Lost in Translation

So even before I came to Egypt, I made it imperative that I understand the culture completely that I was going to immerse myself into. I wanted to be a part of everything - including the language. I tried to learn Arabic before I made it to Egypt, but it turns out that I was learning Classical Arabic, which isn't spoken much in Egypt. Instead, all the natives speak an Egyptian dialect of Arabic, but even this varies between cities and villages. I have been trying by hardest to become conversant in Arabic; our goal is that by the end of the year all of the girls living in my house (two of them are Egyptians, and two of them have been here in years past so they speak more) are fluent in Arabic.
A lofty goal.
I am a fan of lofty goals.
I won't let Egypt underestimate my competitive streak.
Clearly, Egypt cares.
Anyways, one of my Egyptian roommates and a few of the students have been helping me to improve my Arabic. I am decent at this point, but they all laugh at my terrible accent.
My Arabic is kind of a secret though.
I know all the basic conversational tidbits in Arabic, and I use these daily with students. But most of the students aren't aware of the fact that I understand many more words now, and some of the phrases they use.
Cue hilarious class joke time.
My psychology class is by far my favorite. The students are older, understand more English, and I think I got all of the class clowns from the whole school in my class.
They like to talk in class, especially in Arabic because they think I don't know what they say. Sometimes I will ask a question in English and they will answer with something in Arabic that the whole class thinks is hilarious - but clearly I am left out of the joke.
Here is what you need to know: in Arabic, the word for 'moon' is Amar. There is a student in the school named Amar that I am good friends with, and her boyfriend happens to be in my psych class.
Ok, back to the class.
So yesterday in psychology, I was discussing in class different natural things that affect our happiness like exercise. I was explaining that one example is sunlight - sunlight makes you happy.
All the students were curious as to why sunlight affects happiness, so as I am explaining it, one of the guy class clowns raises his hand to ask a question.
"Miss, what if the sun doesn't make you happy. What if the moon makes you happy"
"The moon? The moon doesn't make you happy, sunlight does"
"But miss, the moon is what makes me most happy"
At this point, the entire class is snickering and applauding him for his wit. They don't think I understand.
"Ahhh, the moon is what makes you happy? Amar makes you happy?"
And she hits a home-run! The class busts out laughing; they all underestimated my knowledge of Arabic. I felt like such a boss.
I kind of am a boss, technically.
But I felt even more like one. Ever since then my class has respected me much more. They appreciate the fact that I am trying to understand them from all angles, including their language.
Story Time round 2: my roommate Mary (Egyptian Mary) was giving me my bi-weekly Arabic lesson, and she was explaining the alphabet to me. She was helping me to memorize the alphabet by pairing each letter with an animal or word in Arabic (like A is for Apple kind of deal). She got about half-way through the alphabet, and she said "Ok, I know this animal in Arabic but I forget its name in English." She pointed to her belly and said "it has a bucket here, and hops"
I laughed so hard. A bucket! That is the cutest way to describe a kangaroo I have ever heard. I told her it was called a kangaroo and she says "kangaroo? that is the bucket bear?"
Bucket bear. so. much. goodness!

I hope to continue assembling my arsenal of Arabic words, simply so I can have more fun encounters like these ones.
Oh, and to impress everyone.
But mainly so I can laugh more :)

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  1. Hey!! Taylor I love hearing about all of your exploits keep up the good work with Arabic!! I am envious of your travels and living vicariously through this blog. haha so keep the posts coming I really enjoy hearing about what you are doing.
    -Isaac G

  2. Isaac! It is SOOO good to hear from you! I will definitely keep up the good work. Man, if you were here, we could play so many practical jokes on the kids. They would LOVE it! They are always trying to pull pranks on each other and us, and if my memory serves me I recall a prank war the two of us participated in a few years back. I may whip out some of the best of those pranks to use in your honor. Can't wait to see you at Christmas!