Monday, July 2, 2007: Today I go to my second day of class.  I am totally lost because I don’t understand what on earth the teacher is saying. She speaks absolutely no English. I keep asking her what she is saying, but of course she can’t tell me.  Since I still can’t understand, I ask the students around me.  I think they must get annoyed by my continual barrage of questions.

Lisa and I at Al Azhar University on my demotion day

Lisa and I at Al Azhar University on my demotion day

The next thing I know someone is knocking on the door of the classroom.  It’s one of the administrators, Professor Ahmed, and Dr. Jones.  They tell me that even though I scored high on the written placement test, it is apparent I cannot understand spoken Arabic.  I also seem to have trouble speaking.  Thus they recommend that I move down a level to a lower class, intermediate versus advanced.


Dr. Jones and Kevin in his jallabaya

Dr. Jones and Kevin in his jallabaya

This is the problem with language learning.  Often students learn the grammar and learn to read and write, maybe even listen, but speaking can be very difficult.  Especially if the student hasn’t had any place to put into practice what he/she has learned.

Break time! Rabia in the foreground....

Break time! Rabia in the foreground….

So, I move into the intermediate class, with some degree of relief, I must admit.  Because honestly, I didn’t have a clue what was going on in that advanced class.

In the Tajweed class for the day, it is suddenly revealed that Lisa cannot read Arabic at all.  She doesn’t know the Arabic alphabet.  However, because she has lived and worked as a belly dancer in various Middle Eastern countries, her spoken Arabic is quite good and she can get by in almost any situation.   Funny thing this; I can read and understand some words, but I can’t speak or even understand much of the language.  Lisa on the other hand can speak, but cannot read or write.  Together we would make one good student!

Rabia, me and Anita

Rabia, me and Anita

In order to get into this program with Al Ameen Associates, we were supposed to know the alphabet and know the basics of Arabic.  I know this kind of thing, the alphabet, the grammatical structure of sentences, but my vocabulary is horrible and so is my pronunciation.  Lisa’s vocabulary and pronunciation are good.  But here we are having to learn to recite the Qur’an; I can sound out the words, but have no understanding.  Lisa can’t read it, but she can listen and pick it up and understand the general meaning.


This evening, I get an email from R that encourages me to seize the experience in Egypt.  He writes:

I was soo pleased to hear from you.  I’m glad to hear that a plane flight was not enough to knock me off your radar screen.  I’m still not quite touching earth.  I REALLY miss NYC.  And I’m finding my own reality heavy.  Not as oppressive as your current reality, but heavy in new and hereto unrecognized (or suppressed) ways. 
I am intrigued to hear about the conditions there.  Sounds challenging, to say the least.  But I have a special favor to ask. I ask that you keep an open mind.  Instead, I ask you to take the challenge deeply to heart.  It is a decision.  You must, and I beseech you to, decide that despite all, you will make this a great experience, not let it be a debacle to live through.
Overcome the physical conditions and turn hell into a great conquest.  Not with an open mind, but an aggressive, volitional decision to climb this mountain.  Take it by force: the housing, the sauna-school, the power outages, the habibs, the nutty drivers, and so much more that you’ll come across– Sherman to the sea.  You must not seek to survive a month.  You must thrive in it.  Revel in the discomfort and grow from the knowing that you handled it, and could have taken worse.  Suffer with joy and pride, and with the sense of empowerment you get from controlling and not being controlled by your environment.  Own Egypt.  I envy you the challenge and the triumph that comes with it. And I so look forward to hearing about every minute of it.
As for my own mountain, 2.5 hours on Friday.  Depressingly small amount on the pages, but I got over the hurdle and am building my mojo.  Can’t wait for each new day.
And yet, a new hurdle.  On Friday afternoon, on the phone to my sister, my right leg just above the ankle began swelling.  I literally watched it swell and turn red.  Seems I was bitten (98.2% probability) by a spider ( 93.6% prob).  I have been laid up since as I have trouble walking.  Quite painful and exquisitely ugly.  I’m on two a-biotics and bed rest.  Not much to do but sit around a mope about a soul-mate soaring in Egypt.  Probably take a week or so to heal and then who knows how long until my ankle won’t look  ‘yucchy.’  
Stay well, stay safe, stay in charge.  Tecumseh smiles upon you.  And I just live vicariously and in my memories.
Later, I write R back:
Hey there R!

I’m so glad to hear back from you.  I understand and agree with everything you say.  I AM SOOO determined to make this a great experience despite the hardships, and already it is improving.  Our apartment got cleaned, we’ve obtained necessities from the Carrefour, and our classrooms today had air-conditioning.  The bus is still an oven going to and fro, but hopefully we’ll survive that.

My Muslim roommate Lisa is quite a lively lady: she got picked up in the grocery  store the first day and has been out on dates every night until 4:30 a.m.  Some Muslim!  She wears the full black hijab and scarf and the guy in the store told her he loved her eyes.  Her goal is to lose 60 lbs while she’s here b/c she thinks she’s fat.  She’s hilarious and makes me laugh a lot.  Plus, she thinks I’m hilarious and the highlight of her trip — (except for her Egyptian Australian, of course). 

So, your words of wisdom are taken to heart.  Thanks for them.  And I’m so glad you haven’t yet forgotten me.  Congratulations on your first 2.5 hours of work on your book.  Don’t worry about how much you do; just spending that set-aside time each day will help you to accomplish more than you would do otherwise.  Just give it the time and IT WILL COME!

I AM determined to make this a great experience, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking of you and our wonderful time in New York.  It was so amazing and I loved every minute with you.  I think about you so much, it is quite ridiculous.  I’m like a teenager!  Thanks so much for bringing me to life!

I’m so sorry to hear about your spider bite.  You better make sure it wasn’t a brown recluse spider– that can be quite traumatic.  Is it getting better?? I hope so.  That is such a bummer for you.  Let me know how you’re progressing.  I wish I were there to nurse you back to health.

Tomorrow evening I’m meeting Mohsen at his office in Maadi.  He’s going to show me the American school where the Hash House Harriers will run on Friday morning at 6:30 a.m.  Shannon thinks she’d like to run with us.  Shannon and I are the only non-Muslim women here and we both decided next time we go out on the town, we’re ditching the hijab.  There are only 2 non-Muslim men here as well — both in their 20s.  The others all have to stop and pray 5 times a day and we are always waiting for them, or so it seems.

We’re planning to see the pyramids this weekend and some of us may go to Alexandria next weekend.  I want to do the felucca thing maybe Wed or Thursday at sunset; we’ll see who I can get to go along.

BTW, I gave you an incomplete phone number.  It should be: 011-202-25076015.  It seems I left out the country code (2) and Cairo code (02).  Hopefully that will work if you feel like talking at some point.  Like I said, I will try you too, but tell me what time might be good to try.  I would love to chat with you at least once a week – I hope!

Once again, I can’t stop smiling whenever I think of you — I smile a lot.  Some of the women think I’m very cute b/c I keep looking at your pictures and sighing.  Ahhhhh……  am I utterly ridiculous??? I hope you don’t think so.

Anyway take care of yourself and your swollen leg.  Go to a doc if it doesn’t get better soon.  I’ve heard of people with those brown recluse spider bites being laid up for months and getting seriously ill. 

Masalamma, my soulmate!
~ C

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Filed under Al-Ameen Associates, Al-Azhar University, Arabic language, Egypt

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