A few weeks ago my host-aunt decided it time to test my knowledge of the basics. I have to admit I was a little hurt, even insulted that she didn’t find it readily apparent that I knew words like “sit, eat, walk, etc.”. Had I not demonstrated I knew these words and in fact employed them myself? Granted, I don’t speak a whole lot. In any case I only failed at coming up with one or two as she preformed the actions and asked me for the corresponding word. As she got down in a not-quite-sitting-or-standing pose she asked if I knew what she was doing, and I didn’t know the word.
“She doesn’t know squat!” she laughed over to my host mom in darija (Moroccan Arabic for those I keep confusing with my jargon). Perhaps ironically, it wasn’t until a few days ago when I was replaying the incident in my head that I realized this phrase had another meaning in English (my head is really full).
Right now my world is an ocean with huge waves in which I am bobbing up and down. Sometimes, at the top everything is clear, my language understanding is fairly great and I feel like I’m accomplishing something, meeting people and feeling more comfortable. Other times I’m down at the bottom where nothing seems clear, I’m confused, maybe taken advantaged of or insulted to my face. Most of the time I’m somewhere in the middle, there is a lot of ambiguity, and it is unclear which way the wind will take me. All of this is very exhausting and to stay afloat in the ocean of language takes a lot of effort, but I have yet to drown and I’m building strength.
On the flip side, I have started to teach English with some of the girls. This has already proven to be a great way to get to know them better as it gives me a way to interact with them where I’m in charge, particularly since it is too early for me to figure out my role. There is something satisfying in hearing them struggle with pronunciation and to gradually improve, just as I am with their language. It serves as a reminder that what I’m doing isn’t easy, and that when you step out of your mother tongue you are taking a risk of looking silly. So what if you don’t know squat, there is still time to learn!
East Coast Road Trip to Brown
9 months ago