“…human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars.” Madame Bovary
Most of the time when I speak Arabic now (both the formal and informal), I feel like speaking as a cracked tin kettle – kind of grating, I want to wince a little as I butcher what I know I want to say. My vocal chord memory – as there are sounds in Arabic that you just don’t have in English – hasn’t been as quick returning to me as, say, the vocab or listening, and I can write really well. So I’ve been embarrassed, in class, on the streets, talking to people. Because I know what I want to say and I know that I know how to say it and yet that gap, between knowing and actually forcing the sound to come out of me sounding correctly, is sometimes quite vast.
So today, I was absurdly happy, when I bought bananas. Here’s how it went down: in my colloquial class, we’ve been learning what seemed to be pretty random words – looking through my notebook, I see vocab in one day, “three, mosque, university, happy, angry, the location in Egypt for Sudanese refugees, student, skirt, table, address, envelope, and lucky.” But, over the past week, we’ve learned some pretty useful words – “banana, half, good, to speak, to eat,” etc.
And today I really needed bananas (il moz would be transliterated, I think). My usual fruit vendor guy was not there, so I looked around and saw across the street a vendor with a table full of bananas. So I went over and waited while the family in front of me bought like 6 kilos of bananas – well, maybe not that much, but it was a ton. Granted, I don’t really know how much a kilo of bananas is, but that’s what people measure here in. When my turn comes up, I step up and ask for “nuss kilo” which is half a kilo, and when he asks me again, “nuss kilo?” to verify, I replied yes in the colloquial (“aywa”). He then said to me, in colloquial, you speak Arabic good – it’s a rough translation, but even just last week I would not have understood him! I didn’t know ANY of those words in colloquial Arabic last week. So I was pretty thrilled that I understood him, at the least, and that he thought my Arabic was good, though I’m realizing now that I didn’t really speak much to him. But, people are THRILLED here when you even attempt to speak in Arabic – like they are anywhere in the world when you try to speak whatever language of the country you’re in. So I laughed and replied in Arabic, “good? a little, a little,” after which he laughed. We’re standing there giggling at each other, (well, probably I’m just giddy at someone complimenting my colloquial), then I ask, in colloquial, “how much?” and he replies in English, “normally… but today, you’re my friend,” and gave me the bananas for free!!
It was my FIRST full conversation in colloquial, the first time I understood and was able to respond in what apparently was relatively well-pronounced colloquial Arabic, AND I got free bananas. Good, good day.