(with, of course, all due respect to mr. e e cummings)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Still Among the Living

As the title suggests, I am alive!  And, knock on wood, the Internet is good at the moment, so I thought I'd drop by for a moment.  The flight here was long long long, but with each airport I came through, the group of students I was in grew larger, so I got to meet a lot of the kids before arriving in Aleppo.  A group of nine of us arrived together, which made the last leg a lot better than it would have been otherwise.  The students are a mixed bunch, but invariably interesting-- five others from AU, a girl who flies planes, many who have studied in Cairo or Damascus already, a full range of heights...and some sharp Arabic language skills.  I'm a bit embarrassed, especially as none of my Arabic professors ever emphasized speaking.  I can write a mean sentence or put the formal diacritical vowels on a text along with...well, not the best of the them, but the upper-middle section of them.  However, speaking still scares me.  I take pride, then, in my short conversations with a) a juice-seller and b) one of our lovely Syrian hallmates.  I take less pride in...my oral proficiency exam this morning.  Not so good, but there will be time for adjustment of class levels the first week of school if necessary.

Speaking of classes, I wanted to address some of the main differences I've noticed thus far:

1) The work week begins on Sunday (in Arabic, appropriately enough, "Yom Al Ahad" = [roughly] "The First Day").  Friday, the Islamic holy day, and Saturday are the weekend.  So I'm spending my weekend in orientation.  This means that when we went adventuring in the old city of Aleppo today, it being Friday, nearly everything was closed.
2) The azaan is the call to prayer, issued from minarets around the city at set times of day.  People say it is either the most beautiful thing they've ever heard OR a terrible way to wake up.  Well, now I can tell you.  It is beautiful.  That is true.  It is also not nice to wake up at five am to the sounds of roughly 8 million muezzins (the men who do the azaan) calling about a music-measure apart and continuing for a good fifteen minutes.  Especially when your language placement exam is at 9:30 that morning.
3) People STARE at us.  We're a group of mostly white American kids, with one Japanese kid and one Pakistani kid.  We stick out, and are the center of attention at any given time.  I spent most of high school learning how to get through crowds without sticking out too badly.  Men stare at the women in our group even more.  Sexy forearms.  It makes me glad for my beloved baggy-sweater wardrobe.
4) I don't want to give an overwhelmingly bad impression of Halab-ian life, though.  Nearly everyone who has found out that we are American-- usually by asking one of us-- has said, "Welcome to Syria!  Welcome to Aleppo!  We are glad you're here!" or some variant on that.  And our Syrian hallmates are really sweet.  There were also the Turkish tourists who we asked if they spoke Arabic.  They said, "No.  Turkish.  Turkish perfect!"

So...not really any more wit or witticism for tonight.  Tomorrow, I sign my language pledge: to speak only Arabic (except for communication with home) until I leave the program.  After that, you'll be probably be getting the full brunt of all my humor, as my Arabic is quite definitely NOT up to puns and sarcasm yet.  My big linguistic accomplishment of the day?  Learning the word for tomato.  "Banadoura."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Setting Up

Hello all-- so I'm still a couple weeks off from leaving for Aleppo, but I thought I'd go ahead and start setting up my blog.  Here's some background information for anyone who's interested:

Want to see other people's beautiful photos of where I'll be?  Take a glance at this page, which is all pictures of Aleppo.  Aleppo's ancient name is Halab, which is usually attributed to Abraham's having given out milk (haleeb) to travelers there.  I thought about making a bad joke for the title of this blog about "milking" my experience for all it's worth.  Aren't you glad I didn't?

I'll be studying (and living) at Aleppo University.  Their site may not be too helpful for you unless you read Arabic...better than I do...but you can see the lovely picture they have on their home page.  Just like AU, actually: a large square beige building.  But our dorms apparently have stunning sunsets, too.

Finally, if you have bunches of time on your hands, you can cast a glance at the site for my program with CET.  More information than you could possibly ever want (unless you're thinking of going there) about academics, life there, and all kinds of goodies.

Well, I've got my visa, haven't studied Arabic anywhere near recently enough, and have started in on my infamous lists and Excel spreadsheets of things to do and pack, so you'll probably hear from me next from...diagonally across the pond!  Wish me luck!