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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And when the dust had settled...

So it's been a bit of a rough week.  Last Thursday evening, at the end of a long week of classes and trying to understand what was being said around me, I went out for a nice dinner in Jdeideh, the Christian quarter of Aleppo.  The food was great, but being out and about with a bunch of Americans without a scheduled educational activity was even better.  It was the largest and most non-pasta/non-sandwich meal I'd had in about a week.  Come quarter to seven the next morning, I found myself violently ill and knocking pathetically at the door of my Syrian hallmate for help.  She gave me soap and waited while I washed up, then tucked me into her extra bed and made me some mint tea.  Throughout the rest of the day, she brought me small, non-stomach-offending items of food and made small talk with me, quite a feat given how limited my Arabic is in the best of times.  When I tried to thank her, she protested that it was her religious duty as a Muslim to help those in need.  And wouldn't I have done the same were she in America and sick?  Of course, I said.  Akiid.

I was done being sick by the next day, but stayed in a bit of a funk until yesterday evening.  I think we've all reached the low point of culture shock...why, exactly, did we come here?  Why did we think we could speak Arabic?  Our Syrian hallmates want us to hang out with them more in the lounge, which I can understand.  We were told before coming here that Syrian friendships tend to be deeper and more pervasive than American ones; once you're someone's friend here, it is normal for you to be very close indeed and to hang out all the time.  (That explains, actually, a good part of why I felt uncomfortable with some of the Syrian guys at the beginning, I think.  They assumed we were friends, which meant paying a lot more attention to me than anyone in America would do, having met me a couple days before.)  So the American habit of staying by yourself in your room and going on Facebook seems kind of antisocial to them.

To a degree, they're right, though.  We've been here, I think, three weeks now, and many of us still don't spend much time with the group at large.  As I tried to explain to the Syrians, hanging out is tough when you can't understand what's being said around you and can only formulate very basic responses to questions.  Being the sweet people they are, they countered that they understand we're still learning, that they'll repeat things as often as necessary, that they'll try to speak fuSha, the formal Arabic that we're more familiar with.  And, ultimately, that devastatingly true statement: we won't learn anything sitting in our rooms.  In our defense, though, unless the Syrians are consciously attempting to include us in the conversation, most of us can't participate and end up humming quietly and staring out the window at...the other dorms.  This sounds awfully like whining, and I'm here to learn better Arabic, so I've been trying hard to at least be in the lounge when people are around.  Thoughts?  Suggestions?

And maybe the success-is-90%-showing-up strategy will work out.  Last night, which was when my funk started wearing off, I had a lovely Skype session with my boyfriend, who directed me to have a good evening, whatever I did.  I hear and obey, apparently.  I went into the lounge and interacted-- slowly and awkwardly but functionally-- with a couple hallmates I hadn't met before, and then had an impromptu lesson on preparing stuffed grape leaves.  The night ended around 2 am with birthday-celebration dancing to alternating American and Arabic music, including, on our end, the chacha slide.  An administrator from the floor above came to ask if we knew what time it was and why were we being so loud anyway?  Nothing bonds people like birthdays and threatened administrative action.  We kept dancing.


  1. It will take time, be gentle with yourself. You are in a completely new situation. I agree though, get out there...

    And that boyfriend of yours sounds smart. :-)

  2. the care-giver/patient relationship also seems to be a strong one, perhaps a good bedrock for a friendship - so, fake more illnesses?

    by the way, i am following your blog (although you probably figured that out with this comment)


  3. Oh my goodness. I am simultaneously laughing and crying to this blog. :D