It’s been a little while since last I wrote – I have been very busy, especially with the start of my classes.
They’re going pretty well so far. They’re from 9am to 1pm, Sunday to Thursday (since Friday is the holy day here). Four hours a day is quite a lot, especially when you consider I only had six hours of Arabic language a week at Durham. They do give us plenty of breaks throughout the four hours, so it doesn’t become too strenuous. Fortunately we are allowed to eat and drink at the university, even during Ramadan – so today I enjoyed a nice cold Mountain Dew in class!
The most notable difference between my classes here and at Durham is that here approximately 99% of every word spoken in class is in Arabic and the teacher insists we only speak Arabic in class. Even when the teacher gives us a new word, she explains its meaning by using other Arabic words and she will sometimes ask us what a word means and even though we know the English translation we still have to describe it in Arabic. It can be difficult at times, but is definitely the most effective method of teaching Arabic.
Since starting classes the difference in the language used at university and on the street has become even more obvious. In English there is a similar difference, but in Arabic it is more like a different language entirely that is used on the street. So for almost every word in Arabic that we learn in class we have to learn it’s colloquial equivalent. For example: “How are you?” in Standard Arabic is “Kaifa Haluka?”, but on the street it’s “Shlownak?”.
Today in class the teacher told us that near to Damascus, about 20km on the way to the airport, is actually the largest restaurant in the world, featured in the Guinness book of world records. The local Arabs tell me it has space for up to 6000 people! It’s a place called “Booabat Damasq”, which I think means the “Gates of Damascus”, and they serve food there from all over the world. I shall definitely make a visit at some point as I really fancy some good Indian food, which unfortunately I cannot seem to find anywhere in Damascus.
I went to the same Protestant church again yesterday, Jesus Light of the World, and this time they had an international music group visiting that led the service, with people from America, Britain and various other parts of Europe. The “sermon” was led by the American amongst them – a guy from Alabama. Part of his sermon was actually reciting in its entirety the famous “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and reciting it in the same fashion that Luther King Jr. would have done – so his talk was extremely energetic to say the least! There was then a huge positive response from the congregation and they absolutely loved it, especially when he said, “God has a dream for Syria.” The preacher went on to explain that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed just months later, yet his dream did not die. Then, when the preacher said that Jesus was also killed but he rose again and that God’s “dream for us” is still alive, the congregation burst out into applause. It was really quite moving to see so much Christian energy and faith alive here in Damascus.