Year Abroad in Syria – Day #270

31/07/2009

Day 270

I’ve been here just over two weeks now and things seem to be going well. I have settled back in and have already finished my first full week of teaching. As before, I teach six days a week with Fridays off. At the moment I teach three levels; beginners, intermediate and advanced. For the first two we use a textbook series called ‘Interchange’, produced by Cambridge University Press. Although the series is from England, it teaches American-English, so my students are exposed to both American-English and British-English. The advanced level is mainly practice in conversation and for that class I produce the material on each subject. I try to keep the topics as interesting as possible, so as to motivate the students to participate and share their own opinions. It’s a very laid back and enjoyable class.

I am of course continuing my own studies and am getting plenty of language practice. Over the last week I’ve managed to make several friends in my local neighbourhood and they’ve been more than happy to help me with my Arabic. For example, sometimes I sit and chat with a shopkeeper at this household goods store just seconds away from my apartment. I occasionally help him with English and he teaches me colloquial Arabic. It’s great for my vocabulary because every time a customer comes in I learn the name of whatever they’re looking for. I particularly enjoy the shopkeeper’s commentary on the customers after they have left. For example, he told me he finds the women customers the most demanding and picky, always wanting everything in the same matching colour. Being a household goods store, naturally most of his customers are women, shopping for dishes or clothes racks or cleaning supplies…etc., since in Syrian society this is generally the woman’s domain.

I’m happy to find that my Arabic is still improving and the more I learn the greater the enjoyment I get out of having a conversation in Arabic, especially when I manage to get through a conversation without using any English or having to ask the person to repeat themselves. Breaking the language barrier is something I genuinely enjoy and is one of the main reasons why I hope to pursue a career in translation and interpreting. It’s not easy and requires a lot of work, but I find it really rewarding when I manage to slip in an item of vocabulary, which I had just learnt, into a conversation and it’s followed by a positive response. I also quite enjoy surprising Arabs who I hear talking about me in the third person when they don’t realise I can understand them.

Not surprisingly, the weather over here has only gotten hotter. It doesn’t help that every day the city loses power for about four hours in the afternoon and then sometimes again for an hour or so in the evening. It’s especially bad when the only thing keeping you cool is a fan positioned no more than one foot away and then the power cuts – yeesh! (Or as the Arabs would say; “ya salaam!” يا سلام!).

This morning I went to a church service with two of my colleagues from Durham. I’m not quite sure what denomination it was exactly, but someone said it was an Anglican church. The services are held in English since most of the congregation is from outside of Syria, from places like Malaysia, Korea, Africa and America. The pastor and his family are missionaries based here from Australia. So it is quite an international mix to say the least. The service was not much different from the ones at my usual church, having lots of contemporary hymns, a band and lots of layman participation in the service. After the service there was a Bible study on the subject of life and death and then we were invited to a meal at the pastor’s house, where we had lots of Asian food prepared by members of the congregation. It was very delicious, especially since I can’t even remember the last time I had Chinese food.

Even though I’ve been in Syria for about nine months now, I still see and experience something new everyday. Often the experience lasts only some moments, but leaves a lasting impression, like seeing someone riding a horse down the road, in and amongst all the traffic, as if it was just another means of transport. Or, for example, witnessing a child urinating in the middle of the sidewalk with no one thinking anything of it. Something that I found particularly memorable happened just yesterday. I was walking to my lesson in Jaramana, through the blazing heat, when all of a sudden, out of what seemed like nowhere, came this heavenly music, which soared above all the other city sounds. It was coming from a loudspeaker attached to the roof of a hearse and was proclaiming the passing away of a loved one. The music was not Eastern, but rather sounded like a piece from a requiem, with a sweet chorus behind a powerful symphonic orchestra. As I watched the convoy go by I couldn’t help but feel moved by this beautiful yet tragic music set against the dirty and dusty urban backdrop of a city filled with poverty. With the sound fading I walked on to class with eyes red, partly due to the sand in my eyes, but mainly because of the overwhelming emotion. It’s moments like these that leave the most impression.

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