Tag Archives: Arabic

Today I Wear Underpants

This photo is only half staged.

Warning: much exaggerated complaining followed by lighthearted ending. Use this information well.

It’s the last week of school and I am a disheveled shadow of a human. My aspirations of being fluent in Arabic have turned into the desire to live through the final day of my program, which is today.  Monday was not good. I woke up eight minutes before class feeling like death incarnate and rushed out of the house pen-less and still wearing my bed hair.

I had ten minutes to prepare for a presentation that was 20% of my grade. Luckily for me, I decided earlier this semester  that I don’t believe in grades. I ate 14 raw almonds for breakfast during class and afterwards wolfed down a falafel sandwich before taking a four hour nap, waking up just in time to skype with mother who silently judged me for my apparent sloth.

I felt defeated as usual here in Cairo, and I’ve come to realize that this city has utterly wiped me out and used me like a plaything.

My program ends today and I return to the states in a mere 2 weeks. I should be happy, but ahead of me looms a formidable job hunt in one of the most expensive cities in the world. This life-consuming job hunt must take place in the same month that I plan and attend a bachelorette party, a bridal shower, an afterglow brunch (ew), a  boyfriend’s visit, and a family vacation in which I’ll be forced to leave my mountain grove and actually socialize.

I’m looking from a place of exhaustion forward to months of exhaustion with no apparent end.  I’m staring from a position of defeat towards a future me curled on the ground with HR representatives kicking me in the stomach while chewing up my resume and spitting it at me. Things look grim.

In times like this, I can only do one thing. I take out my planner and write down the secret that will give me the strength to go on and conquer my fears and climb the mountains and brush the hair. At the very top of my to-do list I write “wear underwear.”

Can two words change a life? Yes.

After donning my underthings, I cross off the first task on my to-do list and breathe deeply while I look at the twenty things I have left, my rear end carefully caressed by a familiar pair of unmentionables. Yes, today is my day. I’m beginning the rest of my life and I’m wearing underpants.

You, world, may be tough and you may have well dressed people who don’t want to hire me and you may have chatty cousins that distract me from the book I want to read but I, dear world, am wearing underpants and anything is possible.

Who wears the underpants? I DO! Who’s not afraid? I’M NOT! Who’s going to stop crying and leave her mother’s closet today? ME!


P.S. Things really aren’t that bad. I’m going on vacation to Ethiopia today. Yay!

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I Hope My Family Likes Their Piles of Dirt

This one’s for Dad.

My year in Cairo is winding down, coming to a close, kicking the bucket, hiding in the dumpster, etc. Throughout the past year, I was careful to avoid purchasing any gifts for my family, keeping my tradition of delaying present buying  until “later,” which usually translates into “3 hours before my flight when I can only spend $2 on each gift and end up buying everyone decorative paper weights and nun figurines.”

But this time it’s going to be different, especially because the last time I went home, in December, I got desperate and gave my family Digestives and Hobnobs for Christmas. I might as well have put five packages of Chips Ahoy! under the tree. This semester I vowed to do better.

I began my gift hunting early, seeking something that would embody my Cairo experience in a way that my family would both appreciate and enjoy. After looking through all of the boutiques in Zamalek and perusing the stalls of Khan al-Khalili, I realized that these stores sold  worthless knickknacks that lacked the essence of Cairo and were inauthentic pieces of pre-trash.

That’s when I stumbled on the idea of getting each member of my family their very own piles of Cairo dirt, a fun substance that we eat, breathe, and live every moment of our Cairo existence. My family could use the piles as office, home, and lawn decoration and the dirt can also be used as weed killer, teenager-repellent, and an acceptable replacement for some spices.

I wandered through the city, looking for piles of dirt that I felt represented my family. I found one with some horse poop in it and thought of my mom because her sister loves horses, and right near there I found one with an animal bone in it and thought instantly of my brother. Just days ago, I was walking to the supermarket and saw one that had a syringe stuck in it and knew I’d found the perfect pile for my sisters (they love sharing things.) And then finally, I found one with a Twinkie wrapper sticking out of it, and it was as if Dad spoke to me and said, “This pile of dirt is for me, Emily.”

I filled up a jar for each family member so they can place their mini-pile anywhere they want (in the bathroom! the kitchen! the shower!) and think of me and Cairo every time they look at it. The idea might be a little cheesy, but I’m a sentimental gal and I do sentimental things.  I can’t wait to see the look on their faces–they’re going to be so surprised!

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Why I Plan on Selling Out to the Man ASAP

Now ready for salaried work

I’m leaving Egypt for good in about three weeks. My Arabic program, and in fact my entire journey with Arabic, is finally coming to an end, having died a swift but not painless death here in Cairo. Currently, my plan is to go home and marry my sister, or rather, see her married, and then scrimp and save my frequent- flier miles, cushion change, and Chick-fil-A coupons in order to purchase a flight out to San Francisco where I want to “be a writer.”

I was eating dinner at the second-best Thai restaurant in Cairo with boyfriend, friend, and friend of friend, when post-Egypt plans came up in the conversation. I told the friend of a friend that I wanted to be a writer, and he asked what kind of writer, and I said I didn’t know, at which point he burst out laughing. And this is a man who has maintained a neutral face for 98% of his waking life. Apparently my ambitions are a gut-buster. He followed his chuckles with a question, “So when are you going to sell out to the man?”

The conversation turned away shortly after this comment and the rest of the evening was filled with heated yet useless discussion of American foreign policy in which no one admitted that I was obviously right.

At any rate, I pretty much forgot about the remark until this morning, when I was simultaneously looking for jobs and trying to think of something to blog about today. Suddenly, I was struck with my answer to his semi-rhetorical question: “As soon as possible. I will sell out to the man as soon as possible.”

The man has a bad reputation for being a soul-crusher and brilliance-suck, but he (or she) also has health insurance, a steady salary, after-work parties, socializing opportunities with kwards (short for awkward people), logoed shirts, networking possibilities, and buildings to wander through after hours.

He’s also not the only person I could sell out to. I could sell out to yuppies and become a full time babysitter that tries to write short stories at work while the young ones struggle through one of my custom-designed mazes. I could sell out to slightly older yuppies and become a tutor that teaches children to worship the god of standardized tests by sacrificing as many Saturdays as possible to the Great SAT. I could sell out to the coffee bean or tomato and become a barista or waitress, where I will be brainwashed to believe that dinners and lattes are of earth-shattering importance.

All the while, I could be typing furiously on my laptop when I return from work, quipping, editing, and submitting, until finally an obscure literary journal accepts me as an unpaid intern at which point I’ll finally have no time to blog.

So you see, sarcastic friend of a friend who thinks my hopes and dreams are ridiculous and that I need to wake up and smell the black coffee of reality, not only do I like drinking black coffee now (as long as it’s Nescafe Gold), but I also think that selling out to the man (or woman) is one of my better options.

I didn’t say I wanted to starve to death. I said I wanted to be a writer.

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7 Indicators of a Great Start to the Semester

No pen=no doodle. 😦

1. You forget the pen you were sure you recalled and proceed to not record anything for the entire day except for when you borrow that one guy’s pencil. You even regret doing that because the lead is really light and a pain to write with but you remember that beggars can’t be choosers.

2. You spend a large amount of class time debating whether the classrooms feel most like a coffin, grave, cistern, or well. You decide that the grave motif resonates the most because of how you feel about the course itself and the room’s stark lack of natural light, but ultimately you throw out all your choices and settle on describing it as a morgue: stale and lifeless.

3. After staring at the wall for most of your first class, you rush downstairs when it ends to go to the bathroom/escape. Later on you see the teacher from that class who asks you whether anything is wrong. The prospect of taking classes for the next 4 months in the morgue makes you want to curl up and die but there’s nothing she can do so you keep your mouth shut.

4. On your way into the university, you look at the bottle of water you just purchased and wish it were whiskey. You close your eyes and wish for it to turn into whiskey. When you open them, it is still water, which you drink because you hope will cure your massive headache.

5. Having shivered most of the day, you exit your unheated classroom building and find that the air of the city in which you reside has been rendered brown and unbreathable from dust kicked up by the massive gusts of wind. This would make great stuff for a song about witches coming down chimneys, you think to  yourself.

6. The best part of the day was when you learned that your first class might be 15 minutes shorter than originally scheduled. The worst part of the day was when you had to sit through the entire hour and thirty minutes because they hadn’t decided on a time length yet.

7. You’re looking forward to the fact that the only girl’s bathroom is about a 1.5 minute walk away, which will be good for breaks from class over the next four months. If you time it right, you might be able to miss hours of class.

It’s going to be a wonderful semester!

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We Are Middle Earth

A mythical building for an imaginary world

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.

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