Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 16, 2007
It happened again – twice last weekend, in fact.
The first time, I was shopping at the local grocery store. I was standing in the housewares aisle debating whether to buy some locally made items as stocking stuffers, when a young girl ran past.
She was around eight years old, a charming brunette in a dress and wire-frame glasses. She was out on a shopping excursion with her dad, and she was having a ball. As she ran past me in search of something or other, she called back a continuous stream of Arabic chatter to her father, who answered her with a big smile in his voice.
Then he saw me, and suddenly the unsolved problem of Lebanese identity reared its ugly head. He switched to English mid-sentence, and I watched as his daughter’s step faltered.
She half-turned, clearly wondering why her father had suddenly changed languages – not simply adding a word or two of English, but making a definite switch. I wondered as well, but I doubt we reached the same conclusion.
Why do Lebanese people care so much about demonstrating their language skills in front of foreigners? This man and his daughter weren’t speaking with me. I’ve never seen them before, and I am certainly in no position to judge their language abilities.
Nor did I appear to be anyone of particular substance, pawing through the mug assortment in grotty braid and gym clothes, in hopes of finding the Starbucks mugs I had seen there several weeks previously (yes, real Starbucks mugs although judging by the $2 price tags I doubt that Starbucks sanctioned their sale). Why did he care whether I knew that the two of them can speak English – and why place so little value on Arabic?
The same thing happened the following day. I stopped in the women’s locker room on my way out of the gym. As I stopped to say hello to the attendant, I could hear a mother talking to her children in the lounge area – talking in Arabic.
The mother was seated on the couch with her toddler son, trying to put him in a sweater. His older sister – three, four years old – was across the room, changing the channels on the television. As I walked in, the mother looked up at me and … suddenly switched to English.
The little boy dropped his arms and looked up at her, confused. The girl stepped back from the television and turned toward the couch, surprised. When they noticed me and made the connection, I cringed.
What lesson are these parents teaching their children?
Posted in Arabic, Beirut, childhood, education, family, London, parenting, words | 3 Comments »
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 18, 2007
My friend S has a theory as to why Gemmayze is such a hotspot in Beirut. Its not the ambience or the location – its the name.
“Jum-MAY-zee”, he says, emphasizing the hard “J” in the way of Jordanians who haven’t adopted the “zh” of francophone Arabia.
He may be right – I certainly do like the way it rolls off my tongue.
And yesterday evening I liked the way it welcomed me and my friend M, newly returned from a long stint in the Gulf, to “our” bar, where the waitstaff all share the same name and a little discreet pouting always gets us our favorite table.
(technically named Gouraud, after one of the Mandate-era high commissioners, while the actual Gemmayze Street is a small side street that no one knows)
my handbag, ready for a glass of wine
Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, friends, Jordan, Lebanon, London, neighbors, nightlife, photography, women | Leave a Comment »
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 23, 2007
Serendipity enters one’s life when one least expects it.
Yesterday I took advantage of a long layover at Heathrow to wander slowly through Borders’ aisles. Many books called my name, but only one found its way into my carry-on bag: Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House.
In the tradition of A Year in Provence and other similar books, The Caliph’s House tells of Shah’s experience relocating to Morocco, buying an old riad in Casablanca, and restoring it – or at least restoring it to inhabitability.
I began reading with the assumption that Shah was a British subject of Indian (Muslim) heritage, based largely on his name (Tahir means “pure” in Arabic) and his wife’s (Rachana, an Indian Hindu name and one, incidentally, shared by one of my favorite college professors.
Soon, however, Shah disclosed that he was Afghani British, not Indian. Hmm, I thought.
He mentioned his father’s regret at having raised his children in a quiet English town rather than in the Hindu Kush, where he had spent his own childhood. Interesting, I thought. Sounds a bit familiar.
Finally, he noted that Morocco held particular fascination for him because his father’s father had moved their after the death of his wife, a Scottish aristocrat known as Bobo. Ahaaaa, I thought. I know who you are!
Tahir Shah is the brother of Saira Shah, whose book The Storyteller’s Daughter started my books around the world posts.
The book was good on its own – a well crafted read and a thoughtful narrative made all the more interesting by the fact that Shah was neither a total newcomer to Morocco nor a complete outsider (he might not be Arab, or Berber, but as a Muslim and a sayyid he is certainly within the community of the faithful).
My reading of The Caliph’s House drew extra richness from all I had learned about the Shahs’ family from The Storyteller’s Daughter. I love literary families – the way individual family members’ memories resonate with one another’s, even when they do not agree. (For example, I think no one should read Edward Said’s Out of Place without also reading his sister Jean Said Makdisi’s Mother, Teta, and Me.)
I read The Caliph’s House all in one gulp, bookended by two venti Starbucks teas, as my layover flew by.
Posted in Afghanistan, Americans, books, home, India, London, Morocco, mosque, religion, time, travel, women, words | 4 Comments »