Riding trams in Kraków

August 5, 2010

By now, I’ve worked out which number trams go to and from Bronowice Małe, which is where I live. I’ve also figured out – today, in fact – that the 13 is best for me and stops right outside school.

Secondary options include the 8 and then the 4, in order of pragmatics.

But that’s not what I’m writing about.

What I’m writing about is what I see on the tram as I ride into and out of town. My eyes flick every which way when I’m on the tram and I spend between half a second and up to 2-3 seconds looking at something before my eyes flick away.

That, compared with the speed of the tram, makes for very interesting observations of the Cracovians. Like today, my eyes flicked onto a girl standing just in front of a lamppost and very near the road. She was holding an old grey mobile and, just as my eyes clapped onto her, she threw up her hands (only from the wrists, mind) in exasperation and furrowed her brow (I just wrote “burrowed her frow” and couldn’t work out what was wrong with it). That made me smile.

A little later, I clapped eyes onto a woman who was crossing the road. Behind her (the tram stopped here, so I had time to watch her walk away too) chased a girl in a green uniform. She reached the woman and gave her a piece of paper she was holding. The woman had lots of shopping in her hands, so she just took it in her hands with her. I assume what she said was “dziękuję” (thank you) and she carried on walking. The girl in green then turned back and jogged back into the shop where she assumedly works.

I see a lot of things like that – small interactions either with one’s own consciousness or the surroundings or with someone else in that fraction of a second that I’m sitting on the tram and looking at these people. I can’t remember them all now, but that’s not the point.

If I were any better and recording moments like this in film (or even in photograph), I’d make a short little tram-ride-length feature about it.

FYI, my tram-ride-length is currently 40-50 minutes. And that’s annoying.

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Remember your last night in Heidelberg (again)?

July 31, 2010

This is the last entry.

This is the end of the year abroad blog, because the year abroad’s over.

That’s not strictly true – I’m going to continue writing until I get back to England, but this is the end of another chapter, when I started writing, this point, which then still seemed so far away in the future (and in Syria…), was the final one.

Tonight’s my last night in this flat. In this town. In this wonderful experience. I have loved it. I have pushed myself harder than I’ve realised and I have grown in ways I wanted to and in ways I wasn’t expecting. My German’s come on leaps and bounds and for the first time ever, I think I’m happy with it. I’ve learnt to ride a bike! I’ve learnt more about people and more about friendships by having some of the fastest developing and closest ones I’ve ever had.

Compared to everyone else, I feel quite lucky. I’m not that sad to leave. I’ve done it once and it’s not so bad. And because of that attitude I had back then, that I wasn’t coming back to Heidelberg, I can now leave the place pretty easy.

But that’s probably as false as it is true or something. I’m going to miss German so much. That’s the one thing I’m going to miss about being here most, abstract thing or physical thing. Of course, I’m going to miss all the friends I’ve made here (some of whom I’m going to be seeing super soon again in Old Blighty!). Ugh, I don’t know.

That’s the end of what I’ve got, but I thought I should document something.

I’d like it to be made known to my readers that the writer of this blog is disappointed with it. So many wonderful things have occurred to me that would’ve made good blog posts back then but I never got around to writing them out. So it’s a failure in its single purpose: to remind me of things I’ve thought and experienced while I was here/in Syria/in Poland.

Having said that, it’s definitely added to the whole experience and been a nice platform to write things down. Which leads me tentatively into the following…

I’ve been looking at my German phone all day and thinking about that time when I turn it off for the very last time (not that dramatic, but still) and I’ve had an idea in my head from a while ago which I think I will end up doing, despite the reasons that were gathering against it. And that is to write out all the names of the numbers of people I’ve gathered, as a register of all the people I ran into enough to exchange numbers with. Going through this is going to be a waltz in memory lane of course and for most of you just an alphabetical list of names, but for those of you who know the others, I’m hoping it’ll be of some value.

Adelaide
Akademie 2a
Alice Parisienne
Alt Hendesse
Aminata
Ana Bos
Anne Bochow
Annika Jap
Ansgar
Becca
Büro im Theater
Carolin
Corinne
Cornelia
Craig Braid
Cynthie
Cynti
Danijel
Danica
Domi
Donna
Doris
Doris Horn
Emir
Eva
Eva From Work
Fabian
Florence
Frank
Franzi
Hans Swede
Heather
Helena
Janine
Julie Knitter
Julia From Work
Kenny
Kim Posaune
Konsti
Kristin
Laura Paul
Laura Spanish
Laura’s WG
Laura from Work
Lea
Lynne Irish
Marwood
Maz
Michelle
Michael Stimmfüh
Nadine
Naida
Nan
Patrick
Sabine
Sam Huneke
Sarah Marks
Sarah Austin
Sarah Jackson
Shiva
Sima
Soizic
Sophia Stavros
Sophie Francis
Stefanie D
Susi from Work
Sven
Tobias Hoth
Tobi Dirigent
Torben
Ulrike
Veronika Allmen
Vernika von Pat

So yeah what, it’s just a list of names, but it’s a catharsis for me and you can shove it.

Germany’s good, bad and ugly

July 25, 2010

They say you never stop learning when you learn a language. Mostly, one assumes that means with the language and that’s certainly true (mostly because it’s almost impossible to keep up to speed with any language and its developments, especially if it’s not your first language), but the cultural qualities of the natives of the language you’re learning are also up for grabs.

I’m not new to this language and yet I’m still surprised by people here a lot.

Today has been a wonderful, wonderful day and also a very, very irritating day; people have shown great kindness and great misunderstanding, great patience and great hugs.

I’ll go chronologically.

Today was the day I travelled to Cologne to meet Polly, who’s doing an internship in Brussels, so we met in the middle(-ish). Germany has a great institution called “Mitfahrgelegenheit,” which is a website where people post times and dates of their cross-country car trips, in the hope that other people going in that direction will jump aboard and help pay for petrol costs. It’s bloody brilliant if you ask me and very well loved among most of the people I know here – almost everyone’s done a “Mitfahr.”

I managed, however, to wake up to calls of my Mitfahrgelegenheit (MFG) driver telling me that she was there waiting for me. I wasn’t ready. She (yes, a female one! Unusual) told me she still had to pick up two others at the main train station and that she’d come back to town to collect me.

I dashed out of the house, unshowered and un-face-washed (for the second time this week) and jumped on Doris’ old bike, which I’m loaning from her at the minute, and darted down the deserted Hauptstrasse in the rain. I locked the bike up and made it just in time to meet them there, whereupon I apologise profusely, then spent the rest of the journey wondering whether I could start a sister company of MFG in England and whether it’d be successful /slash/ sleeping.

I arrived later in Köln and met with Polly. We caught up and did some of the boring shops, stopping to buy a wild peach – they look like they’ve been squashed and are wonderful juicy. We then threw the stones of these into the river and bought ourselves 3 hours of bike hire from a jolly chap behind us. He drew us up a route on map and we proceeded to take it. On this bike ride, we also encountered bloody loads of goths. All I can hope for is that there was a convention of some kind in Cologne that day – otherwise it just makes Germany seem even more weird.

Biking with gears is a whole new territory, but let me tell you, ladies and gents, I am a convert.

We went for lunch in a restaurant just over the bridge where all the padlocks are locked onto. Here, my first head-on collision with customer service came to blows and I had to complain in German. I didn’t realise that I hadn’t complained anywhere in German until this happened. I don’t really want to go into massive details because it’s almost irrelevant, but the point is that one of the waitress, who, to be fair, wasn’t our waitress, was not willing to accept a question I was to ask, before I’d even got around to asking it. She then decided that we’d had a ‘misunderstanding’ (I got pretty angry with her and may have even shouted at her, I forget). Polly and I decided that we weren’t being spoken to like this (considering the other waitress had been pretty rude and cold with us previously) and went to leave. On our way out, we saw our waitress and I told her we were leaving and that we wanted to pay for the drinks we’d already had.

Things got put down and managers fetched. My knees were shaking and my German surprisingly good considering the fact that a) I’m not used to using the polite form of “you” almost every and b) I was having to hold my ground in a language that wasn’t my own and translate all the gossipy bits to Pol (mainly to ask for advice of how to react).

The food arrived and we ate it.

Mine had prawns in it, even though I was fairly sure I’d asked the original waitress (so, ours, not the one who was later rude to me) whether it was vegetarian, but I didn’t want to get into anymore of that.

Polly and I, suffering from a ruined conversational flow by this, left the restaurant, tipping as minimally as we could and being sent off by the original, this time very polite waitress who had changed her tune (and, according to the manager, had been crying – I mean… come on). We decided a big hug and a high-five was in order and that we weren’t going to let it ruin our day.

Hopped on the bikes and rode into the masses of people around the cathedral. Some beautiful side-wards images of Polly in my mind’s eye from that moment – she looked really lovely and it was great fun to do something like that with her (even if crossing the bridge together on the bikes was as scary as all hell).

Once we’d arrived back at the bike-man’s hut, with 40 minutes to go, he told us to go north and look at the new harbour, so Pol and I cycled along the side of the Rhein, me feeling very much like this was some epitomic moment for a German student, not sure how Polly was viewing it.

During this event, Sophia called me on my German mobile and told me that she’d just spoken to a woman who had my house keys and my phone (and my jacket). Turns out, the thing had dropped off the back of my bike and this woman had called the last person I’d called from my mobile. Much complicateds, but we ended up racing back to Cologne’s chocolate museum (which we didn’t go into!?) and picking it up. I thanked her profusely too and was reminded of this morning, when I dicked over my MFG driver (in-joke with self lol).

Pol and I were pretty tired from the 3-hour biking event by this point so we walked back into town and had some cake. I was jealous of Polly’s walnut and caramel cake – so much so, that the fact I was eating a germanified version of a Vienetta made no recompense.

We then struggled with all sorts of train administration bodies and their bureaucratic opening and closing times and went home.

On arriving home, I realised how well I was doing to still have the energy to do anything of use, considering I’d slept for so few hours, been out to the pub to play “Who am I?” (I was the Demon Headmaster; the day before I was the “Queen of England town”) with team ERASMUS and Maz’s visiting friend Suz, AND biked around Cologne for 3 hours…

I still managed to drag myself to awful, awful Penny for the standard Saturday-night emergency buy event (I cannot WAIT for shops to have some – just SOME – opening hours on Sundays when I get back). This scene is where the last event for the day comes into play: I dropped some money at the check-out and the guy behind me turned to me and told me that I was losing my money. I bent down, picked it up and looked him in the face to thank him. He obviously didn’t think it was a big deal and made no eye contact. Aaah, Germans.

So all in all, boys and girls, you should feel proud in the fact that I haven’t stopped learning. In the language and around the language and how it all adds up.

Today’s been one of those times where I’ve really missed some things about England and I did find myself thinking that I can’t wait to be away from this whole German mentality in the general public.

Other things that have happened recently: saw the most amazing thunderstorm I’ve ever seen in my entire life and had a very strong religious experience as a result, been surprised at who I am and that I’m in this body and stuff (hard to explain, but I sort of feel like I’ve dropped into this body somehow and all these faculties and stories are just there – it’s like I was carrying about 8 ropes and had dropped them and come back in, picked them all up and carried on knotting them), massively, massively neglected my blog – I still need to write about the fact that I’ve learnt to ride a bike in Germany. Finished orchestra (again). Started an administratively hellish search for someone to take over my room next week. Booked a language course and the associated travel and accommodation in Kraków, Poland (next adventure!).  Massively started looking forward to three things coming up in my future: 1) Poland, 2) September, being home, seeing boyfriend, seeing family and finally sleeping properly and 3) Durham. Moved into the last week of my internship, only 2 days to go now.

Too much for me to remember now and this entry has to be posted today otherwise it loses all meaning.

I’m a tea connoisseur, get me out of here!

June 23, 2010

So, the year abroad has improved me and changed me in ways undocumentable. But it’s ruined somethings too. One of those is my taste for tea.

For those of you who’ve ever had to make me tea, you might remember me being a bitch about it and insisting – sometimes rather rudely for the situation – that I make it myself. But what with all the coming here last August, being made ‘tea’ in restaurants and café (sometimes even tea that claimed to be English Breakfast Tea) and being disgusted by it, settling for tea made by until now unknown brands in Syria and so on, the delicacy of my taste buds has waned. And woe, woe is them!

Not even is it just that, but since then, I’ve started drinking tea at times I really, really wouldn’t have last year. Insisting, last year, on the tea ceremony staying a holy thing (often drinking it at around 10-12am after breakfast on those work days with Pol — I even converted Pol from a morning coffee drinker to a tea drinker! (perhaps I can’t take all the praise for that though…)) has gone flying out the window. Now, I find myself drinking tea all over the shop, sometimes two at a time, sometimes with… that is with my meal (what horror!) and even sometimes late into the night!

Luckily, though, it hasn’t spun too wildly out of control and I do still retain some of my former tea-drinking mores. For example, I don’t drink tea all day long (yet…) and I haven’t started drinking it as soon as I get up, like most of the British public do. So all is not lost.

I still hate coffee. And still enjoy the perfect cup of PG, brewed by my fair hand, but still…

Storms like at the very beginning…

June 6, 2010

It’s been super hot and clammy and sticky all day in Heidelberg and, as has seemed to be the custom this year (compared to last summer), a storm hit at around 7 this evening.

It wasn’t anywhere near as harsh as the one that hit two weeks ago (that one was sudden and cool) (not to say that this one wasn’t sudden…), but still, it was wonderful.

I was just walking back into my very, very bare and still deskless room (I bought a desk from Ikea a couple of weeks ago and have been lazy-pie since) with a cup of tea when it hit and my window was still wide open from the day’s heat. So I decided I’d lean out the window and let myself get wet and breathe in that stormy air.

My teacup started collecting rain water and I drank some. Metallic. Not recommended.

Leaning out of the window gave me this oddly tangible image of the house as a whole, like, from outside the house onto it, and how I was standing sorta in the mouth of a continually gasping building — the wind was pulling through the house with some force.

It was wonderful.

And I’m standing there and I blink and miss the lightning, but open my eyes just a fraction before the flash has gone so I know that there’s been a flash. And then that tense waiting before a crack — or maybe just a rumble this time? — to sound. The second one I missed gave a pretty nasty crack ofter to the east. So I stood there, defiant, and told the storm I wouldn’t miss the next flash. But as I waited for the next flash, the wind changed direction and started blowing the by now pretty heavy rain into my room and onto my back (which tickled). So I took some more deep breaths in and smiled once more up at the rain and the sky and closed the window.

And toweled down my face and head.

Going out into storms is muchos recommended.

Remember zweite Ankunft und StüMa

April 28, 2010

So I made it back to Germany and here I am.

I meant to write an entry detailing what I was going to be doing before I left, but things went far too fast for me, if I’m honest.

So today’s Wednesday and I’ll write up what’s happened recently in my life, so that people can stop asking me questions. In keeping with things I promised myself in the past – and pretty pertinent to this part of my life – I’m going to try and keep things as factual and non-emotional as possible, because that’d just be too open and awful and OpenDiary-ish and we’re all over that thank-you.

Since I got back from Syria, I’ve slowly been getting myself into the job/internship search. Things went pretty badly to begin with: I was emailing companies and schools that I didn’t really want to work in, but was desperate to find reason enough to come back to Germany and start up here again with the people I know here. I got pretty excited about a company called “Die Sprach Profis” (easily googlable), which has an office in south Heidelberg, but, after having chased up the woman who works in the other branch of the company in Waldkirche (miles away), I finally got a reply telling me there’d be no point because the office here in HD was tiny anyway. I didn’t get any replies from any of the schools I’d emailed either, except the Heidelberg International School, which told me I wasn’t qualified enough (I didn’t really want to be in an English-speaking environment anyway).

Then I got pretty depressed about not being able to find anything and worrying that my whole life was over and that I’d ruined everything and I’d find nowhere in all of Germany that would allow me back in, never mind in Heidelberg.

Then I made my merry way across to the Job Börse of HD University and found myself confronted with 70 pages of job/internship offers, stretching as far back as 2007. I leafed through them all, tabbing what I thought was interesting and copying/pasting what was a pretty vague query-email, changing the requiredz and leaving in the basix.

I eventually found myself looking at a page written by the Theater Orchester Heidelberg, which is the town-run theatre and orchestra company, hosting a total of 5 different performance houses (one of which is round the corner from where I was (and still am/will be) living). Small butterflies in stomach.

So I wrote off to them, with a non-copy/paste email and lots of chatty German, but staying strictly in the Sie-form (polite version of ‘you’).

Long story short: I’m working for them now.

I’m an intern in the Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit (commonly the “ÖA”) and our daily responsibilities including gathering info from the regional and national newspapers and presenting each story that’s relevant to the House on appropriately-sized sheets of paper (called the Pressespiegel), then giving this thing out to the various places that need to see it (so it’s in an internal way of keeping tabs on what’s been said about the place in the press). Other tasks including helping maintain all the publicity side of things and hanging up posters and distributing flyers. It’s all pretty basic, but the best thing about all of it is I’m speaking German all day, every day. To the point where I really am thinking that I’m going to have to do more English speaking (like… actively), because I miss being able to think quickly so much.

Having said that, twice in the past two days, German natives have been starstruck-shocked that I’m not a native: firstly, last night after a quick #7 from Tiger and Dragon (which is a sweet-ass Chinese in the Carré – and I LOVE the #7 (to the point where I dreamt about it, when I was in Syria)), Sarah and I went to Rewe (supermarket) to get some supplies and, speaking in English as we were when we got to the checkout, the woman on the checkout, having scanned my items, to me it was 10-Euros-something in English. I looked at her – those closer to the German-speaking me might know that I absolutely hate being spoken to in English by someone who speaks German when they know I speak German (in her defence, she didn’t know that) – and asked her what the price of the plastic bags was, in German obviously. She said, “oh!” and carried on her exposé about the bags. Later, when conversation about plastic bags had died down, I said, “I have to admit though, you have a very good English accent” (still in German). She thanked and asked where we came from and I said, “we’re both English.” She looked at us in an I-didn’t-hear-you way, so I asked, “Where we’re from?” she, “yes,” me: “We’re both English” whereupon she sat bolt upright and put up her hands in shock.

The second occasion was today in the bakery I always go to at the train station. I was trying to pay exactly and still don’t have numbers down in this language yet (still can’t get my head to expect and correctly compute the digits being before the tens) so I had to keep changing how much I was giving her and I said, “sorry, I still have to think about numbers in English.” She looked at me, cleanly a much quicker girl than the Rewe-employee, and said, “But I didn’t know you were English. One wouldn’t notice.” Which made me smile and we had a small chat about that – my colleagues from ‘work’ (… lol) then accused me of flirting (on the flirting at work topic, I’ve already been outed here – another story).

So that’s a bit of an aside.

I’m still getting emails these days from people I’d emailed before asking me to send of my documents, but I’m pretty happy here. I hope it won’t get boring towards the end (I’ve told them I’m staying until the end of July, by which time I should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, as well as some pretty impressive German skillz – and, actually, the email address for the office that’s run by us interns will be renamed to my name, which’ll be nice. People’ll know who I am and everything!).

On the domestic charge, I’m currently crashing in the place I lived in previously, my wonderfully yellow-painted room now filled by the returned Janni. This entails me sleeping in Torben’s room, who’s sleeping in Ami’s room, until Helena moves out, then Torben’ll move into Helena’s room and I into Torben’s. Make sense of that, if you can. It’s currently a smidge annoying that I don’t have any space of my own and I am literally living out of my suitcase, but that’s not a problem. It’s super nice of them to let me move back in like that, with next to no notice, so I’m grateful on all fronts.

I am, however, super, super tired and still haven’t caught up on my 9 hours’ travelling from Sunday. I got in pretty late and then had to start here pretty early, so it’s all been go-go-go since then. And people want to see me in the evenings and I end up not getting to sleep for a while because of this or that or the other.

On that topic, I can confirm that I do have a boyfriend. Facebook friends of mine will have already seen and, hopefully, liked this. Can’t say too much about it because of the emotion-boycott mentioned previously, but assume super-goods or ask for more info (given on request).

What else is there? I’ve been thinking about things to put in this blog for ages and now I’ve come to it, things are just escaping me.

Let’s be hyper British and talk about the weather.

That’s actually a bit of a weak link into something I do want to talk about, but thought I’d make the most of being British, especially given how not-good it is of late.

Germany certainly does feel a smidge different. Everything’s all happy and sunny and, in places, a bit sticky (weather-wise) and the evenings are cool enough to walk around in your t-shirt without problems. Walking home is a sweaty affair and the big boots I’m insisting on wearing make for smelly feet. But that’s not really the issue, other than the fact that I’m shocked that Heidelberg could change so much in the small amount of time that I’ve not been here (it was still pretty cold and snowy when I left (in fact, the day I left, when Maz took me to the airport, there was snow everywhere! We definitely thought we weren’t going to make it all the way to Frankfurt).

The point is: I’d sort of expected it all to slot back into place and be like I’d never left. And, well, it is. I mean, it is. But it’s also not. There are annoying things about Germany that I’d completely forgotten, things that’d been caught by the auto filter that is my germanophile of a brain. These things don’t have names, so I can’t describe them much at all other than abstractly saying things like “the smell” and “remembering to go shopping” and “washing machine” and other things like that. All things I’d’ve had to deal with anywhere else in the world (that makes it sound like Heidelberg’s a smelly place and that’s definitely not what I mean at all – I just mean getting re-used to the smells I’d got used to before).

So it’s a bit weird being back and having the same old surrounding. It’s most weird, to be honest, when I’m walking somewhere that I haven’t been since I’ve been back yet. Like – because I know my way around the whole city pretty easily, when I do end up going to places on the way to somewhere else (the somewhere-else having already been visualised in my head), I’m shocked to find they’re marginally different: a different feel, a different smell, slightly different lighting (I’m v aware I haven’t seen Heidelberg in April before).

So that’s that.

On the topic of whether or not I’m having more self-analysis on my relationship with the languages I’m learning: I’m definitely doing well with German. More than once a day, I find myself literally cracking up with joy and rapture at the way the language works or find myself just smiling at a sentence someone has said, even if the content of the thing is pretty benign or empty (learnt a phrase that fits here: die gähnende Leere (the yawning void)). So that’s nice.

I’ve brought my Teach Yourself Polish book (even though the font-face reminds me a lot of the time that I tried to teach myself Turkish and ended up hating that too – call me fickle or call me a woman and sing it in Italian) and its appropriate CDs with me so that I can sit down and work on that, but the job doesn’t really permit much time to do anything. It is the first week though, so that’s all due to change. I’ve managed to get myself Wednesdays off, which will definitely allow for some time with friends and doing some Polish and otherwise doing things I want to etc.

So that’s all. If you’ve got questions, put’m in or email me (love getting emails) and I’ll do my best to answer. I’m not all that conscious of things I’ve missed out and just know that I owe my blog some <3. Now it is done.

Remember leaving Syria and dropping Arabic?

April 20, 2010

Here it is. Long-awaited and standing weakly in the shadows of its readers’ expectations.

Many of you have asked for this entry and for the reasons for my rumoured return to the UK.

So yes, Ladies and Gents, I can confirm I have left Syria for cooler climes and am currently in another in-between stage, at home in the UK. This state, however, won’t last for long, considering I have to get back to Germany for reasons I’ll document at the end of this.

A lot of people I’ve told about this have been surprise to hear it, particularly because of the way I am known to rant on about Arabic and its grammar for hours at a time unless meantime interrupted. Yes – it is a shock.

Please know, however, that it is not because I didn’t like Syria. I liked Syria and Damascus a great deal and my life there was very good. It was wonderful to be near Fay again and see all the other Durham faces I’d missed; I had started getting to be friends with Fay’s Syrian friends, which would’ve solicited much Arabic-speaking conversation, later in my stay and the family I was staying with were very, very lovely (thanks, Yansé, for helping me find them – even if I did steal).

“But why then?!” You may be shouting. Ok.

When I left Newark, on the train at the beginning of March, on my way to Heathrow to begin my Syrian adventure, I was surprisingly emotional. I think I wrote about this already, but I cried like a small child, all over my parents and my brother. I was shocked by the emotional reaction that had spurred in me, because I’d expected the change of scenery and my want to learn Arabic would override and make me super excited, let alone the fact that I’d soon be seeing Fay. I put all of this worrying about my own emotional reaction under a beautifully woven Syrian rug when I got there.

I moved in and I started my course, having spent a week settling in and finding my way around the Old City. The course started and I was surprised by how well-written it was. But something was wrong with me. And not just that I couldn’t be bothered to work. I know that feeling – that “ugh, I spend my whole life doing this, break pleez” feeling. It wasn’t that.

At this point, I should probably let it be known that this is a super, super hard thing to describe. The thought-processes I have about the entire thing are really complicated and affected by loads and loads of things, including tiny reasons that don’t have any bearing, but tapped on the fragile icy surfaces of the whole problem and, in their small insignificant way, but larger number, the cracked the ice and I feel through into the water.

Basically, I realised that the problem was I didn’t actually like Arabic. I am constantly fascinated by how it works – how the whole semitic tree of languages can work, the way three letters, interspersed by other letters of a seemingly lower level of hierarchy can fit together to make meaningful stuff – the way all of these families of words were linked by these three letters that, like a skeleton, filtered down through the tree and held it all together in a sensical block of semanticism in my head.

Fascinated, I say. Fascinated by it – that’s true. But not enough. I realised that the only thing I liked about Arabic was that. I was constantly looking up words in the Hans Wehr (which is a canonical tool of Arabic study for non-native learners of the language, having rearranged the ‘alphabet’ (and with it the structure of the dictionary) into a way that more suits the nature of the language in the first place) and looking down the root forms to find out what it meant and looking how the meaning changed in one form or the other. But the word itself I didn’t care about. The one word that I constantly looked up and where this was particularly prevalent for me was the root ع ق د. The fact that I don’t know what it means know is testament to what I’m saying, but it was one of those words which would have lots and lots of meanings in lots of different forms (sometimes very, very drastically to ‘earlier’ forms of the word) [ps: I realise all of these words are super Arabic-language related and not that comprehensible, but you don’t really have to understand it – just know that there are lots of forms based on individual ‘root’ letters in Arabic – the interested can go to Wikipedia and find out there (it’s a trait known to all ‘Semitic’ languages (and what also gives them their name))].

So this latent not-like in me lead me to think: well, I’m here now and having Arabic would be a fantastic + on my degree: stick it out. And that’s a sensible thing to think or advise. But it too has its counter argument. I realised that I was there, in that place, grappling with a language that is difficult for someone coming from a language so distantly related (it made me realise how wonderful it is coming to another European language, because the similarities really do help), wanting eventually to be near fluent in the language. That’s what I’d need and… perfectionist me… wouldn’t let it be any other way. It was a case of, “you either get amazing at this language and become a complete Arabicophile, or you stop.” And I wanted to be amazing; I really did. But not liking the language enough played a deciding factor in that.

Not liking it would lead to me not being motivated enough really to get to grips with the things that I couldn’t do and not having a tingle in my heart when I read Arabic sentences meant not really learning them. Sure, I’m using my experience of learning German as a benchmark and I know I shouldn’t, but on the other hand, I sort of can. I am so lucky to have found a language that really sparks with me in a way that means I’m very rarely sick of it – even among other linguists at Durham: a lot of people tell me or hint that they’re not nearly as in love with their main foreign language as I am with German. And that’s sorta good to hear; this way I know I’ve struck gold. But the point is: when I was learning German, I’d mutter sentences to myself and playing around in the grammar would give me a little golden fleck of joy in my heart (GEEEEEEEK): Arabic, on the other hand, didn’t do that nearly as much and rarely ever. Even now, when I read German sentences, the mixes of verbs with dative and the way you can put your object at the front of the sentence all cause me to smile at the way the language works like an appeased God at his creation, benevolently smiling. Arabic doesn’t do that. It was just a jungle of words and phrases, little bits of little words that wouldn’t fit into the grammar-calculator (grammarculator?) that my brain has become (as a result of German). The exceptions would bug me beyond comprehension and, sure, I could deal with them and put them into use, but I didn’t get anything from them. And God knows, Arabic’s the kinda language where you’ve got to love the irregularities because of how many there are.

That makes me sound like I’m saying that Arabic was “too hard” for me. That’s not true. I didn’t find Arabic ‘too hard’ at any time in my entire career of studying it (the past 2.5 years). I was always confident with it and happy to be one of the best. New grammatical concepts would go straight into my brain without much problem and I could factor them in and remember them pretty well. New vocab, vocab learning being a weakness of mine in language learning generally, was difficult, but that’s why Fay and I were so good at revising together: what I could bring to the grammar comprehension, she could bring to the vocab learning. But the point is: it’s not that it was too hard. At all. I could easily have fought my way through, but my motivation would’ve lacked and the level to which I’d’ve learnt Arabic would’ve suffered as a consequence.

Another thing I realised as I was dealing with all of this in my head in that dark, dark week just before I came home (and believe me (or Sophia), it was a pretty dark week. I was  plagued with decision-making and guilt and worry that I’d be ruining my degree), was that my interest in Arabic and my knowledge had just about got to the same point. I took up Arabic 3 years ago with the express desire to learn a new language and not because I was interested in the Middle East (much at all actually). That sounds sacrilegious coming from someone who’s studied it, doesn’t it? That’s the point, though, I guess. A lot of my peers were super interested in it and even if not wanting to pursue a career in languages (it’s my plan to study interpreting after I’ve finished my BA) had a reason to approach the language in that they were interested in the world and world politics. I’m only interested in the world in a selfish and egotistical way, which is pig-headed and blunt of me, but what’s a little honesty between friends?

This feeling of my interest and knowledge being at the same point crudely expressed itself once in me thinking, “Everything I wanted to know about this language, I could’ve learnt from the Wikipedia page.” I felt disgusted with myself for thinking that a few days later and still sort of do now, but there is a truth in it. I’ve realised that my heart lies in languages itself and not in Arabic as its own language, which lead me onto thinking I should actually be doing a degree in German and Linguistics, but where’s that gunna get me in an interpreting career?

I didn’t really think about any of these things when I first took up Arabic at 18. I hadn’t really considered the idea that I might not enjoy it and was just hell-bent on being an ‘Arabic student.’ “I study Arabic” are strong and addictive words.

This is by no means the end of the reasoning behind what’s gone on my head, but I can tell you that I’ve thought about it simply (“Do I like this language?”) and not simply, going through all the various emotions. Having that many things in your head all at the same time is really tiring and I was a little steel ball in a big metal hemisphere, at the edge of which were towers exuding all kinds of gravitational pull in different directions and I’d roll wildly from one edge to the other and topple down to the centre again. And whenever I thought, “I’m leaving,” the metal ball of my consciousness would rest, perfectly addressing the attraction of all the towers and still remaining in the middle, quivering slightly under the pull, but there and safe. But letting it go made me roll about and feel sick. So possibly one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

As I say, please don’t view this as a comprehensive discussion of my thoughts. If you want to know anymore, you can talk to me about it – I am willing to discuss it, but I can’t promise I’m not going to repeat myself. The one-sentence summary of the affair is this: “I didn’t like it enough to become really, really amazing at it and so decided it wasn’t worth it.”

Since then, I’ve had to deal with the repercussions, obviously. The first thing I should stress, and the first thing I needed stressing to me, is that it’s actually not a ruining factor in my degree. I don’t lose the 2 years’ study I’ve already done and it will appear on my degree certificate as it is. I also won’t lose the knowledge. Just because I’ve stopped doing it, doesn’t mean all of it just drops out of my head as if it had never existed in the first place. Secondly, this allows me to concentrate on German in my fourth year and for the rest of this year abroad. Now I can go back and really get as amazing as I want to and that fills me with such joy. I know I’ve got better so far and I knew when I left, I could feel it, that I still had some way to go before I’d be happy. That’s why leaving wasn’t such a big thing – I couldn’t think about it directly because it’d upset me too much.

It doesn’t entirely rule out coming back to Arabic in the future. This is something I realised while I was deciding too – I’m grateful for the fact that I learnt German really slowly and, by the time I really realised I loved it, I already had all the basics in my head and moving on from that was easy. 7 years’ tuition at school really did set the foundation. So I am in a position now to let my interest in Arabic grow, if it’s going to, and then facilitate some further, motivated study of the language at a future time (that’s not to say that I have lamented the fact that I’m giving up on it now, in my life, where I have this period specially set-aside for it (then again, having a higher interest in it and pursuing the language with greater motivation will give a greater gain)).

The future’s not all bright though. I need a second language and am taking applications and suggestions. Although I heard from an EU interpreter who gave a talk at Durham that the EU was super short on English native interpreters (that’s a global shortage actually) and interpreters for German (making me auto-appeal to two shortages), I still don’t satisfy the very basic of the EU’s criteria – you must have 3 languages and one of them must be English (in my view, this is biased against English natives, because anyone who’s interested in languages and isn’t an English native gets English exposure all around and almost everyone in Europe speaks some quality of English, enabling linguists to go on and study one other language and just perfect their English (a little cynical, but who’s counting?)). Having had this experience with Arabic means that I can more accurately assess how I’m going to react to a language and what exactly it is about languages that pleases me.

So I sit here in on this little island (currently, aggravatingly, underneath an Icelandic cloud of ash grr), and I look at the European mainland and I see: the Romance languages of France and Spain and Italy; the breed of Germanic languages from Germany right up into Scandinavia, and the Slavic languages from behind the former iron curtain. I look at myself and I see: one understanding of a Germanic language, one ability and love for languages and an appropriate talent to learn them, and one fascination with regular, but complicated, grammar systems. When I put the two together, and realise that having languages from different families is more favourable, because of the way my career would open me up into languages similar to the ones I’ve already learnt, the Slavic languages look most appealing. And where better to start than Polish, neighbour of Germany, homeland of The Polish Plumber in England and step 1 on the wrung of Slavic understanding.

Sure, it’s a bit stupid for me just to pick these languages out of nowhere, I know. But I have to start somewhere and my logic will hopefully stand. I’ve bought myself a Teach Yourself Polish book (yet to make any kind of real in-road into it though) and will probably take a course in it at Durham’s Languages For All programme next year, assuming my little Teach Yourself book entices me enough.

Any suggestions anyone has on languages I could learn that’d be handy for the EU (or otherwise) are gratefully received – thinking outside the box is also very gratefully received (big shout-out already to Jane on that front with the British Sign Language suggestion!).

So that’s that.

Things to look forward to in the next blog post:

What’s happening next? Where’re you going for the rest of your year abroad? Are you coming back to Heidelberg? What are you going to do there? Where will you live? What the bloody hell are you knitting at the moment?! and other such fun stories.

It’s been great. Love to all.

Broken laptop.

March 22, 2010

Dear Readership,

It is with great regret that I have to report that my laptop is broken. Syria reportedly has a reputation for breaking people’s laptops.

This impedes me from replying to emails and writing blogs of great length and interesting content.

Photos a no-no.

Things to look forward to after this drought:

News about heating system and photograph of The Tadfa’a (Oh Hallowed Tadfa’a).

Stay well.

Linguists do the weirdest things

March 19, 2010

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There are a number of topics I meant to write about in the last entry that I didn’t. This fact solicited a new document on my computer entitled “Things to blog about.” So now I can jot down the little things that I want to remember and will most likely forget. And it helps give me some kind of idea of where I’m going with what.

So. Something that happened right at the beginning of my Damascus experience was the flight. And I forgot to mention something which I really do want to remember. Two things actually.

Firstly, when I was lounging around in the departure lounge, I sat near 4 American golden-agers who were talking about their flight being 5 hours and the time difference being an hour. So I struck up conversation with them, opening “Let me guess: you’re going to Damascus.” I was right! So we chatted for a while, talking about our various intentions and expectations of the place. Turns out they were just travelling, but they were super intrigued by my moving to live there for 6 months. So was/am I. It’s still pretty scary.

Anyway, I left them when the gate number came up and said I’d see them there. When I got to the gate, there were loads and loads of [insert more politically correct term for OAPs here] just wandering around and they all knew each other. But there were loads of them! I couldn’t believe it. And they were all saying thigns like, “I haven’t seen you in ages! How are you? (How was your hip operation?)” (ooh, too mean). So I was a bit confused. My first thought was that they were all ex-patriots from Damascus who’d come back to see family or something and I was scratching my head for a reason why March would be a good excuse to go home.

The few of us that weren’t in this group (we were very identifiable), all gathered near or around me (funnily, though, the Americans sort of latched on to the OAPs). I made vague eye contact with this woman opposite me and we eyed the group of them up together.

Anyway – the point is (and I found this out myself on the plane), they were all from some London guild. The woman I was sitting next to (the chances were v high that I’d be next to someone from the group) asked me whether I was “with the London Guild too?”, to which I obviously replied no. Anyway. She told me that they were on a 10-day tour around Syria (or just Damascus, I forget) and that there were 94 of them. Which was pretty scary for the uninitiated.

So that’s one thing I wanted to record.

Another thing I want to write about is the nature of blogging. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I actually aim to do with my blog, considering I read a lot of other people’s blogs and I do actually have stuff to write about and, reportedly and seemingly, in an interesting way (oh god, I’m a “blogger.” Now I feel sick). But anyway. My main point is not to write interesting literature. My aim is to keep people at home up-to-date on what’s going on with me and also to record things that I’m very likely to forget later so that I can read back and enjoy all the memories in my head. In fact, that last one’s the entire reason – and it’s hyper selfish. It’s also a bit of a forum for me to show off the pictures of stuff I’ve taken and that, but I’m not doing so well on that front. And also, that filters nicely into the “letting people at home know what’s going on”-thing. So yeah.

This was all kicked off by Fay telling me that she reread the article about when she surprised me in Heidelberg. She said that she’d reread it because she wanted to remember it and it was written well. I like that people enjoy what I write. But I don’t plan these things very much; I just let’r rip. Or whatever that phrase is.

On that topic: I did write a list of things I want to put in this entry (and have done before) so the “I don’t plan what I write” is a bit of a (massive) lie.

While I’m being self-analytical, I should write that I’m so happy people have continued to read the drivel I’m writing and I’d like to thank everyone who’s sent me emails! It’s so lovely to hear from people and my current access to the internet situation means I can’t write pretty wealthy replies at home and then have my email client send them all off when I do get online (which is far more often than I’d like at the minute). So yeah – thank you for your continued readership.

So here’s how things are going.

Now I look at this list, most of the stuff is just a one-sentence thing, which means my blog’d be short, but who likes summaries? Not I. So I’ll write at a bit more length.

Arabic is hard. I mean, I knew that before I came. And I was vaguely aware of the idea that I’d have to study hard and really engage the fact that I was studying Arabic when I got here. I mean – I’d expected that it would get more real after I got here; before it was just this weird little thing I’d study every day, cold and grammatical, much of a muchness to maths really. But now, I’m having to engage with it like I had to engage with German years ago, when I started to put things into practise.

This is something that everyone has to deal with here, I think. I’ve come in late to it, so everyone’s used to it now. The bad days are hard and the good days are just ‘ok.’ It’s confusing for that reason – it’s quite difficult to get like a “good” day, but then I guess that’s dependent on a lot of things. Fay’s doing really well, for example, and I’m sure she has days (like I did in Germany at the beginning), where you just feel so on top of it and you can feel the fluency coming.

It’s made me really deal with that, as I say. And made me re-evaluate the whole reason I’m studying this language in the first place. I mean – why Arabic? Why did I choose Arabic? What’s it for? I’ve just remembered I dream I had in Germany about here before I arrived (I think, this is all very vague): I had to run around the city and collect 10 reasons (which were tangible… stupid dreams) why I was learning Arabic and I was struggling to put them all together. Pretty obvious what that means.

A school marching band’s just banded past. And it was loud.

The course (hereafter called ‘school’) at uni is an odd thing, really. Because I’ve come in half-way through the intermediate level, all my classmates have this bank of vocab that I’m just not used to that they’ve been picking up from the previous levels. And others of them have really strong speaking. And the teacher speaks in Arabic at quite a rate and, because the others are totally used to being taught in Arabic, there’s rarely a problem with comprehension. When she uses words she doesn’t think we’ll know, she stops and asks if we know what it means and it’s no problem if you don’t: she’s a good explainer. In fact, she’s a very good teacher.

The flip-side, about me being weak, has really given me some grief, particularly towards the middle of the week, when I often came out of the class completely de-motivated and pretty depressed. I think it was Tuesday afternoon when I fumbled with the edges of the idea of just going. Just telling school I was done with this, going home, packing my stuff up and just going. But then I remembered I’d made myself The Pact of 2 Months, so I can’t. And I’m glad I didn’t now anyway, because I don’t want to anymore. And because I know that now, I know how to deal with it in the future.

There is, luckily, a really easy way to force myself into a wonderful mood and that’s music. I always delay how soon I get my headphones (<3) out and listen to something because it really picks me up. But I did it the other day and it was amazing – Arnold’s first symphony. I listened to a symphony a day, currently about to listen to 6. I realised that I don’t really like his earlier symphonies too (now I sound massively annoying: “I don’t like much of his earlier work”). I listened to the Rite as well, because that just makes me love things.

Phew. Getting this list down slowly.

Oh yeah, on the picture. This is what I thought was my local mosque’s minaret, but it’s actually my second nearest one. I didn’t realise this until afterwards, but the picture’s taken from my bedroom door (with 10x optical zoom on trusty Sony. Still need to give him a name). Fay and I just got a shisha.

Ah. While still vaguely on the Arabic theme: I bought a Hans Wehr dictionary the other day, which is the definitive Arabic-English dictionary on the market and is arranged by root, rather than alphabetically which is super handy for studying the language or translations; it means you can look up a word and see how it gets there and what words are made of the same root – it’s actually really fascinating. You very often get words which completely change meaning when they get further down the forms. Can’t think of any example other than the one I stumbled on by accident (can’t remember why I was looking up the root ja-da-fa (ج د ف) now, but…): tajdeef (the ‘infinitive’ of the 2nd root of those letters) means blasphemy and also rowing, the sport. How weird is that! Can’t see any logical link it, but I’ve forgotten what other meanings that root had. But that’s a funny story anyway.

Anyway, the reason I started that train of thought is because you look up words in the thing and the very last mutation of the way the letters can be arranged around auxiliary letters is so, so often the verb, “to look up alphabetically.” How can that many words mean “to look up”?! Like sometimes it says that more than once a page! It’s ridiculous.

By chance, an Arab was testing me on how to say that the other day and I had a small internal laugh about which one I could choose (as if I’ve learnt any of them). I said a different verb which also means ‘to search for’ and used the correct preposition. He said I was right, so I’m just guessing all of those other words belong to that flowery level of Arabic which doesn’t get used all that much.

(My God, I love writing on Word – autocorrect is love)

Last thing before I start addressing the smaller things on my “things to blog about” in the form of a end-of-entry list: “language students do the weirdest things.” (I was struggling for a title so this is titled retrospectively)

I was thinking about how devoted to our degrees we lot have to be. Like, most other students have to do very little unusual stuff to be advance in their degrees – English students will very happily spend their three years at the host university, reading and writing and all other inflections of Englishy goodness. Engineering, chemistry, pharmacy, vet students, medics might have to go do a year in industry somewhere or something similar, but year abroad students? We have to move abroad to complete our degree.

What great devotion it is to my degree that I’ve moved to the Middle East for 6 months! And I can’t continue my degree unless I’ve spent time in the Middle East. Not at Durham anyway, without some pretty special circumstance. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s a huge and amazing experience, but so, so out of a comfort zone. I mean, Germany wasn’t bad at all (Jenny made it worse by making me aware of the words “I’m moving abroad” and, if you recall (probably not.. not sure whether I wrote about it now), I was dealing with the idea of the one-way ticket). Syria’s a bit like that too. In some ways, it’s more than that because the sentence “I live in Syria” is true (even if “live” is a bit far, being that it’s only (‘only’) 6 months, but still).

It’s so strange. You gotta be a special type to study languages.

(Obviously no offence to anyone who studies a boring subject – there is of course opportunity to travel abroad (cf Sophia and Sarah), but it’s not obligatory. This is just reflection).

I miss Sophia so much.

And I miss everyone in Germany. The Germans, the English folk… Everyone. I miss Heidelberg. I’ve found here that everyone really misses where they were before; this experience is just hugely different.

Ok, list time:

Had a second shave with the same guy – not as good this time if I’m honest, my face hurts a bit, but I think he’d had a long day; he wasn’t nearly as chatty. Suffered a change in weather – it went from hugely warm and summery (and a bit unbearable), through really, really windy and now into cold and sunny. Stupid March. Heard the words (in English) “Here’s twenty-five thousand pounds” and felt super, super rich (was only $550 though), broken my photo virginity of Damascus (as proved above), decided to make a Facebook album (slash conceptualism) on currencies of my year abroad, experienced the Arabic sentence: “If there’s no movement from Daniel for a while, he’s working with wool!” from Abu Tariq (landlord) (lol!), done my first wash (I was running out of pants, man), met Fay’s host family a bit more (twice now) and saw her host-mum, Widdo, who is really funny, do some funky dancing after she’d made us lunch (hilarities), went out for breakfast with Sam (housemate), almost failed at speaking German with this women from Switzerland (must get some regular German contact); really, really craved a Bakewell tart; successfully told an Arab to stop speaking to me in English (the guy I bought my dictionary from actually), worried about a piece of homework I have to do (we have to transcribe a listening text which is about 3 minutes long – scary! But, like teach said, it’s good practise for writing, listening and spelling and all sorts), had lols with Fay about the ATM near my house: Fay: “Is it electrocuting you?” me: “No” Fay: “That means it’s not working.” … me: “Aaah, Syria.” (haha); worried about whether to get my host mum something for mother’s day; unsuccessfully navigated my way home from uni by myself, (remember all the broken pegs), struggled to find a replacement for the “Alle Richtungen” banner.

Can’t think of anything else. And bored.

اتذكر يوم الحلاقة الأولى

March 12, 2010

For those friends of mine who aren’t (yet) Arabic-able, that reads “atadhakkir yowm alHalaaqa aluula,“ which means “remember the first day of shaving”!

So, what just happened is this. I haven’t shaved since I got here. And that was last Wednesday (3rd). And there’s no mirror in my house for me to whip out my trusty Phillips and do it myself. So I decided (that makes it sound far more concise than it really is) that I’d try out some of this Middle Eastern living and go somewhere and have a barber do it. Sam – my new-found housemate – had had his done in a barber’s round the corner from here for 50 SYP (which is like… 72p). I decided, on his recommendation, to give this place a whirl (after having first moaned to Claire about not being brave enough). I walked through the street (getting stood on by a guy who hadn’t seen me – great) to this place, found it and asked in Arabic how much it’d cost. He replied in English (more on this later as well *snarl*) that it was 100SYP so I said, “100?! Take 50.” And he said no. So I left.

But! I’d seen one on my way to that place previously on the main street where the barber was shaving himself. So I returned there (struggled with the door) and asked the same question. He said 50. I sat myself down while he finished his shaving.

Now, anyone who knows me pretty well will know that I have huge issues with my neck being touched and I was pretty worried about this when I went in. But it turns out; he was rough and ready enough for it not to be a problem. I got all that crazy white foam stuff on my face like you see in the movies (or on your dad’s face), with really pleasantly warm water too. It tasted vaguely of chemical lemons.

So he whipped out his razor and started chatting to me, razor at my throat. The Azaan (more on that later too) came on (it’s the call to prayer for Muslims which gets massively boomed across the whole city periodically – sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s pretty awful). The guy who had been sitting in the corner (neither customer nor barber, it seemed) closed the door at this point. The guy shaving me at this point asked, having previously established I was British (having first guessed I was German (?) (another guy guessed I was Finnish today too when he was trying to sell me something on the street)), whether we have “all this Allahu Akbar!” in England. I laughed and said no, but that it does happen in the bigger cities (bit of a guess, but I had images of Birmingham and Leicester and Bradford in my head when I said it).

Anyway. I asked him whether he was Christian (which was a bit of a non-question, because the walls were covered with pictures of Jesus and Mary – very openly religious are these Syrian types), which led us into a history lesson about how the Syrian people used to be Christian and every Syrian Christian is actually of Muslim origin. His lesson was interspersed with him saying “you speak good Arabic!”, which he did probably 3 or 4 times. That was nice.

So yeah! Now I’m all frisch rasiert and lookin’ up!

“How-is-it-how-is-it!” I hear you all cry. Yeah – good question. It’s very, very Middle Eastern. I mean, I’d obviously been expecting that (what fool wouldn’t?), but it really is. You can’t bring any of your Western/European scruples here with you – you gotta be ready to accept what you can get and pay the (very, very cheap) prices for it. Which is perfectly fine.

I’m living in a house in the Old City (sorta between Bab Touma and Bab Sharqi, for those who wanna google-earth it) and I’m paying 13,000 SYP a month. Which is like.. £188 or something. I mean, it’s a good rate and the whole house is very clean compared to some of the others I’ve seen. The landlord and lady are known to me only by orientation around their son, Tariq, as “Abu Tariq” and “Am Tariq” respectively (father of, and mother of Tariq). They have a daughter, though. But I still don’t know her name.

Abu and Am Tariq don’t speak any English, but do speak fusHa quite well (which is the Arabic I learnt in Durham and Heidelberg) (as opposed to the ‘amiyyah, which is a kind of dialect, but the dialects are so big that they’re almost different languages (ie, not always mutually comprehensible by ‘Arabic’ speakers from across the Middle East.), which is a huge use. I discovered today, though, that the daughter and Tariq (and assumedly his fiancée) speak English.

While we’re on the topic of home and house (paste recipe for some fancy-pants Victoria sponge cake here): when I came in the house earlier (having been to sort out registration – more on this later (I’m sick of writing that)), Am Tariq and the daughter (I called call her Akht Tariq (sister of Tariq)… He’s such a focal point) were sitting in their living room, rolling these small balls of what could’ve been just about anything. We went through the formalities (of my crap Arabic versions of “hello! How are you!”) and then I asked what they were doing. The only word I got out of their reply was that they were making ‘kibbeh,’ a bowl of which Amu Tariq later brought up to me to try! I embarrassingly had to ask whether it was meaty and told her I was a vegetarian, but, upon being told no, gobbled it all (with a spoon) in one or two mouthfuls! It was yum-tum. And I’d do it again.

Before we leave this topic and bridging to a similar topic: I discovered Amu Tariq is a knitter (I spied a seed-stitch scarf which, with lots of pointing and mimicking, it transpires, she knitted for Abu Tariq). I showed her my Addi Clicks set, which, I think, led to her telling me she could only knit with straight needles. I jokingly told her I’d teach her and, thank God, nothing’s come of that, but I suspect it will when I can speak more Arabic (and, admittedly, probably from myself more than from any wish or desire from her). Anyway: I’ve started knitting Seascape, by Kieran Foley (which you can Rav for yourselves – my internet’s not great, even when I do get access to it) in a lovely lace-weight silk/cashmere/mohair mix (of proportions 20%/10%/70%, I think) in colour green. There will eventually be photos of this up on Ravelry, but time’s a-wastin’. And I’m a-bloggin’.

So what are things I want to type about? Let’s go through and find out what I said I’d talk about later in a nice and uneven plan. So: language, azaan and registration etc.

Language.

Sure, I can’t speak this language very well and sure, I make lots of mistakes when I speak, but at least I’m speaking. Any polite person in their right mind would chat back in the language they were addressed in, but you find yourself constantly being addressed in English, no matter what extent of ‘amiyyah (that’s dialect, remember?) you’re using. Sometimes, you do find people who are willing to talk to you in Arabic and, as it transpires, the more that happens, the more they realise you actually only speak and understand fusHa (that’s High Arabic); so they have to switch to it so you can understand them – which isn’t always a problem. In fact, it nearly never is. But then when you wanna whip out your question, “Do you have change for a 500-note?”, which you only know in dialect, you do this and then they laugh. Not in a mean way, admittedly, but still. It is a bit soul shattering to be laughed at, ‘amiyya or fusHa.

Another problem I’ve had with settling in to this new language is probably one of quite predictable monotony. I can’t do it. And I settle myself by saying “you’ve only been here # days, # weeks,” but that just as easily has its very, very depressing counter-argument: you’ve been learning this bloody language for 2 whole years. 2 and a half, if you count studying Arabic in German (I’m not all that sure how much that helped, to be honest).

I’m coming into it now. That previous paragraph was going to be an entire blog, full of moaning and “omg I’m leaving,” but I’m happy about everything now. So I’ll summarise what that was going to be: it’s massively made me question my degree and made me think, on multiple occasions, “why didn’t/don’t I just learn Finnish/Norwegian/Danish/Dutch/Polish/Turkish/etc?!” It’s also made me super-conscious of the fact that I have a lot of work ahead of me and that it’s going to be hard to get any kind of real proficiency in Arabic (but 6 months says I can do it). It’s also made me deal with the idea of dropping Arabic altogether and made me have to grapple with the idea of returning to Durham to complete a degree in one language only. As a result of that, I’ve set myself a two month target. When this is up, I’ll review how confident I feel in Arabic (compared to how most of those who I’m hanging with from Durham are now (Fay, Claire etc – because that’s where there are now)) and decide whether it’s worth carrying on or not. I’ve set this up like it’s not something I’m worried about, but I get more and more comfortable with the concept of dropping Arabic as it this time goes on – it’s just that currently I’m having an up, not a down.

It’s also made me review German and made me decide that it isn’t the fact that I love German itself as a language that much anymore (I have since realised that this isn’t the case – I do love German for the language itself), but rather that I was happy with my ability to get to it: I came up with a metaphor when talking to Claire Read, which I later reused in an email to Sophia and it was this: it’s like I’m sailing in a little wooden rowing boat down this huge (and largely calm) English river & on one side (visualised as the right-hand side, for some reason or other) is a big, big shore of German. When I speak German, I steer my little boat over there, jump out and stand proudly on the German shore (picture or picture not Lederhosen, as the reader wishes). On the other side of this huge river (and therefore very unobtainable) is this rickety, wooden jetty (imagery not intended to be representative of the Middle East and all coincidences are not (entirely) the wish of the author (even if they do seem to fit uncannily well)) of Arabic. And getting into Arabic means a mad dash from German (if that’s where I am), back into the boat (or just a jump in the river – Lederhosen are heavy though), pretty fierce rowing (upper arms?) back across the river and plaintive, shy viewing of the Arabic-jetty from the comfort of my in-the-English wooden rowing boat.

The metaphor doesn’t work all that well, because it doesn’t depict the fact that German words come to me so, so much faster and I often put them in Arabic sentences (this is something other linguist friends of mine have discovered – you find yourself often surrounded by the first foreign language you learnt and end up just grabbing words from that when you tell yourself you need words in a foreign language – I picture this like an Olympic hammer field, where there’s the centre (English), where the thrower (linguist) is standing and then levels of vicinity, 10m, 20m etc. The linguist struggles to throw hammers hard enough to reach Arabic (20m away) and often just lands in German (10m), because it takes far less effort. This imagery is also limited, because I’m not visualising myself bringing those two layers into the same layer and squeezing things in, so they’re the same distance from me, just that one’s on the left and the other on the right. Hope that makes sense).

So that’s all for language.

Azaan. I may well be spelling that wrong, but these are the calls to prayer (I dunno what it is in Arabic, but I know that the guy who does it is called the muezzin (and it must, therefore, be a verb which does not belong to root 1… praps it’s 2). In the hostel I stayed in, the local muezzin sang (terminology?) really, really well, even if it did wake me up at 4.30 for the three (4?) nights I slept there. It was amazing – it’s such a deep-hitting thing, like.. It gets you right there. But not always – there are some pretty awful ones too. Like the one nearest my house, which is about to strike up any minute now, by chance (I can hear the other ones in the background) – that one’s pretty bad. I wish it was better, because it’s my local one and have considered moving rooms for that very reason (you pay rent monthly and so pretty are pretty much mobile. This place is really good though and I’m quite sure I won’t leave (it’s very clean and the family are lovely).

Registration.

Registering for the classes here is a huge pain. You have to sit a test, get tested for AIDS/HIV, get a letter from your embassy (which costs 2900 SYR! (£42!)) and have a couple of photocopies of your passport and a few passport photos left over – the other things, AIDS test and embassy letter require photos and copies too. It’s a huge ache. But I’ve done it! It’s over now. I’m placed in group 5 (out of 8), which is the middle of the intermediate group. Ideally, I’d’ve been far better than that (and been placed in the advanced level, like I was in Germany), but I’m very happy, considering how hard the test was and how rusty my Arabic is when I’m speaking to people. It gets better all the time – I mean, I had some pretty good Arabic chat with the taxi drivers yesterday as I was jetting off all over the city to get various documents, photos and/or veins to the relevant people in time.

But yeah. I’m registered. I don’t have AIDS. I’m level 5. I’m also going to have 2 whole months of course-less time in Syria – need to email Durham about that.

The local Azaan’s on. Wish he’d shut up so I can hear the one just behind him – which is better. This guy always does it the exact same.

Edited in later: there is actually one more thing I want to write about. It kinda feels like I’m starting all my whole year abroad again – new place, new people, new language, new house, new weather. To be expected, I suppose. Laura Flannery said “Year abroad part II” today, when we were bemoaning how hard it was leaving the countries we’d left behind (for her, France). Which led me onto another point:

Linguists do so much for their degrees. As a bunch, we’re so dedicated to what we’re doing. I mean – we’ve moved to Syria, man. Like. Syria. Where even is that?! What student has to move to the Middle East for 6 months to complete his degree? And how dedicated are students to their degrees to do that? It’s totally crazy.

Kinda cool though; it means there are familiar faces here and that we’re all going through the same thing.

Photos and stuff to follow.

Heidelberg-style list of stuff I’ve done recently:

Been to the Goethe Institut (institute for German-speaking in Damascus – turns out it’s just round the corner from the British embassy). Sat down and chatted with some random Germans (shocking them that I was British *proud of self*). Met Dietmar Riemann (dunno whether he’s famous, but he’s a photographer and had an exhibition running in the Goethe Institut when I went to visit – just turned out he was there by chance really). Got really sick of writing this blog on Microsoft Word, because it doesn’t know shit about grammar and keeps trying to correct me and tell me every 2nd sentence is a fragment (consider revising YOURSELF, BITCH). Met a girl called Zema (pronounced like Emma with a Z at the beginning). Eaten what is reportedly the best ice-cream in all of Syria (threw more than half of it away because it was presented badly and I couldn’t work out how to get it in without first getting it all over my hands). Eaten more than a man’s yearly supply of falafel and loved it. Learnt that the word tomato is not “TomaaTim,” as expected, but rather “benadoora,” which sounds way too Spanish/Italian for me to be happy. Bought an English-English-Arabic dictionary, which only gives me Arabic words through a definition first of the English word I’m looking up (which is actually very handy). Pined over many a copy of the Hans Wehr dictionary (which is a canonical dictionary for the Arabic student, because it’s arranged by root of the letter and then the root’s forms etc – sounds complicated but is very, very helpful). Swooned over the idea of getting the untranslated version (Hans Wehr is, as expected, a big fat German, so originally wrote the dictionary in German – which I chance to know quite well), but decided I probably won’t do. Written the following words in my Arabic vocab booklet: opposite, impossible, change (in a till), change (currency), paper (and £ notes), cleanliness, clean, how much (in dialect), what time is it (dialect), change (coins, also ‘iron’), plate, glasses, to irritate, silly, fridge, win (against), backgammon, rest, comfortable, awesome/wonderful, corner, knife, fork, spoon, castle & empty. My battery’s running out so I’ll finish this list later. [some hours later…] taken to wetting my forearms every time I wash my hands, because of the heat (it was 29ish today). Had some banter with Qaasim, Fay’s mate. Felt good about having scored into level 5 on the placement test – seemingly not so bad after all. Worried that I haven’t documented the first part of the 2nd half of my year abroad well enough, either in photographs or bloggery. Practised mastering the art of replying to emails offline and then having my computer save them for Send Later.