Monday, September 29, 2008

And no one spoke English

It’s no secret that my Arabic is less than phenomenal, especially to me. And to anyone who talks to me.

So when I have to go out and run errands on my own I get a little bit nervous about what I’ll encounter. Today Andrew sent Rachel and me to the downtown campus to get the reading packets for his class on Palestinian issues. He had the readings for the first two weeks but the readings for the rest of the semester weren’t in the copy center until this week.

Since we’re going out of town tomorrow and he needs to do next week’s reading while we’re on vacation he needed to get the readings today. Unfortunately he was due to be stuck on the new campus all day long, so instead Rachel and I went to pick them up for him.

First I was worried about the metro.

“Don’t worry,” said Andrew, “You don’t even have to say anything. Just hand the ticket guy a pound and he’ll give you a ticket.”

With that aside, I started worrying about what I’d do at the copy center.

“Don’t worry,” said Andrew, “The guy who works there speaks really great English. You shouldn’t have a problem.”

With that aside, I started worrying exactly about how to get out of the metro station (Sadat station is rather confusing—it took Andrew two weeks to find how to exit out by AUC campus) and from there to the copy center. Andrew drew me some fabulous maps that worked kind of like Snake. He ran out of paper so he continued at the top of the paper; it was kind of hard to follow, but really a fabulous map. I’ve never been any good at Snake, anyway.

He even wrote out his course name so that I wouldn’t forget it. Isn’t he thoughtful?

This morning Rachel woke me up bright and early and we got ready to go. I wanted to get downtown while Andrew was between classes so that I could phone him, just in case. And of course there was a just-in-case.

I survived the first just-in-case on my own but only because all it took on my part was repetitive use of the word no. I had Rachel strapped in the front carrier for ease of transportation. I can’t even begin to imagine what taking a stroller on the metro would be like. To my understanding, babies are free to take on the metro, whether they’re in a stroller or not. We’ve never paid for Rachel before and I’ve never seen anyone else pay for a baby.

I walked up to the window and handed the man a pound. He stared back at me.

“Wahid, min fudlik,” I said, “One, please.”

Again he just stared at me. So I repeated myself, “Wahid…”

This time he shook his head and held up two fingers, “Ithnein,” he said, “Two.”

“Laay?” I asked.

He caught on that I didn’t speak a lot of Arabic so he spoke simply, “Inti wa hia.” He pointed from me to Rachel.

“La,” I told him, “Wahid, bas. Hia tifla.” No. Just one. She’s a baby.

“Ithnein,” he insisted.

“La, wahid.”

We went back and forth for a while—long enough to miss a train or two—until he started laughing and handed me a ticket. I didn’t thank him and went on my way.

We got to downtown and made our way to the bookstore without a problem. When we go there, however, the man who speaks good English wasn’t in. His assistant was, though. She speaks English about as well as I speak Arabic, I think, and we struggled together.

Somehow we were able to communicate what packet I wanted to purchase but she wouldn’t sell it to me and wanted me to fill out a form…in Arabic. So I called Andrew to translate for us. It ended up happily enough. She copied it off for us right then while Rachel and I played our own little version of “I Spy.”

I had just finished pointing out everything that was blue and was in the middle of pointing out everything yellow when the non-English speaking copy center worker came up and asked me if I wanted “everything” for the semester.

“Koula haga?” she asked.

There’s no way I could have told her anything else, so I just affirmed, “Ayawa.”

In fifteen minutes, Rachel and I were out of there. I felt like I was going to fall over. I was carrying the equivalent of 3 or 4 reams of paper, the diaper bag, and Rachel, who by this time was a very sleepy baby. The walk to the metro was short but taxing. I probably looked exhausted when I stumbled onto the car because a kind, elderly man kicked his seat companion out and offered it to me. He had to shoo a few people away before I finally made it back to him and sat down, with Rachel and the diaper bag (full of paper) on my lap, and a bag of paper between my feet.

The nice old man tried to make conversation. But he didn’t speak English, so our conversation died off fairly quickly after a few niceties. Rachel fell asleep about half way home. It was quite a relaxing ride. I was surrounded by sleeping, elderly gentlemen with a sleeping baby on my lap. Probably the best metro ride I’ve had so far. Maybe, if I learned more Arabic, I could actually stand to go out and do things on my own more often.


  1. :) Nah, you just have to learn to always associate with nice, elderly, sleepy people and it will all be fine...

  2. I am wondering if you really needed all that paper you carried back, or if she gave you too much.