We met three minutes ago and you just learned that I study Arabic. You don’t take the news well—your mind is reeling….why would she study Arabic? What is it about this language with its scribbly letters and random dots that has confused her so much that she wants to actually learn it?
You may not know this, but on the other side of the conversation I can see the thoughts swirling in your head and I know what you’re about to ask me. I can feel the question being formed in your mind as your lips, tongue, and chin prepare to pronounce the dreaded words. The sentence pours from your oral cavity in slow motion as my usual panic sets in.
“Why do you study Arabic?”
You might as well ask me why hippos seem friendlier than crocodiles despite their notorious aggression or why lotion doesn’t taste like yogurt even though it looks the same. You, my dear, blundering acquaintance have forced me to peer into the black abyss of my future post-Arabic fellowship and let me tell you this: I can see a darkness that no amount of graduate school could penetrate.
If you really must know, I’ve been studying Arabic since my senior year of high school because–and pay attention to this part—I liked it. Indeed, friend, I enjoyed the twisty letters and sounds that required new muscle growth. I didn’t even know that people wearing black suits and sunglasses would pay handsomely for my skillz.
But I smashed those sunglasses on the ground and threw white chalk on their coats. I was much too naïve for the men in black, and instead dreamed of working at an NGO in development work or something romantic like that where I could “help people.” On less romantic days, I entertained the thought of working in a think tank, of swimming in big wells of ideas and spending all my waking hours in front of a screen.
To my great relief, however, I found after only 2.5 months out of college that I have absolutely no interest in any of those careers. I won’t waste time describing the depths of my dread when I think about typing on a computer all day in a cage with people who start conversations with statements like, “So, President Obama has kind of an aggressive foreign policy.” Suffice it to say that I’m glad to be free of those business casual and business formal illusions.
But, you insist, what are you going to do with Arabic? I’ll be honest: anything I say will be a lie to myself and to you so let’s just leave the future as the black abyss it is and I’ll tell you about how I’ve always wanted to work at a bakery. If you can connect that to Arabic, be my guest and stop by for cookies, or should I say كوكيز?