Friday, March 18, 2011
(Pic of Iraqi embassy Amman)
So, we arrived at Damascus airport 10 days ago and I got to practice my basic Arabic with the border guard. I said Hello, how are you, and thanked him in Arabic. It was a good start, thanks K! Later in the afternoon we left for Amman, Jordan. Thankfully we had L's colleagues who could speak Arabic to help us on our way. We crossed the borders easily enough (visas etc around 40US or so..) and the hotel was nice. The following day I headed into town.
Everyone was surprisingly nice and I didn't have much to report in the way of issues. The Jordanians and others who I met seemed to cope fairly well with a foreigner in their shop / car. One word I picked up fast was 'Fondook' (hotel) in order to get back! It seemed bizarre that 'hotel', a word I had always assumed to be an international standard didn't work. I also learnt the word for yes because when I sneezed one of L's colleagues pointed out that my sneeze was close to the Syrian word 'Aywaa' (yes). I have since learnt that other versions exist for yes including 'nam' which I learnt at the AIDS clinic the other day. To collect your results you fight with a crowd to give your slip of paper to the man behind the barred window who calls your name when they have found them. The expectant people shout 'yes'. The results were in Arabic and I was forced to ask someone else to read my form asking if I had HIV or not using the question form me (pointing) AIDs, yes(aywa)? No (laam)?
Anyway, back to the language stuff. We survived Jordan, it was a good trip for me and Damascus beckoned. The next day I set off to central Damascus but before I left I made sure I had my destination, town and return written in Arabic (so I could show it to the taxi driver) and transliterated for me to try and say. I tried to write it first and then had my attempt corrected by a local, the difference was marked! I have used this book a lot over the last week and thus have a list of useful places now transliterated and written in Arabic for me. On the downside I can't remember any of the names for these places but do remember the isolates: britaniya / An – gles -ee / Melkezel (council) Amerikikeya.
Damascus has been great so far, a few idiot cab drivers but it's to be expected anywhere. It's also a fruitful environment to practice Arabic as there isn't much alternative in a lot of situations. It's a fruitful experience trying to read number plates or adverts which leads to hours of practice over the day as I mooch round town with agents looking for a place to rent. I haven't really picked up much apart from noticing a word being used lots 'mafi' which may or may not be related to organised crime.
One breakthrough was that I finally learnt what 'Mekthub' and 'Kalimet' meant, two words which were said in every writing lesson on our Alif Baa DVD with our learn Arabic text book: mekthub = letter, and kalimet = word. I asked a taxi driver.
I started at university last Monday, it's a 4 week 80 hour course; pretty intense stuff. I hope to successfully balance this work load with my MA, may struggle, in fact struggling already, am 2 weeks to the bad in that respect.