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.