INGULFED

(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for Language

Malik 1 — مالك ١

This border is not one-dimensional like the fine, fountain pen line between the US and Canada; the vague area between the Emirati back door and the entrance to Oman could be drawn faithfully with a Crayola marker on a globe. But after ten minutes of driving through no man’s land, we were in every man’s land.

Fiftyish men puffed fiftyish shishas, drank tea, and watched us be Western at a roadside cafe half-hour into the country. A huge projector blasted Spanish soccer to the going-out crowd of northwestern Oman. The coffee tasted dark and sweet, not like the light brew served too often in the Emirates, and the mint tea smelled like Morocco and older traditions. I went to ask for more coals for the shisha.

“You speak Arabic?” The owner asked me. Again, same words — completely different question. A minute later, he was introducing me to his favorite customers — a group of five Omani men — and we three American travelers were welcomed into their circle.

We talked about soccer, about Oman, and about finding a wife for the owner in Washington before telling them our travel plans (drawn on a napkin) and the difficulties of making reservations anywhere without phones or internet.

“Ahmed, go get a SIM from the car.”

My useless Emirati phone was taken from me, popped open, and charged with Omani hospitality (and a ton of credit). And after sitting for hours, Malik paid for everything we’d touched the entire night. No, no, a friend explained as we squirmed at the niceness, he’s the boss.

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إيجاد الطرق — Finding Ways

To the sound of the afternoon call to prayer, we set off in our Nissan toward Oman… east. Yeah, let’s go east.

Our car of three sped away from the eyes of city-center radars, toward Al Ain where we aimed to cross the border. Once there, I found myself having trouble finding the biggest thing I’d ever looked for — a whole country. We knew it was there — three million people were right there hanging out — but according to the map, it seemed to have been out for the afternoon.

My friend asked a shopowner in Arabic where we could find Oman, and I listened as he gave us directions that were clear, but seemed to contradict the existence a dead-end I’d seen. So I tried to clarify. And in that moment, he said something that had been said to me so many times before gently and in surprise, this time curt and with disdain: “Do you speak Arabic?”

I had never had a relationship that was purely based on Arabic — even Arabs I’ve met and known only through Arabic have understood that it was a foreign language for me, taking my words at more (or less) than face value, and giving me more credit than I pronounced. But here I was assumed to be an Arabophone. The jab echoed the sarcastic taunts of “You speak English?” heard a million times on the streets of New York, always with the assumption that the insulted does speak English, fluently in fact, but misheard. In his assumptions, this salesman was — in a way so rare and re-encouraging — a total douchebag.

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No Complaints — بلا شكوى

When life gives you pillows, you chaperone them.

Hi, my name is Adam, and I am a pillow chaperone.

Last week, among my many programs to coordinate sat eight large decorative pillows that needed supervised transportation from one part of campus to another. Unfortunately, I was not the supervisor. I was assistant to the supervising advisor of the facilities manager who facilitates (and manages) such transportation. And I was totally useless.

But I’m not complaining. I’m learning.

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اسبوع مرحبا — Marhaba Week

الجزء الاول — Part One

One bus carrying students from the airport arrived at around 8 AM. A colleague of mine (let’s call him America) decided that the best way to give out keys would be the tried and true read-names-from-a-list method, which, despite certain snags, is one of the world’s simplest ways of getting things to the right people. Bad choice, bro.

A “global university” offers two things: the first is an intellectually stimulating international crossroads that puts in conversation different perspectives, competing ideals, and opportunities for cooperation unparalleled in a more homophonic context. The second is hard to pronounce first names.

And on this bus populated entirely with students fresh from South Korea and China, we had that in spades. Usually a teacher might stumble on the pronunciation of one weirdly spelled version of “Kate,” but after a few Jihees and Haorans, America hit a Xiaomei and could tell he’d made an especially poor choice.

With a list empty of Bobs and Sams, America was stuck behind enemy alphabets without an exit strategy. And it was hilarious.

Hubcaps Don’t Make The Man – [الترجمة غير متوفرة]

After seeing Inception two nights in a row, I feel qualified to make enormous statements about the theater experience in the Gulf. The first shock to the western movie-goer is the assigned seats. While something about choosing your exact place makes going to see Leonardo more like an outing, it forces certain stressful decisions not found at American first-come first-sit Loewses or AMCs. The teller shows you the layout of the theater and asks you to pick as you force yourself to imagine,

Will that be too close?
Too far?
Next to fat people?
Behind the tallest building in the world?
(The Emirates are unpredictable.)

Turns out not that many people are out at 21:00 on a Wednesday and it doesn’t really matter. Though Midnight the next night was packed full of an even more animated crowd laden with take-in from surrounding mall restaurants, answering their cell phone calls, and yelling warnings at Leo and Ellen Paige.

Leaving the mall at 1 a.m. after Inception Night One, we found shoppers steaming in the night heat and an hour-long cab line. But a friendly enough-looking Indian man stood offering a private car (a no-no in your mother’s book of Travel Safety Rules) like a scalper offering last minute tickets to your own house. So, like any smart shoppers, we weighed our life against our patience. Read the rest of this entry »

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