, 2009

Busiest day so far

8:10-10:10 Class in Contemporary Printmaking (in French)

11-2 Class in Tile Work (in Darija)

2 Outdoor cafe (my one-woman stand against male-dominated public space)

3 Arabic pronunciation workshop

3:30-5 Class in Standard Arabic

6:30-10 Teaching

10-11 Lesson-planning

October 24, 2009

Friday couscous

"Mary, why do you guys keep saying l'avion? Doesn't that mean airplane?"

"La viande! Meat!"


October 22, 2009

Moi y my new French friend, we text

Mary: Salut, Oriane! How was the art institute? Did you find any classes? I hope you are well. Best, mary.

Oriane: Buenas tarde. Me parece que la clase de arte sera muy interesante pero, para la gente exterior, deberia ouvrir una classe pero no es muy seguro. Te deciria mas cuando se encontramos. Que tal con este nuevo trabajo y la langua maroquis? Hasta pronto. Oriane.

Mary: Gracias por el mensaje! Quieres venir a la casa manana y tomar un te? Yo se que es tarde, pero podemos encontramos en frente de l’institut francais a las 10 por la noche.

Oriane: It would be pleasur, but in this time I live in Martile. 10pm will be difficult after with taxi but we can it something for the lunch if you have some time.

Mary: Ah, je vois! Veux-tu manger avec nous a 1 heure, a la restaurant la union? Si non, nous pouvons rencontrer a l’institut francais a 2 heures, avant de ma classe a 3.

Oriane: Merci. Je ne sais pas encore comment les choses s’organisent-Je te dis vers 12H.

Mary: Bueno :)

The next day

Oriane: OK-Pour 2H-A l’institut de langue? Ou l’institut francais?

Mary: De francais. see you at 2!

Mary: 2.15 svp!

The next day

Mary: Hey oriane, quieres ver una pelicula al instituto cervantes esta tarde a las 5? Se llama los ladrones. Cleo puede venir tambien, peut-etre.

Oriane: Muchas gracias pero estoy trabajando para la exposicion en la medina. Cleo tambien. El vernisage sera manana en 4H. Bienvenida. Buena pelicula.

Oriane: Demain, vers midi? Dans le jardin de l’institut francais?

Mary: C’est possible a 10? Si non, a 3.30? la chose est que je dois faire quelque chose a midi.

Oriane: Alors peut etre apres demain? C’est possible pour toi?

Mary: Oui, d’accord. Mercredi, entonces. Sabes tu horario?

Oriane: J’ai juste en cour de 10 a 12 – on peut se retrouver avant pour petit dej ou apres.

Mary: Hmm…como es 1-3 manana? Je vais manger dej avec une amie, mais apres ca marche.

Oriane: Ouja. Mzien bzef.

The next day, in the evening

Oriane: Bonsoir. Eric, n’etait pas a l’exposition. Je peux tout de meme venir te chercher demain.-Dis moi-Bises.

Mary: Je voudrais tout la meme. A quelle heure veux-tu meet ici? Et merci!

Oriane: Ok. Vers 9H 45.

Mary: Parfait, see you then.

October 20, 2009

Where do you want to take my sheep?

There's a French Institute directly behind my apartment. Classes don't start for another two weeks, but I have access to the médiathèque. I went there and read Le Petit Prince with a dictionary. Two poignant lines from the poignant story:

Où veux-tu empoter mon mouton?
Where do you want to take my sheep?

C'est triste d'oublier un ami.
It's sad to forget a friend.

Globalization moment

I believe the world's economies reduce to five gas stations.

First there is the Japanese gas station. Gas is $5 a gallon. Four men in uniforms and white gloves, with lifetime employment contracts, wait on you. They pump your gas. They change your oil. They wash your windows, and they wave at you was a friendly smile as you drive away in peace. 

Second is the American gas station. Gas costs only $1 a gallon, but you pump it yourself. You wash your own windows. You fill your own tires. And when you drive around the corner four homeless people try to steal you hubcaps. 

Third is the Western European gas station. Gas there also costs $5 a gallon. There is only one man on duty. He grudgingly pumps your gas and unsmilingly changes your oil, reminding you all the time that his union contract says he only has to pump gas and change oil. He doesn't do windows. He works only thirty-five hours a week, with ninety minutes off each day for lunch, during which time the gas station is closed. He also has six weeks' vacation every summer in the south of France. Across the street, his two brother and uncle, who have not worked in ten years because their state unemployment insurance pays more than their last job, and playing boccie ball.

Fourth is the developing-country gas station. Fifteen people work there and they are all cousins. When you drive in, no one pays any attention to you because they are all too busy talking to each other. Gas is only 35 cents a gallon because it is subsidized by the government, but only one of the six gas pumps actually works. The others are broken are they are waiting for the replacement parts to be flown in from Europe. The gas station is rather run-down because the absentee owner lives in Zurich and takes all the profits out of the country. The owner doesn't know that half the employees actually sleep in the repair shop at night and use the car wash equipment to shower. Most of the customers at the developing-country gas station either drive the latest-model Mercedes or a motor scooter--nothing in between. The place is always busy, though, because so many people stop in to use the air pump to fill their bicycle tires. 

Lastly there is the communist gas station. Gas there is only 50 cents a gallon--but there is none, because the four guys working there have sold it all on the black market for $5 a gallon. Just one of the four guys who is employed at the communist gas station is actually there. The other three are working at second jobs in the underground economy and only come around once a week to collect their paychecks.

What is going on in the world today, in the very broadest sense, is that though the process of globalization everyone is being forced toward America's gas station. If you are not American and don't know how to pump your own gas, I suggest you learn.
--from Thomas L. Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree

October 17, 2009

Pan-Slavic hilarity

In a UN discussion of the Organic Act introduced in Tanganyika prior to independence, the English-to-Russian translator, the daughter of Russian émigré parents, fluent in Russian but educated outside of Russia, translated the law as Organicheskiy Akt--literally a correct translation but a phrase that in modern Russian also means "sexual intercourse." Perhaps primly unaware of this generally accepted meaning, she captured her audience's undivided attention. She continued to develop, in Russian, the ramifications, modifications, and positions taken on this Organicheskiy Akt. The fascinated Russian delegates first chortled, then laughed outright, even exchanging waves with the Ukrainian, BYelorussian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech, and Yugoslavian delegates of the Slavic fringe who, delegation by delegation, joined in solid Pan-Slavic hilarity. The final clincher was a question to the English delegate from a non-Russian speaking delegate: "What do the natives think of the Organic Act?" The reply, which brought down the Slavic side of the house, was: "In general, they maintain a passive attitude."
--From Native Tongues, by Charles Berlitz.

October 16, 2009

Every day's a one-act play

Scene: a school supply store in Tetouan, Morocco

Mary (our protagonist; she seeks to buy a pencil sharpener)
Woman (she stands behind the counter; pretty, wears a head scarf)

Mary: Bonjour

Woman: Bonjour [smiles warmly]

[Mary rummages in her purse until she extracts a pencil]

Mary: Je cherche...[acts out pencil sharpening]

[Woman nods. She goes to the other end of the counter and returns with two different models of sharpeners. Mary selects one.]

Mary: C'est parfait! Sha-khal?

Woman: Cinqo

[Mary pays the woman with a five dirham coin]

Mary: Gracias

Woman: De nada

Mary: Que tenga un buen dia.

[They smile warmly at each other]

[End scene]

October 15, 2009

Arabic Day 3: Frustration

The Frenchwoman couldn't pronounce the throaty "ha" and her frustration spilled over and spread onto us. The class felt too long. The letters blurred together. We frowned and furrowed our eyebrows. We complained to Wafa that we needed more time to practice the sounds. In the worst moments, though, my secret companion would step forward. Turkish to the rescue. Wafa would unknowingly use an Arabic word that I knew from Turkish and it was like a friend's hand on the shoulder. I started a list.

Arabic Turkish

kelima (word) kelime (word)

dars (lesson) ders (lesson)

dar (house) daire (apartment)

resim (picture) resim (picture)

maktab (desk) mektup (letter)

balad (country) belediye (municipality)

daqiqa (minute) dakika (minute)

kalam (pen) kalem (pen)

jumla (sentence) cumle (sentence)

sabah (morning) sabah (morning)

kitab (book) kitap (book)

October 14, 2009


Spare bedroom. Hint hint.

Arabic Day 2

Ismee Maryam. Ana Canadia, min Vancouver. Ana usteda injilizia. Askunu fi dar fi Tetouan. Adrusu aloura arabia. Ohribo tamr wa harira. Wa antee? 


My name is Maryam. I'm Canadian, from Vancouver. I'm an English teacher. I live in a house in Tetouan. I'm studying Arabic. I like dates and soup. And you?

Nice to meet you!

October 13, 2009


I was sitting on the tile floor the other day. Yellow light poured from the overhead lantern and through the half-blinking blinds that protect us from the afternoon sun and it struck me: I am free. Whether it was forgotten or never recognized, there it is. I am not in school, not in the army, not in a bad relationship, not in a job that sucks my soul... and even if I were, I would still be free to leave. 

In middle school, I checked the clock every two minutes on Wednesday afternoons (the Saudi equivalent of Friday afternoons). The excitement of the weekend and everything I could do in it was almost too intense for my body. I bundled all the energy flooding down my spine somewhere in my chest. I kept this syndrome to myself, figuring I was alone in it.

Now I feel like it's Wednesday afternoon again, but instead of 48 hours stretched out in front of me like an oceanic swimming pool, it's an entire life, and, lo and behold, I'm already swimming.

My brain is going to explode!

Arabic class is INTENSE. Wafa points to a word and we sound it out on the spot. Every letter has four styles depending on where it is in the word and nine sound variations, I think. The class back-up language is French, which caters more to the Frenchwoman and the half-Dutch, half-Moroccan girl than to me. That's okay, though. Today we learned six. Yes: six letters. And I am not even confident about them! Right now I am relying on memory tricks.
This letter is cute, and so are sheep, which say "ba ba ba." 

There are two dots. "Two" and "ta" sound similar.

The little symbol inside the big one is like a "calf" ("kaf") inside a cow. On the right, I imagine a man throwing a javelin and screaming, "Yes, I can!" "Can" reminds me of "kaf."

That swish is a tiger tail. Tiger's say "RA-OWR!"

 In cultural psychology we learned about "memes," which are packages of cultural information, distinct and capable of being pass to new generations, like "genes." The theory of memes is basically dead. And on the right, that letter looks like a dead person (see the head on the right?).

On the left, you can see the cute little "lam"'s tail.

Tomorrow I'll wake up and sit at the dining room table to sound out these letters and the words they hide in. My brain is too buzzy now, after a morning of Arabic, an afternoon of walking around the old medina ("cultural activities included"), an evening of teaching, and a night of lesson planning. Rinse and repeat until Friday. WOOT! WOOT!