As I looked through the text book and planned my lesson I got pretty excited. I love my students dearly; I worry about the ones I can’t get to engage with the course and I try to be the kind of language teacher that I wish I had. The book we’re working through had a reading exercise about proverbs. We could read it, and then discuss Arabic proverbs. My students would be using the new words to talk about their experiences, helping them to ‘own’ the new vocabulary and using old volcab about something new, stretching them. It would be easy to have a group discussion and we’d be able to do some good things with tenses! Plus I’d learn a bit about Syrian culture. Maybe one of them would explain the title of this post, which C and I found in the guidebook and have giggled about ever since. Oh yeah, as my predecessor taught my students to say.
The best laid plans of mice and English teachers…
We did the reading, explained the new words and then I asked them if they could tell us any Syrian proverbs. Blank stares all round, apart from Q, my favourite advanced student, who said this was a difficult thing to do. I asked them if they knew the saying ‘Climb like a cucumber…’ taking the opportunity to point out that students at the British Council bring their teachers (who earn almost 4 times as much as me) food. I don’t think my students will ever take the hint. Blank stares all-round, apart from Q, who said he thought it was an amazing proverb and asked me to write it on the board.
‘How about ”he who takes a donkey up the minaret must take it down again”,’ I asked, quickly drawing a minaret on the board. Q started laughing; he thought this was the best thing he’d ever heard. M, who I find rather harder to love, looked at me sorrowfully.’ Not a donkey, a girl donkey. A young one.` I dunno if it’s socially acceptable to leave elderly male donkeys up minarets, I didn’t want to confuse them. Instead I asked them when they used this saying, but the answer was drowned by Q.
‘Teach us more proverbs!’
‘It’s your culture (point, reinforce those pronouns), not mine. What about “we started trading,” buying and selling (complete with mime), “shrouds,” for wrapping (more mime) dead people in, “but people stopped” (they know this word, but I flail inelegantly anyway, teaching is my major source of exercise) dying!
‘Shroud, like Muqtada Sada wore,’ someone asked, referring to the Iraqi Shia leader. My students must have an age range of twenty years, but they all belong to the Al Jazeera generation ‘Yeah.’ Q always gets it, has a perfect student.
‘We use this about unlucky people,’ someone said. I thought about teaching them the English saying ‘’no shit Sherlock,’’ but I’m a nice teacher.
‘Can you think of any other proverbs?’
‘Umm, “When it was time for the sad girl to have fun, there was no more fun,’’ M supplied.
‘No,’ said Q, ‘this is not as good.’
I’m enjoying my new ‘hood. I’m much more of a novelty here, and there is much less English. I’ve found some people to watch Al Jazeera and chat in Arabic with. As always the guy who also speaks English is the one who understands me best. I know that in Arabic its Verb, Subject, Object, I know the conjugations for past and present and for the 13 different pronouns. I know the verbal noun is not the verb said really fast, though I don’t know nearly enough of them. Its just in practice that I insert Arabic words into an English grammatical frame work I put up with a baker who insists on confirming in English what I just said in Arabic, because he make delicious Iraqi bread. From the windows of my flat I can see the mountains, still snow capped, that delineate the border with Lebanon by day and the lights of the Old City and Mohajereen by night. From my balcony I can see a rubbish and rubble strewn square with a pylon. My first thought was, I admit, that Arabs don’t do scenic in the way Westerners do, but I’ve since decided that stupidity is universal and that building regulations are actually a really great idea. I console myself by watching the street sellers, a lot of whom have horse drawn carts, and trying to work out what they’re saying.
Politics are continuing. Word on the street is that Al Jazeera is being harassed. Apparently they’re only being allowed to film when they’re with the official reporters. On a more positive note everyone was given 60 minutes of free phone credit on Thursday (there are two mobile companies hear, and one of them is owned by the cousin of the president. Its offices were set on fire in Dera). This in a country where people never have units, and if they do will miss-call you in an attempt to make you pay. Everyone called home, the networks crashed, and no one could communicate about the next days protests. Then after the danger hours were over the minutes were taken away from us again, and we were told that we could have ten each month, for six months. People will say that taking them back, that tightness at the cost of public goodwill, that lack of foresight is typically Chammie. I think it’s typically authoritarian. We can’t be trusted to make the right decisions about using our units, but that’s OK, Abu Hafez is here to make sure we make the right choices.
One of my students told me of their worries of sectarian strife (I love giving my students words in English, then stealing the Arabic off them). Another is worried about terrorists. A third works in a village (it was explained to me that if you have less than 500 people you’re not a village, you’re a farm) outside of Cham where the police station was burnt down. They say it’s much less exciting than it sounds. My students are all definitely less scared than they were before, but the guy who organized the thing at the mosque I mentioned in my last post is MIA, and the whole time I’m writing I’m worrying about identifying my students, my institute and the area I work in. And as I cant say anymore without doing just that I’ll go home to bed.