Monday, September 6, 2010

The Day my Arabic Minor Died; alternatively titled Death by Falafel

Subtitled: A Two-Page Expose on the Reasons I dropped Arabic and the Deliciousness of Falafels

When I say the highlight of my first day at school was a falafel, I’m not saying I had a bad day, I’m saying I had a heck of a falafel. My first day was actually pretty good; I had an insightful epiphany, I cut loose the anchor that has been dragging me down for two years, Arabic, and we got our janitor fired! Ham d’Allah!

My day got off to a nervey start when I showed up at my first class and there was only one other girl there. No teacher, no other students. It was hear I first heard of Ramadan schedule. Apparently, during the holy month of Ramadan, the normal schedule goes out the window and classes start at different times than advertized. But still, my arrival time would have only put me fifteen minutes late, and there should’ve been class. That’s when I first heard of Ramadan week. Apparently, some teachers find it pointless to teach during a week when students are unlikely to show up and the adding/dropping of courses is happening at such an absurd rate. So it was a decent introduction to school in Egypt.

The real turning point in my day/life is when I got to colloquial Arabic class. See, I had signed up for both Egyptian Arabic and standard Arabic, and later found out both meet every single day of the week. I was looking forward to colloquial Arabic class because it was a 100 level course so I couldn’t be behind. The panic set in while sitting there for a half hour before class started (thanks again to Ramadan scheduling) socializing with my “peers”. The girl to the left of me was reading Harry Potter in Arabic. I have friends stateside who can’t finish Harry Potter books in English. But that’s what I get for hanging out with second-graders. The guy next to me was biting his fingernails, worrying he wouldn’t be ready. I’m like bro, it’s an introductory course, there is no such thing as ready. Then he told me a year’s studying of standard Arabic was still required. No big deal, I had studied it for two. Then this guy goes on to say how at the University of Chicago (never heard of it) they have Arabic class five days a week, and in addition to that have two hours of conversation with their professor a week. This surprised me, because if I said all the Arabic words I know three times in a row it wouldn’t take up five minutes. The same kid went on to say how he has forty hours of math homework a week. Class began before I could ask him when he finds the time to Facebook and play FIFA and do other things necessary to sustain life. Class was pretty much exclusively in Arabic, and I couldn’t follow so I had a lot of time to think. And it occurred to me right then and there, crystal clear, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Arabic.

Travel blog pioneer Mark Twain once advised, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” And that’s exactly what Arabic was in danger of doing. I came to Egypt to get an unforgettable experience, and studying Arabic every night for five hours would be an experience e I would want to forget. Life is too short to be spent learning Arabic. A lot of respect for people who are sticking through the hard times and learning the language, I’m sure it will eventually pay dividends. But it is not like I have any plans to use Arabic in my career plans. So I think in addition to my Public Communication major I’ll pick up a Lit minor, to show future employers not only can I speak and write, but read too. Triple threat! The add/drop room was an imitation of the New York Stock exchange. People we’re just shouting classes they were dropping, and other kids would shout back they’re adding those classes and then shout what they’re dropping. After writing that I realize that’s nothing like the New York Stock exchange, my bad. To replace my Arabic classes I ended up with this International Development course (should be easy after I ran Chemonics for the summer) and this Romanticism Literature course, so expect to see a heavy Edgar Allen Poe influence of future blog posts.

In the midst of my epiphanizing, I discovered the local Egyptian place on campus. And love was born. Three pound falafel sandwiches! As in sixty cent falafels, they weigh about what you would expect, significantly less than three pounds. The falafel was wrapped in pita and covered in sauce and was one of the most delicious things I have ever enjoyed. And at sixty cents, it looks like it’ll be falafels for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Alternatively, there is the Magnum Falafel, and it lives up to the name. Coming in at six pounds (about a dollar), this is the falafel sandwich with a fried egg, beans, and french-fries packed into it. As Magnum enthusiast Phil Hopkins noted, “It’s an explosion of protein!”

A less successful food venture of mine was the ice cream soda I ordered. After embarrassing our nation in basketball (this Egyptian and Thai kid ran train over us), my friends and I went to the café for some ice cream as a pick me up of sorts. The ice cream soda caught my eye, and I got pretty pumped for it. When I ordered it, however, the guy behind the counter gave a look like I was speaking my version of Arabic or something equally impossible to understand. He went back to the kitchen and consulted for a few minutes, came out, cracked open a non-alcoholic beer, threw a few cubes of ice in there, a scoop of chocolate ice cream and stuck a straw in it. The worst thing I ever tasted. I ate it though because I have an eating problem.

On kind of a sad/happy/mixed-feeling note, our beloved, thieving janitor Mohammad was asked to hand in his mop today. At AUC, the janitors come right into your apartment and clean the common area, and will clean your room if you leave the door open. I didn’t see it, but I imagine the head janitor took the mop and snapped it over his knee, signally the end of Mohammad’s reign of terror. About a week ago Ryan’s camera had been taken, and Mohammad was the only one who could have possibly been in Ryan’s room when it went missing. Typical to Ryan’s laid-back attitude on life, he didn’t pursue it but we made sure to always leave our rooms locked after that. Ryan’s the same kid who when informed there was no food left in our apartment, just about everything was closed down on campus, and starvation was imminent, shrugged, looked at me and said, “Dude, I’m over it.” Anyways, we treated Mohammad as a suspect but continued to let him take out our garbage. Then, this morning as Richie and Mitch were in the shower (we have two showers), Mohammad went into their rooms and took two hundred pounds each. Richie walked in while he was closing the drawer Richie kept his money in, and when Richie counted it he was short. They logged a complaint, and an hour later he was fired. Swift justice! But we never got the camera or money back, leading me to assume they took us at our word that he was stealing, and fired him without any real evidence. But in all honesty there is no doubt in mind he was stealing.

I would have liked to have said goodbye and thanks, but both terms would’ve really stretched my knowledge of Arabic.

1 comment:

  1. I too have a love for the falafel and indulge myself at The Falafel House which is just five minutes from my Buffalo office. They run about $7.00 though, and I try not to get too close to anyone after I eat it, and I rarely sleep well that night, but all in all they are definitely worth it. I think that's Tahini (طحينة) sauce on them, made from sesame seeds I believe.

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