Posted in cross-cultural, Culture

In the land between languages

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I live in many different lands.

There are the lands of English and German.  Mostly they live peacefully side by side, allowing me to meander from one to the other and back again.  Did I read that book in English or German?  I don’t even know.

Then there is the land of “every other language I’ve ever learned (even a little bit of)”.  Yes, they do seem to congregate in one place.  Which is rather unfortunate, as in this land, sentences will come out in a random mix of (mostly) French and Russian. They seem to be quite competitive in what they’re doing.  Either both hiding or both pushing to the front, with usually the one that is not needed coming out on top.

Occasionally, I find myself in the land between languages.  The land where the thoughts that are in my brain refuse to come out in any language.  I was just there a few days ago.  Feeling a bit like a deer caught in the headlights.  Knowing I should be able to say something sensible, to express what I wanted to say.  Yet somehow not being able to.

It’s quite an embarrassing land to be in.  “Why is she not able to express herself in her own language?”.  Most people don’t understand.  I’m glad I’m only a rare visitor in this land, the land between languages!

 

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The Yellow Dress

Let me introduce you to another one of my favourite blogs: The Yellow Dress  Check it out!

It was Just Another Night in the Middle East

For a few months, I lived alone in the Middle East. I mostly loved it. [If Roommate is reading—you know I missed ya, girl.] But all the bills and maintenance were left to me. So, my guard, Mohammad [it’s his real name, but there’s no point in changing it] is this younger—my age-ish—man who I think is pretty handsome. Whenever I need something I just text him the number “6.” Within minutes he’ll be sheepishly ringing the doorbell. Usually I fling the door open and greet him like a circus clown, so excited that he’s here to fix my problem! [Side story: For maybe 4 times straight, I requested his presence because the light in my kitchen was out. And probably all 4 of those times, once I coaxed him into my door, after he propped the door open, and I stood in the kitchen flipping the light switch on and off , saying in Arabic, “I need help, ya Mohammad. There is a problem. See? There is a problem. I need help.” He would stand on a chair, tap the light bulb and… it magically went on. (Whoopsies.)]

Lucky for him, I was always baking cookies.

Anyways, on this particular night, my kitchen light was in good working order [I know, right?!] and I didn’t even text him—he came to me! I was making cookies [shocker] and as I put on a long-sleeved cardigan, scarf and sweatpants to cover my shorts and tank top, I opened the door to find that he had a bunch of bills in his hand. I could usually decipher what I was paying. I just looked for the drops of rain and knew that one was water, and electricity, well, that was the other one. But tonight he wanted me to understand something.

Let’s be honest here for one little minute: I didn’t really care. It was always about the same, relatively small amount. I just gave him the money and he went to the offices and paid the bills for me. He’d bring back whatever change there was. Easy. Finally! One thing in my life here is easy!!!

But ooohhhh, nooooo. Handsome Muhammad [can I call him that?] wants to mess everything up. We both start off with perfect attention and smiles of hope. He props open the door and keeps hitting the light in the hallway to stay on. I get my wallet and give him the amount on the bill, but he signals me to wait and listen to him. I ask him, in Arabic, “You know I don’t know what you’re saying, right?” He laughs, nods his head, motions for my silence and continues. [Oh. This is serious.] I try giving him double the amount, thinking that I didn’t pay last month, or that they’re changing it or something. [Whatever. Fix it. Want a cookie, Muhammad?]

So we proceed to stand there, talking over each other in our own languages, me trying to shove money on him, telling him he is a good man, that I trust him, and him wanting me to get it. [Since when?!]

Finally I stop him and say, “Mohammad. Come, eat a cookie. [I’m so Arab. The answer is always to eat!] I’ll call my friend.” He succumbs to three warm, chocolate chip cookies for all his trouble and I call my go-to Middle Eastern/American “father.” He’s fluent.

No answer.

Ok, I call his best American friend. No answer.

I call the only Western man I know within 3 miles of my house. No answer.

Great. [Ya know how I’ve been talking about the no husband thing? And how I have to swallow my pride and ask for help? Well, three men are unreachable. What if I was being kidnapped?!]

Then I proceed to call another American guy who just so happened to score an “advanced low” on his Arabic language skills. Congratulations to him, he’s getting a phone call from me.

“Hi Daniel,” [we’ll call him Daniel], “This is Sarah. Can you translate for me? I’ve got my guard here and he’s eating all my cookies and won’t take my money.”

Laughing, “Uh, sure, Sarah. Put him on,” came Daniel’s response.

“Ok! Thanks! His name is Mohammad,” I say.

Mohammad happily takes my telephone and I stand there. They talk and talk and talk and finally Mohammad hands me the phone with an expectant look on his face. Daniel explains that I need to pay the money and some other small circumstance that I can’t even remember now, and I yell, teasingly, at Mohammad, in English: “Ya Mohammad!! Why didn’t you just say so!!?!” Daniel’s on the phone laughing and Mohammad just laughs, shakes his head at me and helps himself to two more cookies.

Moral of the Story:
If you semi-epic-fail at speaking the language,
and asking for help doesn’t necessarily work,
just bribe and reward those around you
with possibly the best part of being American:
Chocolate Chip Cookies.

It worked for me.

And it was just another night in the Middle East.