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

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Couple of Days in the Life Squashed Into One

So I've had a couple of people ask me about my life here, what a normal day is like.  I've also been promising people pictures.  Hopefully, I can fulfill both of these requests now, Internet gods willing.

I live in student housing at the University of Aleppo.  Specifically, my dorm is called "Dar al-Diyafeh", or Hospitality House, and houses most of the international students.  I've met a couple of Americans not in my program, as well as some Turkish, Japanese and Iranian students.  (We're having a pizza party with the Iranians on Thursday, which is exciting.)  I live on the third floor, which is entirely populated by kids on my program and our Syrian hallmates, who live here to make us use our Arabic and help us get further into Syrian culture.  As you get to the third floor, you see the common room, complete with couches, TV, used tea and coffee cups, and forbidden-but-lit cigarettes.  To the left is the girls' wing, beyond a set of swinging double doors, and to the right, the boys' wing.  Officially, we're not supposed to mix, but for cooking and movie-watching purposes, the American girls invaded the boys' domain long ago.  Today, the gas on the guys' side is out, so they came over to our kitchen to cook.  That made for a fun dash to my room after showering.

Dar al-Diyafeh (Hospitality House)

I have a better view from my window than you do from yours.

So I wake up on school days (Sunday-Thursday) around 8 am, grump angrily to the bathroom to brush my teeth (yes, for those of you who know her, Morning Elise came to Syria, too), and then turn out to go to class with everyone else around 8:45.  The past few days, the gate of the university closest to our academic building has been locked, so I and whoever else doesn't want to scale the gate grump around to another gate and are late to class.  I'm in classical Arabic class from 9 to 12ish, with two breaks during that time.  My teacher is this wonderful lady who dresses in black and-- weirdly-- thinks we're funny.  Today, we acted out movies in class, and I ended up explaining "Pride and Prejudice" in Arabic.  Cross-cultural communication, anyone?

As of next week, we'll have a shorter classical Arabic class and an additional colloquial Arabic class in addition.  This is an important distinction...the Arabic language is characterized by what linguists call "diglossia", where one language type is used for certain contexts and another for others.  In the case of Arabic, classical Arabic is the language of the Qur'an and the basis for what I actually learn, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the language of politics, speeches, business, religion, and other formal settings.  Colloquial Arabic varies from place to place.  You can draw a parallel to accents or regional dialects, but the case of diglossia is more extreme.  Grammar is different, some words are completely different, but it's necessary to keep straight which is which.  In university Arabic classes, you usually only learn MSA, although some schools offer upper-level courses in various colloquials for students who already know MSA.  I'm learning Levantine (specifically Syrian) Colloquial Arabic now, just from interacting with people around me.

This picture has nothing to do with diglossia, but I'm proud of it.  So it goes here.

After MSA class, we have about an hour for lunch and then I go to an English content course, either Literature as a Cultural Lens or Middle Eastern Issues.  These are both a bit fluffy.  Afterward, I go home and...do something.  Homework, studying, napping, adventuring in the city...this last is especially easy because a taxi trip within the city costs approximately 40-50 Syrian lira (about $1).  Recently, I've been to the Aleppo Citadel, one of Aleppo's ancient souqs, Al-Jdeideh (the Christian Quarter), and a Greek Orthodox church.  If you want more information about any of these, just let me know.  And then what...and then I come back to Dar al-Diyafeh if I ever left it, and provide moral support and/or ingredients for a bit of communal dinner-cooking.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 or 12 pm, I go blissfully to sleep.

The less-claustrophobic view of the souq that tall people might have.

The Greek Orthodox church I visited for approximately twenty minutes, thanks to
some easily-bored fellow visitors.  The building's about 25 years old.

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