Monday, June 22, 2009

Travel notes

Two days ago, I came back to the hostel at a reasonable hour for once and then got caught up in a conversation with two people staying there and Nora, my sometime roommate, for a really long time. Everyone had eventually gone to bed except for me and my friend Muhammad (or Mohammed, or any number of spellings--I don't know) when we heard the call to prayer (at about 3:45 am). We ended up going to the mosque, because he wanted to pray and I wanted to go.

We spent a long time being lost, and then we figured out where we were and got lost again, and then we found it. It was really...peaceful. I sat in the women's section, with mostly Iranian women swathed in black, and just watched and listened. There were birds flying in the rafters and they kept dropping small down feathers around me. I understood small parts of the sermon, but not most of it.

Eventually we walked back, got lost again, and finally made it home around 4:30 or 5.

The next day I moved into an apartment; the only housemates I've really met are two very studious but nice guys who are great about telling me words in Arabic and speaking slowly when I ask them to. They actually both speak good English but I've only really heard one of them speak: he says he has to speak English at work all day (he works at UNHCR) and doesn't like speaking it at home.

Yesterday was the first day I really got to use Arabic and by the end of it I felt like my brain had been stretched two sizes. I went to visit Nora at her apartment and made friends with several of her housemates--three Syrians, two with great English and one with almost none (though he does have a hookah, or arghileh as it's called here, named Shakira)--a Brit, who may be organizing some sort of local wine tasting for an article he wants to write, and a Belgian guy who's been here for two and a half years and is doing his Ph.D. in Arabic poetry. They all spoke lots of Arabic to me and got me to speak it. Then I spoke it at the cafe. Then I spoke it at Nora's house again. Then I spoke it when I got home.

I was doing pretty well by the end. I got told four times that my Arabic was good (granted, three of those by the same person) and once that my accent was good. It was a good feeling. I hardly remember any of the new words I was told, though. Oh, well. Progress by slow inches. I think I may have agreed to do a language exchange with Ahmed, one of Nora's housemates who's an Arabic teacher and is learning English.

Finally: I have gotten sick at last. Nora went first, with the typical traveler's sickness; then Merritt got some sort of horrible bug that made her throw up every 20 minutes for like two days; Ben got travel belly too; and finally, today, it's me. Woooo. I feel awful. At least I've been through this before.

I have pictures of my house and will post them as soon as I get around to putting them on my computer. EVERYONE STAY CALM.

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