I have started an entirely new subject from scratch. Language is always tricky, and Arabic is known as one of the more difficult languages to learn. I’m fortunate enough to have patient teachers and dedicated classmates that spur on my learning here in Ibri. As a result, on the ten-minute bus ride home, I’m in a whole new world as I sound out the Arabic script on all the buildings and billboards. In class, I’m giddy when I get something right and turn beet red when I say a word the wrong way or say something ridiculous or completely inappropriate by accident.
I had forgotten how rewarding learning a language can feel. These lessons are refreshing compared to the rigorous, stressful experiences I had in my Spanish classes. Often, I was an anxious, ball-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach student who studied for days toward the next test and then forgot what I had learned the next week. I stopped studying Spanish because I associated it with failure and frustration and hit a plateau in learning. Now, the child-like atmosphere (while sometimes reduces me to toddler age) rekindles confidence in my abilities. The language is beautiful to write and I’m excited to say after two weeks I’m able to form sentences with the all-new Arabic alphabet!
That is not to say I’m not exhausted after five straight hours of Arabic every day. Sometimes I go to sleep sounding out every word I’m thinking. “I’MMMM TYYYYEEE YERRRRD”. Other days, I’m massaging my temples after attempting to correctly pronounce the letter ع (“ein”).
Many of the students here have been studying Arabic for years and still have trouble with reading and pronouncing words. But, the atmosphere of encouragement and hard work ethic is contagious and so we carry on in Ibri learning and practicing Arabic.
One of these opportunities to practice is with my language partner. We meet twice a week for an hour to speak Arabic, hangout, and work on my homework. She is sassy and encouraging and I’ve loved hearing about her husband and her daughter. Every time I open the door to my apartment she looks excited to see me, flashes a full smile of turquoise braces and we kiss on both cheeks before I lead her inside. Today, she brought homemade Karak tea and we sipped and shared about our days while munching on biscuits. I have not met many Omani women and feel so blessed to hear and share stories with such a patient friend — even if she is tough on grammar.
My favorite aspect of Arabic by far is the writing. Last week, we had a lesson on calligraphy from an artist named Mohammed. We all watched in awe as his wrist and fingers slowly and carefully moved his pen over his paper. Loops and curls with such intentionality formed letters and words in six different styles of Arabic script. Arabic is as much an art form as it is a communication device. We attempted to repeat and replicate his letters but came up empty handed compared to his beautiful pattern. Because of these experiences, I am feeling confident and optimistic about learning a foreign language again —- and و (pronounced “wow”) it feels good.
Friends, I’ve moved! The city lights and seaside views are no more in this small, interior town called Ibri. The desert dust seeps into my apartment and my sense of direction is all turned around – although if you know me, it may not have been there in the first place. I know that Saudi Arabia is one way, and Yemen the other. Needless to say, shifting from Muscat has been a bit of a challenge. But, the prayer call remains the same and I am more certain I will have more and more conversations with Omanis and others who have settled in this rocky, traditional town because of the language skills I will be learning here.
The next six weeks I will be studying Arabic at an institute about a forty-five-minute walk away. I’m sharing an apartment with three other students from the United States and a wonderful Irish woman who has just spent the last seven weeks in India. We are all so passionate about learning the ancient language, and as we walk from place to place with our hair flowing wild, it is painfully obvious that we don’t necessarily belong here. Yet, having a bit of a crew has been refreshing.
Roof top classroom/ lunchroom
View of Ibri from the roof of the school.
On the first day of school, we were picked up at 8:00am and driven by bus to the institute. We had some Omani style Cardamom coffee and Karak tea (sort of tastes like sweet chai—yum!) and settled into the space before those who have some experience with Arabic took a placement exam. David, another Hope student, Éabha, my Irish roommate, and I skipped out because we had too little or zero (me) Arabic experience and decided to venture about outside.
We marched down the road and came across a group of Omani men standing in a circle under a roofed ring. As we approached, the bleeting of goats and the booming shouts in Arabic revealed we had entered an auction. Goats of all sizes were being dragged, tugged and carried about by men of all ages. One man welcomed us in with a crooked-toothed smile and invited us to take a picture of his prized goat. I was distracted by the baby goats running after their mothers and whining for their morning snack. Older men smiled and joked with their neighbors, while the man in charge of it all recorded prices and names in his book.
Every morning this business goes about in Ibri. These goats aren’t pets, rather the next meal, but it is remarkable to think that this trade has been going on for centuries. Maybe, it has been happening in this same spot near my school. I think one of the highlights of living here will be to walk through the community near the school and remember how old the world truly is. We are surrounded by mountains that were once flooded with sea water. Now, they boast beautiful layers of color from oranges to purples and greens. A geologist’s paradise—and now my new home! I cannot wait to soak up the details of it all, although it’s going to be pretty dry for the next six weeks in Ibri.