I’ve welcomed chaos into my life whole-heartedly over the past few years. Car breaks down, casual. Lose a couple hundred bucks, casual. Miss my flight to Cairo because I think we’re leaving the next day, CASUAL.
Now, now, don’t worry – I’m typing this in our apartment in Garden City (which will most likely be nicer than any apartment I will live in the US), so I only almost royally shattered my summer. But looking back on the last 24 hours, I must say, missing my flight was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to a linguistically-challenged person such as myself.
People assume I can speak Arabic. Well. This is one of the more funnier things I have heard because not only do I struggle with my household language, Tigrinya (spoken in Eritrea – I’ll give you time to look it up), I sometimes find it difficult to coherently speak English. I can read and write in Arabic, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about letting myself sound like a ferrel child raised by wolves that really just turns me off from speaking in public.
I’ve always thought Fate works in strange and great ways, and she started to do her thang by seating me next to an elderly woman on my flight from Washington, DC to New York. The woman spoke zero english. She mobilized only through a wheel chair and was travelling alone. Her clothing and appearance told me one thing – this woman is Eritrean. And if you know anything about Eritreans, it’s that we all know each other and every person is either your cousin/aunt/grandma. Within seconds, I became her translator. Yohana, who has failed to say a word in Tigrinya for the last 5 years, is suddenly fluent. Yeah, I had to use numerous hand gestures and she giggled at my noun choice a couple times, but the point was that I was communicating with another individual in another language. The fear and embarrassment that usually strangled my vocal chords decided to let go. And guess what, she was going to Cairo too! It was only a connection, but I stayed with her and guided her throughout the airport, translating her needs and relaying vital information. She says it was her lucky day to be sitting next to me, but I think it was mine.
This new found ability to conquer my fear of speaking foreign languages comes at the most opportune time. If I want some shawrma, I’m gonna need to be able to say I want some shawrma in Arabic. I’ve realized in the very short time that I’ve been here that without Arabic, I will be the 2 legged version of Bambi. I may not be able to hold a conversation with the water delivery boy, but at least I can ask, ما اسمك؟ – what’s your name? “Aman.”
Hello Aman, you are my new friend.