Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a nerd. This means that I enjoy learning and fantasy fiction. After I finally read Lord of the Rings in eighth grade, I was hooked: Tolkien’s world seemed more real than my own. My fascination with Middle Earth formed a dangerously large portion of my personality, and I even ended up writing my college admissions essay on why I loved Lord of the Rings. A BU admissions counselor probably read it and thought I would add a unique, socially awkward aspect to the campus environment before being sent to a maximum security federal prison. At any rate, I’m thankful to have been admitted.
As I was considering the relationship of Middle Earth and the War of the Ring to my current experience in Cairo, I found that the characters I’ve met during my Arabic study adventures resemble the different races of creatures in Middle Earth. In order to make my life more comprehensible to the small portion of people out there who read Lord of the Rings annually or biannually and/or watch the films obsessively, I would like to present my findings. To these same people, I politely request that you don’t get your panties in a bunch if the comparisons aren’t perfect. To everyone else, I apologize for alienating you.
The subgroup of Arabic-interested persons that I would classify as hobbits are the average Arabic students. Though slightly dim-witted and occasionally reluctant to expend great effort on reading or writing, they are a tough breed and can surprise you with magnificent feats. These, however, are few and far between. For the most part, these students enjoy simple work, afternoon naps, and hearty meals instead of great Arabic adventures that might cause mental and physical discomfort.
There is a breed of student, however, that does take great pleasure in perusing ancient Arabic texts and spending hours composing non-obligatory essays, short stories, and poems. This species can also converse with you at length about the fascinating differences between dialects and other languages, of which they know many and can learn at great ease. These are the elves, who capture the fascination of most others and would earn their enmity were the elves not above the judgements of lesser beings.
Though hard workers that accomplish when focused, the group I consider the dwarves can be antagonistic towards others who are pursuing the same purpose and show little interest in learning about the culture behind the language they’re studying. These are the people studying Arabic for the money and are just waiting for a knock on their door from a defense contractor, intelligence organization, security consulting firm, or government agency.
The great Arabic scholars of old (and new) who have created linguistic masterpieces for the purpose of aiding those also studying Arabic I would classify as wizards, sent to help lesser beings in the field. Because of the effort of personalities such as Hans Wehr, Frederick Lane, Sayyed Badawi, and Kristen Brustad, who have spent countless hours deciphering this language, the great fight has been made more bearable.
Speaking slowly and clearly while avoiding hastiness or imprecision in language, Arabic teachers are best described as ents. Anyone who has studied a language knows the familiar frustration of leaving the classroom and realizing instantly you have no idea what anyone on the street is saying. Are you even studying the same language? The answer is no, since Arabic teachers actually speak Entish.
As skilled as earmuffs in social interaction and exhibiting no signs of living in a civilized society, the shabbab, or roving masses of teen-aged to mid-thirty year old Egyptian males, would have to be the orcs. Not only can they make foreigners’ stays in Egypt less pleasant, but they don’t even really like each other and internecine fighting is often the cause of much bloodshed and mutual annoyance.
I could go on, but I think this is enough nerding out for now. I’m not promising another LOTR themed post in the future, but it could happen.