You may remember me saying in previous blog entries that I’ve been learning Chadian Arabic. I started almost 12 months ago now, which seems impossible to believe! However given that I was only doing a 1.5 hours lesson twice a week and wasn’t getting chance to do any more study because of my work at the hospital, progress has been somewhat slow.
A change in circumstances has meant that I am now having one lesson a week for 1.5 hours. As I’m in the habit of setting aside time for Chadian Arabic learning twice a week, I don’t want to lose that momentum. So I’m going to try and visit local ladies in Guinebor II (the village of the hospital and where I live) at the time when I previously had my second lesson of the week. I’ve enlisted the help of a member of hospital staff, Mariam, who also lives in Guinebor II and who speaks Chadian Arabic and also French. Most of the locals in Guinebor II only speak Chadian Arabic, which is one of the reasons I want to learn it.
Yesterday afternoon was Mariam and my first visit out into Guinebor II. I’ve asked Mariam if we can visit the wives and families of our staff that live in Guinebor II. So yesterday we visited the home of one of our guards. Unfortunately he and his wife were out, but his mother was around. She didn’t know we were coming, so it was probably a bit of a shock to see the Nasara (white person) turning up!
It’s not appropriate to take photos here when you don’t know people, so I’m going to try and paint a picture with words of what it was like out in the village yesterday:
Under the perpetually-blue sky of Chad, Mariam and I walk up to the house which is made of mud bricks and overlaid with plaster. It’s a rectangular building with three room in a row about 10 foot square, each with a metal door and in front of these rooms is an open veranda area, the front of which is covered with a once-red-but-sun-tarnished piece of fabric, which is blowing in the gentle warm breeze of the late afternoon. The sandy-floored yard area in front of the house is fenced off with reed mats and is open on one side, which is where Mariam stands and calls out ‘al-salam alekum’ (hello). There are several ladies and children in the yard. One of the ladies, with a small child strapped to her back with an old towel, is sweeping the sand-dust floor with a locally made brush made up of many reeds tied together. Some children are sat on a colourful mat chatting. The matriarch of the house (the mother of one of our hospital guards) knows Mariam and comes over to greet us. She shakes Mariam by the hand and the Chadian Arabic begins. By piecing together the odd word I recognise, along with her gestures, I can tell that Mariam is explaining that I’m learning Chadian Arabic and that I want to hear it being spoken so that I can get better at it. The mother shakes me by the hand and greets me, asking how I am. I reply that I’m doing fine thanks and she smiles, finding it funny, but good, that the Nasara can speak a bit of Chadian Arabic. She gestures to one of the other ladies to bring a mat. We are furnished with a large (6x3 feet) green and black mat, typical of many Chadian houses in that it’s made of thin woven plastic strings. We take off our shoes (read: flip flops) as is customary, no shoes go on mats, and sit on the ground in the yard area on our mat. In order to make the mat even more ‘attractive’, a small woven carpet is brought out and put on top and I’m told via gestures from the mum that we’re to sit on the carpet, not the mat. Mariam and the mum chat away and I pick up odd words and phrases. Periodically Mariam translates what’s being said into French so that I can follow along. Whilst the two ladies chat, I look at my surroundings through the gap in the yard ‘fence’. There are a fair few trees around providing welcome shade to the houses from the scorching sun (afternoon temperatures are now over 40C). There are many other similar houses around. People live in close proximity and there are shared toilets of the long-drop variety. The ones in this area have brick walls but sometimes there’s only some corrugated iron surrounding you to preserve your dignity! Three varying-sized goats wonder past. They must belong to someone but goats are free-range here. As were the five or so chicks that were picking around in a pile of dust. I’m brought out of my gazing around when a strong gust of wind picks up one side of the large plastic mat and it envelopes me! Cue some ladies strategically placing some nearby large stones on it to keep it in place on the ground. There was a nice warm breeze blowing during our visit, but given that it’s not rained since the start of October, wind here always means dust. A bit later on, two men walk past in the distance selling their wares. One is selling football shirts, displaying them on coat hangers and carrying them at shoulder-level so as to make sure they’re visible to potential purchasers. The other man is pushing a small two-wheeled cart, on top of which are some locally made sweets that look like seaside rock but are much softer. They are ambling along chatting to each other when all of a sudden they stop, look behind them and then turn back to the house they’ve just passed. Someone wants to buy some sweets and has called them over.
At this point, Mariam and the other lady decide they’re going to test me on my Chadian Arabic. ‘Da cenu?’ (‘what’s that?’ they ask, pointing at a tree). I reply that I know, but I can’t remember which the plural version is and which the singular is! They help me out and then point to the dog that’s been lazily sleeping behind us the whole time. I always mix up the word for dog (kalib) with the word for book (kitab) and of course, I said the wrong one! The next thing they point to are the chicken. Ah ha I think, I definitely know this one (at the start of lessons with our teacher, chicken was one of the first words we learned and so with our limited vocabulary, whenever the teacher asked us what we’d eaten that day, or what we’d bought at the market, the answer was often chicken, as we didn’t have a great repertoire of items to say!!). I got that word right and the mum smiled broadly and shook my by the hand as a way of saying ‘well done!’
They both encouraged me a lot during our time together and said ‘you will get there’.
After an hour on the mat, it was time for Mariam and I to leave, as it was going to start getting dark. We thanked the mum very much and walked the 5 minutes back to the hospital together along the dusty tracks.
Hopefully this will be the first of many visits to some of the ladies of Guinebor II :)