Archive | January, 2013

نعجة quits Arabic

7 Jan

Once again I owe you all an apology. You may have noticed I’ve been missing in action for a semester. There are three main reasons for this:

1)      This term I have started to take shit seriously. This means not going out four nights a week. This means actually reading the “compulsory readings”. This means completing coursework before 4am when possible.

2)      This term my hair was braided and, like Samson incapacitated by a Delilah, I temporarily lost much of my creative powers along with the ‘fro.

3)      Last year I was often struck by the bizarreness of Paris and Parisian life. This year less so, which introduces the worrying possibility that I have been assimilé (NOOOOOO!!!).  I find myself ignoring people on the streets, judging strangers who do not abide by the three colour rule (Note: the Three Colour Rule states that you are permitted to wear a maximum of three colours at any given time. Underwear is exempted from this rule so long as it remains invisible. Your bag must not, however, match your shoes. End of note.) and generally feeling superior until I catch myself in disgust. I think we can all agree that this is a serious problem but don’t worry, I’m seeking medical help.

Despite my general lack of material this term, I thought I’d recount the tragicomic tale behind my decision to quit Arabic class.


‘Twas a midsummer morning and I found myself before the computer, carrying out the inscriptions pédagogiques. This included signing up to language classes and, in my clearly idiotic Anglophone mentality, I assumed that passing level one Arabic meant I could advance to level two. How wrong I was.

What I hadn’t calculated was that most students on the Paris campus have their third year abroad between level one and level two. Motivated as they are, they often spend it helping traumatized Gazan refugees or shouting political slogans in Tahrir Square, and therefore return to Paris practically proficient. I on the other hand, still find it difficult to differentiate between the letters ع (“ ‘aieen”) and غ (“ghraieen”).

I also hadn’t factored in the possibility that not everyone spends 99% of their time in level one Arabic learning how to deduce and pronounce the “déclinaison”. Comme vous le savez the “déclinaison” is the changing vowel sound at the end of a word which shows its place and function in the sentence (sujet, COD, COI… Yaaaawn). Unfortunately it is only ever needed when reading the Quran out loud. Now excuse me, but as a non-Muslim woman, I highly doubt such a situation will arise unless I find myself working undercover as a religious leader in an al-Shabaab controlled area of Somalia. Even then, to my knowledge most copies of the Quran have the vowels written in, expressly to avoid this sort of wild guesswork which might lead to an inadvertent alteration of the word of God.

All this was not helped by the fact that the Level Two Arabic teacher and I did not get off to the best of starts. My first impression of her was of a patronising, impatient, totalitarian sadist who seemed to be under the impression that we were majoring in Arabic with the minor annoyance of a full time degree in political science on the side. She evidently was not impressed with me either. “You’ve got to start working” she would say after I’d spent the entire weekend deciphering analysing and learning two texts by heart, answering three question sheets, three more grammar sheets, composing a full page summary of the texts in Arabic and *Ooops!*, forgetting to learn that by heart as well. Lazy, lazy me.

After a month of bi-weekly sessions of psychological torture I did have one small moment of glory. We were being tested one by one on the capitals of Arabic-speaking countries. The easy ones like Egypt, Syria and Lebanon had gone and someone had just got the capital of Jordan wrong. The atmosphere was tangibly tense. We were venturing into unknown territory and the interrogation was moving round the circle in my direction. The guy next to me failed to name the capital of Yemen.

Shit went down.

“Aren’t you supposed to be at Sciences Po?” she taunted, “What sort of political science institution is this if you don’t even have basic geopolitical knowledge?”

I bit back the retort that maybe if we didn’t spend 15 hours a week on Arabic we might have time to sit and memorise world capitals. Everyone looked suitably ashamed, then their gazes turned to me. It was my turn, and the reputation of our university rested entirely upon my next answer.

I looked up at our teacher who was loving this and racking her brains for the most obscure capital city she could think of. I was silently freaking out; geography had never been my thing and I didn’t watch University Challenge or Mastermind or Pointless or any of those general knowledge quizzes. What would she ask? Yemen, it had to be Yemen or one of the other Gulf States like Oman! Oh please don’t let it be Oman, I have no clue….

“What,” she said finally, with a triumphant gleam in her eyes “is the capital of Sudan?”.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA! That is NOT a question you should ask a Euraf my friend! My mouth twitched but I kept it together, formulated my reply in Arabic and asked innocently:

“Do you mean the capital of Sudan or South Sudan?”

Stifled laughter ensued from my gleeful classmates. Even the teacher smiled reluctantly.

“Alright,” she said “You’ve made your point. I don’t think I know the capital of South Sudan.”

“Well just for your information, the capital of Sudan is Khartoum and the new capital of South Sudan is Juba”

Miss Smug 2012. Insert evil laugh of victory.

‘Twas a sweet moment of success in an otherwise bleak failure of a language course. But I shall battle on! I shall return to Level One to make sure that if I am ever given the honour of leading an Eid service, I shall be well equipped to rise to the challenge! Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! For, believe it or not, this is our last semester in Paris! :O

Ps. Sorry, no pictures this time. My sister is working on some illustrations.