I just finished my first college school year where I spent an entire 8 months or so learning Arabic at a top tier institution in the US of A. So why is it that when Ustaadhe Lo (that’s Arabic for professor) let us chickadees finally break free from the nest for a few hours I felt and acted like I was hearing the language for the very first time?
Not even 5 minutes without ustaadhe had passed before we were presented with our first dilemma. After parting ways we headed back up to our apartment and of course couldn’t get our door open. The key fit the lock, but the door wouldn’t open. We figured we were just living up to our typical womanly stereotype of never being able to get anything open whether it be a jar, glass bottle, or in this case, a door, so we called over one of the boys from their place down the hall. Nope, Dan couldn’t get it open either. We had to move to plan B: communicating with an Egyptian without Lo. My roommate Amanda and I volunteered to go downstairs and ask the man at the front desk for help. As we were descending in the elevator we were thinking of words that could help us explain. Sadly enough, we could think of only one: baab (door). How were we supposed to explain ourselves much less get him to come help if we didn’t know how to say the words key, open, turn, lock or anything else pertaining to this situation?
After several attempts of trying to explain via hand motions and few Arabic words such as la (no) and baab we were starting to develop quite a crowd. The first man tried to call over another man for help who called over another man, you get the gist. What we were really hoping is that one of the now 6 or so men around us from the neighborhood would speak a little bit of English: wishful thinking. But wait, it seemed there may be an answer. Not that we could understand what they were saying, but it did seem like they could show us: they were all pointing down the street. We aimlessly followed a man a couple hundred feet down to a key shop. Before we knew it we were being handed a duplicate key that was made in less than 10 seconds. Admitting defeat, we paid the 4 pound fee (which had been jacked up due to the obvious American innocence and stupidity plastered on our faces), said shukran (thank you) and walked back with our heads drooping to the apartment.
The key obviously didn’t fix the problem so what did we do? The little chickadees flew straight back to the homeland and called Ustaadhe on my phone (which my parents had enabled global calling for emergency purposes only- sorry Mom and Dad if you’re reading this, it was a last resort). Acting as a translator with the man at the front desk, Lo was able to get him to come upstairs and open the door for us, which the man did with no problem at all -____- making us feel even more stupid than before.
Suffice to say that Amanda and I made our first attempt to fend for ourselves and interact with Egypt today and epically failed. We felt ashamed for not knowing more Arabic and more importantly, extremely embarrassed because of it. But hey, we didn’t come here to be in our comfort zone, we came for the challenges no matter how they make us feel. Not to worry, we aren’t anywhere near close to giving up. We wake up tomorrow to fight another day. After all, practice does make perfect, right?