On August 8th, 2011, I and friend visited a fancy place in Zamalek in order to hear the winners of the Egyptian “This I Believe” contest recite their essays. I went to pretend like I cared about culture, and my friend (who is real) wanted to go because she had heard of the “This I Believe” essay contest in the states. No refreshments were provided, even though this event was sponsored in part by the American Embassy, so some of you may be sadistically happy to know that your tax dollars did not provide even one mini cupcake to a hungry American. Let us hope the tax dollars went to more democracy funding related endeavors and not refreshments at a different event that happened to coincide with this one. Some of the essays were more interesting than others, and all of them were in Arabic, making it harder to pay attention and I found myself thinking about winter for some reason.
Right after the event ended, I and friend were at the book table engrossed in the back of the translated This I Believe when a man accosted us at unawares. For the next eternity-like twenty minutes, we stared deer-in-the-headlights-esque as this man spewed a never-ending list of English vocabulary words and expressions at us while also reciting his resume/CV. While “talking” to him, I felt desperate to leave yet was also held captive by a grotesque fascination with the creature that stood before me. In my entire life I had never been subjected to something so much like a live infomercial, and this one was selling one thing: Ahmed.
Though I’m sure he was aware we were humans, his did not desire to converse with us so much as to have sentient beings (targets) to talk at that could actually understand his ridiculously ornamental use of the English language. A sample of his conversation could be deadly since it is so rich in English idioms, vocabulary, and antioxidants. Nevertheless, in spite of my own personal danger, I will attempt to communicate the absurdity of his personality and manner of speaking. I will give him credit for at least being aware of a vast quantity of English words and phrases despite the fact he did not always use them correctly. I have exaggerated the extent of his errors here, though had you been obliged to listen to him for untold lengths of time I can assure you that you would show no mercy either.
“So… did you find the essays pithy? Were they pertinent? Were some of them loquacious? Laconic? Verbose? Trivial? You know what laconic means? Ah yes, it is a GRE word.
“No? The essays were not laconic? I think some were egregious, what is your opinion? Do you have a thought? Dare you naysay me? What does gainsay mean? I think it means the same as naysay (checks on his iphone….that meaning is correct.). The etymology says it comes from again, like when you say no again and again because you are emphatic. I always think of pneumonic devices for new words. Every split second I am thinking of a new pneumonic device. I am like an intelligent Neanderthal. But why do we beat around the bush? I know I am a motor mouth.
“Are you traveling this summer? The pulchritudinous of Italy is gut wrenching. What does it mean when you call someone mongoose in English? Nothing? When we call someone mongoose in Arabic it means they are sly. I am giving a tour this Friday at the Egyptian Museum. The tour is the bees’ knees, my speech is easy on the ear, and you will wind up on the flipside better than sliced bread. Will I see you there? Ah yes, you are traveling.
“Well I will forgive and forget, this conversation has come home to roost so they say. By the way, I give lectures here every now and then. On what? What are your fields? International Relations and Foreign Service? I gave an entire lecture on the hoopoe, and it was lush in illustrations and unfolded across the span of the hour. The name in Arabic for hoopoe is onomatopoeiac, which means it was taken from a sound. Onoma, means name, and peaia means maker, so it is a name maker; it makes its own name.
“I am composing a book that is about evolution to revolution, since evolution is revolution on a grander scale, and revolution is evolution on a bigger scale. Evolution is revolution on a grander scale, since it takes a long time and has very small changes, and revolution is evolution on a bigger scale. Let me ruin the book for you: my thesis is that when a system becomes rotten to the core, change is inevitable. You have to go? Okay, here is my card with the info of my people. See you later alligator.”
Again, this is only an idea of what he said and the kind of conversation that this was, not an accurate transcription of said “conversation.” I bet the tours he gives are awesome, but of course that would mean that I actually have to hear his voice again, something I’m currently willing to put myself through. I will remember the word “gainsay” though.