Monday, July 17, 2017

More Than a Step

I think I may have mentioned before that one thing I try to do on a regular basis is to push myself out of my comfort zone. This week, it was going on a hike. I'd been with this hiking group before, but always with at least one or two friends from the university so I had people to talk to and hang out with. A couple of times I'd looked longingly at a Facebook post announcing an upcoming hike but not being able to find someone to go with me meant I had to find other things to keep myself busy on a Sunday. Til this week.

When I'd mentioned the possibility of a hike, earlier last week, to my mother and come up with all kinds of excuses as to why I shouldn't go, she'd gently encouraged me to go. I still procrastinated, til the evening before, when I messaged the organizer and asked if there was still room. I figured there wouldn't be, and I was right, the bus was booked full, but he said to come along anyhow. Somebody was likely to cancel and then I'd be able to join them. So I messaged a friendly taxi driver who I'd done airport runs with before and I was set. 7 am I would leave campus to meet the bus.

There was no morning traffic and we found the bus quickly enough. Sure enough, 4 people cancelled and I had a seat on the bus. While I didn't talk a lot to the people in the group, most of them having come with a friend or three, I thoroughly enjoyed the solitude in the midst of dark green forests spotted with cedar and the challenge to push myself physically as we hiked up steep bits and tried not to slip down other steep bits.

By the end of the day, I was a little sunburned and a lot happy. I'd spent an entire day with strangers, listening to them speak Arabic til I was repeating phrases in my sleep, and it wasn't as difficult as I'd thought it would be.

Funnily enough, I felt the most accomplished when I took the taxi home. Uber's taxis were 8 minutes away from where the bus parked at the drop-off point and I didn't want to wait, so I headed for a main road. I asked the first taxi that slowed down if he would take me to the university, telling him it was at the top of the hill. He said sure, for $2, so I hopped in. By the time we neared the top of the hill, though, he was grumbling away that I should pay him a little over $3 because of all the extra gas he'd had to use to get that far. It was his fault, really, for not knowing the area or the university, but to keep him happy I split the difference. Mind you, all this exchange happened in Arabic.

Now I'm not fluent in Arabic by any means and I generally refuse to use the few words I do know, preferring instead to listen, smile a lot, and speak in English. I used about 10 words of Arabic in our exchange but we were able to understand each other. And as I stepped out of the car and hiked the last few steps to my room, I smiled as I realized I'd managed it all on my own.

People wonder why I've been here nearly 1.5 years and still don't speak Arabic. I live in an English-speaking environment and all my work is done in English. I know it's not an excuse, but it's my reality. I have a basic grasp of simple phrases, if I catch the gist of a topic then I can often decipher a conversation and laugh at the appropriate times, and after 10 hours of listening to Arabic I now have several sentences rolling around in my head that I don't know where to use them but I can pronounce them fairly well.

A friend has been taking lessons for 3 months and can carry on a basic conversation in Arabic with someone. I was very envious of them until I realized that I'm not taking lessons, therefore I can't just magically start speaking the language. Neither am I very motivated to study a language on my own, like my sister who's been immersed in Chinese for more than 10 years now. Though I don't speak it, Arabic is a friendly language, comforting in its familiarity, as it wraps me in memories of my childhood and teenage years when the family was still whole and my worries were minimal. The words I know are instinctive, not learned by rote, and I want to keep that romance alive as we dance back and forth, me catching a glimpse here and there of enlightenment.

So the adventure continues. This week I will workout at the gym where everyone looks like they stepped out of a fashion magazine (seriously, who wears perfume/cologne to the gym?), help coordinate a group of 37 teenagers for a science camp on campus, and go to a screening of Nour, a movie about child brides. Each experience is going to push me yet again out of my comfort zone but it's what keeps me growing and for that I am grateful.

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