Before we got here, I had grandiose visions of learning Arabic: soon I would be communing with passersby, inviting casual acquaintances over for dinner, immersing myself in the culture through my mastery of Arabic. My goals have diminished remarkably. My new goal is to master the alphabet by the end of the year. People avoid sitting by me on the bus as I spend the time, forehead furrowed, eyes squinting, peering out the window muttering to myself as I try to sound out the signs whizzing past us. I’ve only mastered about ten letters, so it’s a spotty affair. I hope that by the end of the year I’ll be able to look at a word and tell you what it says, even if I still have no idea what it means.
Ruth has the alphabet down pat and can even eavesdrop on Arabic conversations and get the gist of some of them. Her Arabic teacher laughingly called her “greedy” for asking for so many vocabulary words. I was drilling her on them tonight. She’s not having to learn all the vocabulary for smoking and drinking alcohol as our introductory books in Romanian and Serbo-Croatian required, but it seems like an odd set of words. Here’s a sampling: thigh, plow, suitable, button, banana, elephant.
In Arabic, banana is a mass noun—you can’t count bananas, just as in English you can’t count water.