Sunday, October 03, 2004

My ancient story on studying Arabic in Iowa City... I did a Yahoo search on myself (yes...) and there it was! Google never shows it. I've totally forgotten about it.

It's a Spring 1997 story that I wrote for a class where grad students were required to set up a website at the end of the semester and post all our stories there. Intercultural Affairs Reporting or something. We had to figure out the HTML stuff - and I totally skipped that part, partly because the boys in my group didn't mind me just sitting around, doing nothing. They did all of it. And boy, does it look pathetic.

No, actually, I did accomplish one sort of technical thing myself - I found this Arabic inscription that we then stuck in the left-hand corner - if I remember correctly, it's a Lebanese proverb that says something like "An intelligent deaf-and-mute person is better than a fool who can speak." But I'm not sure.

It's been seven and a half years. Hard to believe. All the mixed feelings I'm having now: it looks horrible and it doesn't read too well; but there are some really nice parts; I would've re-written this and that, and I would've added some stuff, too; it's like reading something by a long-lost friend, poignant; but it's also very embarrassing.

And I wonder where all those people are now, what has become of them...

- Taha, the teacher;
- Ali, the Jesus Christ look-alike (yes, another one!), who was the first person I met at that mosque;
- Vedat, the Turkish engineer guy who kept looking underneath the table, saying, But how do you know that a table is a "she"? How do you determine it?!?!?
- Shuw-Hwey, the Taiwanese woman, and her Egyptian husband, and the parents-in-law she was preparing to meet...

There were some others but I didn't mention them in the story. I hope they're all well.

I didn't learn any Arabic at those lessons. Well, except for introducing myself and saying I'm a journalist. I later learned the alphabet by myself, but that was it, unfortunately. My handwriting is still good, though. Arabic script is so beautiful - writing in it is very soothing and it doesn't matter whether you know what it is that you're writing or not. I learned to write using an English-language Pakistani textbook on the Arabic of the Quran; the font in it was very very large and that was very helpful - most other textbooks I've seen use those tiny letters that look like mice, very intimidating. And most other textbooks are about tourists looking for a bathroom or currency exchange places - and that gets really annoying after a while.

It's sort of funny to read now that the University of Iowa didn't have "enough resources to hire teaching staff for a two-year sequence of courses" in Arabic back in 1997. I wonder if they do now. This language is so very relevant now.

P.S. I'm scared to re-read other stories from that class - I'm scared to let myself remember too much from that time, I'm scared to miss it all too much...

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