Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Settling in

Well it’s been 10 days since we arrived in Cairo and Mrs C and I are beginning to settle into a routine of sorts. We were fortunate to see Eid within a couple of days of landing. Daughter of a Duck and Mrs C wrote about this so I won’t elaborate further other than to say that the streets of Nasr City really were awash with blood. The experience of Eid in a country where everyone celebrates and takes a national holiday was quite special – no need to try and book a day off weeks in advance!

The other thing about Eid is that everything shuts down for a week which gave us some time to acclimatise to our new home and surroundings before starting classes. As we had few cooking utensils, this also meant getting to know a lot of the major fast food places intimately. Given that they are so cheap (I mean really cheap by London standards) and they deliver to your door we soon became acquainted with the following outlets; Dominos Pizza, Chillies, KFC, McDonalds, Pullman , Smileys amongst others. If it hadn’t been for the kindness of strangers during the Eid holidays and being invited around to people’s houses I’m sure would have frequented a lot more. Being seriously in danger of bloating under such temptation, I’ve joined the local gym and we’ve promised ourselves to cook at home more. Good intentions and all that.

My classes at the language centre started three days ago. You have to sit a placement test so the teachers can judge your abilities. I was placed on Level 0! – the lowest possible!! (Mrs C was placed at level 5 and did a celebratory jig!). I was annoyed as the teacher only marked the first two pages and placed me on the basis that I didn’t know the words for ‘arrow’ and ‘date tree’ in Arabic (a slight exaggeration perhaps). Anyway I was more reassured when I heard that Imam Sohaib was also in Level 0 when he started and he’s been studying for years. He also reminded us of the need to have humility in our studies. I got moved up a couple of levels in the first class and am more comfortable with where I am. I should finish the first book in a month or so but my oral communication needs a lot of work – so I’m concentrating on that at the institute. For grammar I take private lessons and will pack a lot into three months. But what I’ve learnt so far is that three months won’t be nearly enough for what I want but still invaluable.

My day starts with grammar classes at 6.30am for about four hours! Ustadh Ahmed as well as being a grammarian and a specialist ophthalmologist is the sort of person who only seems to need 3 hours of sleep a day. As well as teaching me, he teaches others Arabic and medical courses. This is for 6 days a week with Friday as a holiday (i.e. for revision and consolidation). The ‘oral’ classes are for two-and-a-half hours a day and seem to whizz by. I’m trying to pick up at least 25 words a day although Ustadh Ahmed gave 80 on the first day. On top of that I have homework which takes a few hours a day. So you can see that there’s not much left in the day.

You would think that living in an Arabic speaking country that this will become second nature but the local dialect is so significantly different from the standard Arabic we’re learning that the institute teaches separate classes in the local Aamiyah dialect. It’s quite difficult to make yourself understood even if you have the standard vocab. For example the other day I went looking for a chicken to cook and asked ‘yuurid adajaj’ instead of ‘iyyaz al faragh’. It’s completely different if technically correct. In the end I cheated after pushing a wheelchair-bound Good Samaritan around for about half-an-hour (another story) and went to the local supermarket and picked up the aforementioned poultry from the local Shoprite (Egypt’s equivalent to Sainsburys). I have to learn a bit more before I chance it at the barbers – I need a trim soon and am scared something might get lost in translation (and not just all my hair). More soon. Oh and it’s still extremely cold in Cairo.


Blogger mad as a cambridge bicycle said...

Well, I was going to protest at being called 'daughter of duck' and recommend that you get to know your Hans Wehr better, when I found this http://onlineislamicstore.com/b7091.html which says that I'm actually called 'daughter of the might eagle' which isn't hugely different, if a little less knock-kneed.

ahem, if you want a literal translation, you were saying 'he wants the chicken'. which chicken, i wonder?


9:22 am  
Blogger Mr. C said...

I'm afraid i have to counter with this link. http://www.unforgettablelanguages.com/frames_a7.html

Until you can show me in Hans Wehr or other reputable Quamaees (dictionaries) you'll be forever Ducky unless you prefer Potato (Batatis)

10:51 am  
Blogger mad as a cambridge bicycle said...

thats BATTA not battuta - big difference. you can call my mighty eagle though, if you wish.

10:54 am  
Blogger Mr. C said...

Add a 'ta marbuta' you get battuta - a female duck

4:37 pm  
Blogger mad as a cambridge bicycle said...

noooo... because batta(tun) already has a ta marbuta on it therefore you can't have another one after it. and in any case, the second ta in battuTa(tun) isn't a ta marbuta, it's a ط. There's also the matter of the و after the first إبن بطوطة) ط).

get yourself out of that!

6:21 pm  
Blogger Mr. C said...

You win - Daughter of A Mighty Eagle

10:06 am  
Blogger dazey said...

lol, i really do not believe u 2.
bikey i know not wat to say! looks like ur doing ur homework alright;).

btw have we registered that this blog is 6 days old? mrC unless ur being an outstanding geek, u really have no excuse.


4:57 pm  
Blogger mad as a cambridge bicycle said...

He IS being an outstanding geek!!!

6:25 am  

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