November 2007


I just have to let you know a couple more things I learnt about Arabic – bear with me, I think this is interesting bordering on unbelievable…

Firstly, the plurals are completely unguessable.  My favourite example, which always amuses me, is that the word for woman is mara and the word for women is niswaan.  Eh??!

This would be a bit daunting except for the second thing: you only use the plural if there are between 3 and 10 of the object.  (2 has its own plural which is just “(t)een” at the end, nicely straightforward: marateen – two women.)  So you would say the equivalent of “three books” but “seventeen book.”

So… all I need to do is make sure that I never talk about 3 to 10 of anything (for example, buy at least 11 tomatoes) and I never need to learn a plural!

Oh, but I’ve spotted a small problem: what do I do when asked how many children I have…?

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Evidence that it is cooling down here:  last night as I was driving home from my Arabic class at 9 o’clock, the sign said the temperature was 27 degrees.  I’ve never seen a temperature starting with a 2 on that board!  For most of the time I’ve been here, I’ve been past the sign at midday or in the afternoon and it’s been in the 40s.  Haven’t seen a 4 at the front for probably about a week now, though.

It is lovely, now, to go outside in the middle of the day and not to feel the heat like a great weight bearing down on you.  And until recently, walking in the shade was merely less unpleasant than being in full sun – whereas now it is actually pleasant!  It is quite breezy, too, which is a change.  There is no need for AC in the car or the house in the evenings and mornings and it’s a bit chilly eating breakfast on the veranda so we’ve retreated indoors.The last time we tried eating breakfast outside, we were (as true Brits!) discussing the change in the weather.  M, as usual, was exaggerating: “It’s freezing out here!  No, really, it can’t be above – what? – 4 degrees?”  The expression that gets used a lot is:  ‘acclimatised to the heat’ – M certainly seems to be!  Of course, a guess of 4 degrees is quite ridiculous – we were wearing short-sleeved pyjamas!  I estimate temperatures by the clothes I’m comfortable in, so, having had goosebumps in my pyjamas, I reckon it was somewhere in the low to mid 20s.

Perhaps because I’m thinking in those terms, I don’t feel I’ve acclimatised to the heat at all.  Now, as on holiday last month, I’m relishing not being uncomfortably hot, but I’m not reaching for a jumper, as I’ve spotted some of my acquaintances doing.  It is still in the 30s for most of the day, I’m sure…  I’ll know for sure next May, I suppose, when I return to the UK – and I’m pretty sure that I’ve acclimatised to consistently blue skies and will take a while to adjust to clouds!

Sadly, the cold snap seems to have done nothing to deter the mosquitoes – if anything, they’re whizzing around more energetically than ever!  (Perhaps in order to keep warm…)  There are mozzies in the house at the moment, I think – and they’re not content to bite just once: I’m covered!  R has suffered, too – and the ants have taken a liking to her.  Highly unlikely to be malarial, though (especially the ants, haha) – partly because it’s rare here, partly because we take precautions in the evenings and nights (which is when the malarial mosquitoes bite, even if the others dine at any time).  Another curious fact about malarial mosquitoes – they don’t make a noise…

…which is the Arabic for excellent, great – a good answer to have at the ready in case someone says something which could be “How are you?”!

I’ve started learning Arabic!  We have two teachers, one who writes a lot on the board and says a lot but doesn’t ask many questions in case we get frightened; and one who fires lots of Arabic at us and expects us to respond, in full sentences.  My favourite by far is the latter!  The lesson structure is really well thought out (goodness, I am such a teacher) – starting with a conversation, written three times in the textbook:  first in Arabic script, then in Arabic written phonetically in Roman script and then translated into English.  There are then grammatical notes, and a set of exercises which practise all the new stuff that’s come up.  So in between lessons, I can try the exercises again, and then see if I can read the English and translate it back into Arabic – which is a lot more fun than writing endless lists and testing myself…  Mind you, the classes are twice a week, so the next class always comes round before I’m ready for it.  That’s only because I’m a perfectionist, though – I’m enjoying the challenge, really.

Making quick progress is made easier by the fact that they don’t use the verb “to be” in simple sentences – so you can very quickly say things like, “He boy”, “My house big and old”, “This your pen?” without having to deal with a verb!  (Which is just as well, as verbs are looking complicated from my vantage point of four lessons’ experience…)  It also helps that there are many variations in the way Arabic is spoken, even within this country, so people are used to hearing things that are slightly different from how they themselves would say them.  And I have opportunities to practise, which is great!  (Can you believe that I already know how to say, “The living room needs cleaning”!  How useful is that?!)

E is learning Arabic at school, where most of her friends speak Arabic at home.  A mixture of English and Arabic is used in the classroom, and she sang an Arabic song with her classmates at the school’s recent opening ceremony.  She seems to be coming home with more words each day – but we have to be careful: she makes words up, too! And she can often be heard chattering away at high speed what must be complete nonsense, although nonsense that is gradually taking on more of an Arabic sound!  We have christened her language Ellabic…

E’s birthday yesterday!  Asked her teacher who her particular friends were so that I could invite the right people and got a list of about half the school!  Okay, the school’s got about 22 students, so it’s not quite as many as it sounds.  Got a little nervous about the party though, as this is the first real one I’ve organised – and I’ve not been to many children’s parties since the ones my parents threw for me…

Anyway, it’s all over now, so I can relax.  E seemed to enjoy herself ; there was enough food and drink; the games went without hitches; there were enough party bags to go round!  Parents and siblings of the guests seemed relaxed – those that stayed, anyway(!)  Most of E’s friends are local children, it seems – and whether because of that or because presents had to be bought at local shops, she is now the proud owner of a number of loud, tacky, low-quality toys!  And lots of wonderful craft stuff from a number of very organised parents who must have a supply of good-quality children’s presents just for such an occasion!  Of course, some presents and cards from the UK have yet to arrive, post here being what it is, but one friend in particular (of Molly and the Wreckers fame) was really very organised, so Eleanor had a present to open before she went to school.

One day I hope to be that organised…  Meanwhile, I’ll wrap the pass-the-parcel half an hour before the event while our guest helps out in the kitchen and realises he’s come to stay on the wrong day if he wanted a relaxed visit…

There are many times here, as you might expect, when one’s spirits are lifted by some small detail in the day…  Given the mood of my last post, I thought I’d try and list some! 

G’s smiles and laughs, whether I’m singing “Row, row, row your boat” to him or he’s just noticing me for the first time in the day…

Waking up each morning to a sunny day.

Air conditioning!

Knowing it’ll get light and dark at roughly the same time of day all year round, so children can happily equate dark with sleeptime.

They’ve been mending the potholes in a road I use every day!  With tarmac this time, not just pouring grit into the hole!

Also, tarmac dries very quickly here, so roadworks come and go in a matter of hours.

Glimpses of everyday life:

          A brightly-dressed woman doubled up with laughter at something her friend has said

          Fruit and veg stalls by the side of the road

          Men dressed in long white robes riding on the back of a truck, with their robes rippling in the wind

The Marwa Centre – the nearby shop and one of my favourite places (I may have mentioned it in an earlier post).  They all recognise me and say hello when I go in – I suppose with three small children I was quite distinctive!  At the checkout they take your things out of the trolley for you, then bag them up and even carry them to the car for you!!  The man who carries the bags now knows which my car is and is often there before I leave the shop (having been delayed by my obligatory search through handbag for keys).  And there’s no culture here of tipping…  I always leave there with a smile on my face.  They have lovely things in there, too – like Fruit’n’Fibre (yes, I now count that as a luxury!) and mango chutney and cake decorations.  All stupidly over-priced, but that’s inescapable here…

Solitaire – the internet cafe from where I communicate with the outside world!  I am sipping lemon juice with mint as I write this, and Rosie is enjoying her favourite pink juice (watermelon), but the best thing here is the decor – not a hint of the local favourite of yellow with pink (hmmm), but rather tasteful.  Next best thing is the AC – ahhhhhh…

Ozone – cafe in a garden, but one is kept cool with an occasional mist of cold water droplets sprayed from above.  Some are sceptical about this, and the prices there, but I think it’s great.  Generally I’m either eating ice-cream or cake, both of which are fantastic, so that would help my opinion of the place!

Oh, I’ve thought of another non-food-and-drink-related good thing!  Saw a brilliant blue bird fly across the road this morning and there are often lovely big butterflies in the gardens where I while away some of my time.  Loads of red kites fly overhead too – it’s quite reminiscent of the M40, really… I’m kidding!!

A place where I don’t know where to look for a doctor to monitor my blood pressure.

A place where there seems to be no reliable dentist.

A place with few marked streetnames and fewer up-to-date maps, where streets are numbered sequentially with odd numbers, which is almost manageable until you discover that street 23 doesn’t exist.

A place with more potholes than flat road, and no streetlights at the turning I missed this evening.

A place where a quick trip to the shop can involve a dozen unfamiliar experiences.

A place too spread out for short journeys, so that everywhere must be reached by car.

A place where communication with the outside world is only possible in the internet cafe which rounds every bill up to the next pound (after adding service charge onto prices like 2 pounds sterling for an orange juice).

A place where communication with just about anyone is difficult, with language barriers aplenty.  The persistent interruptions of small children  don’t help the flow of conversation, either, or is that just me?

A place where I appear to have lost control of my children, who bicker and hit and cry.

A place whose heat makes me lazy and lethargic; but when I put the AC on or the children play with water, I feel guilty.

A place where most conversations I have are small talk, because I don’t really know anyone yet – and given how difficult I find small talk, I’m not sure when I’ll feel that I’m making friends.

A place where water must be bought (what happens to all the plastic bottles – landfill?), but I don’t know yet which shops will refill the two water cooler containers we have at home.

A place where church is just as much of a struggle (getting/staying there with the children) as it was before, only this time it’s at children’s bedtime rather than mid-morning.

A place I have followed my husband to and now, as before, wish I saw more of him than I do.

A place I have willingly come to.

A place I cannot leave.