That dream where you speak and no one understands

Have you ever had a dream where you standing in front of a room of people talking and no one can understand you?
I have not, but now I can semi-relate to those who have.
Yesterday I introduced myself in Arabic with a microphone to some 100 Fulbright students, professors and organizers.

The students are all going to the United States as Arabic teacher’s assistants. After most will return to the Middle East to teach English. This was the last day of their crash course in teaching Arabic. 3 other Americans and I were the hands on experience.

I arrived a few minutes early and stood in the back while the organizer of the program talked to them about tea.
When Americans go the the United Arab Emirates they are confused when people serve them tea, he said. In the United States everyone gets their own.
In Italy everyone gets to work and then go to a tea bar and drink tea together. It’s part of the culture.
Talk to the Americans about that, he helpfully advised. They’ll be interested.

After he finished talking, me and my fellow guinea pigs took front and center.
I always wonder which language people who speak multiple think in. If they form sentences and adeptly translate.
I do not speak much Arabic but for what I’m comfortable with the words come out naturally.

After the initial introductions we were dispersed to the crowds. Come here, come here.
I chose a table full of eager looking young woman.
I’m going to Northeastern, one of the woman told me. She’ll be working with my Arabic teacher from last semester, Shakir Mustafa.
Another is going to Boston University.
They’re both living in Roxbury and had heard it was sketchy.

We–me and around 30 Arab students–talked for around an hour.
By talking I mean they spouted questions at me in Arabic which I tried to answer in Arabic.
A lot were about teaching methods and what my Arabic classes were like.
They asked me what I thought about Egypt and why I came, cultural differences and specific information about the their destinations.
The point was to communicate completely in Arabic.
A lot was lost in translation.

After the formal session was over, they all swarmed us with cameras, asking for pictures and emails.

People usually stare at foreigners here. What’s your name, I would ask, before taking pictures? Where are you from? Where in the United States are you going?

One guy handed me an apple with my name carved in it in English and Arabic.

I wonder if they will have the same enthusiasm toward Americans after trying to teach them to pronounce Arabic letters for 8 months.

Back at my work our crazy-busy, people-packed office felt relatively peaceful.
I bit into my ridiculous-looking red delicious. Yumm…

Thanks Fulbright students. It was fun.


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