Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Arabic, Arabic, Arabic

Two days ago, I made a resolution to finally get my act together and become fluent in Arabic. After years of merely dipping my toes in the language, I decided that enough was enough. How can I claim to care about the Middle East and not master it's most widespread mode of communication?

I made my resolution a few days ago, but it was only tonight that I realized how important it was. I attended a concert by a musical group called "Drums of the World" at my university, which brought together a mishmash of musicians from around the world - from Ghana to Afghanistan.

As always, I fell in love with all the different cultures on display. Because of my American/Syrian/Circassian background, I don't identify with one particular culture (like most Third Culture Kids), and I'm constantly on the hunt for the perfect culture that I want to adopt. But I've never found one. I've had periods in my life where I've been very fond of certain cultures: there was a general European phase, a Turkish phase, an Iranian phase and now I'm slowly sliding into another general Latin American phase.

But as I watched and heard the "Drums of the World" musicians up on stage, I realized that I'm never going to settle on one particular culture. I love too many people and places to make up my mind on which culture to adopt.

But what about the question of identity? Where, or to what group, do I belong?

And then it hit me. There I was trying to find myself in exotic languages and countries when I had a background in three very different cultures that could accommodate all the different aspects of my personality. I realized that I had to stop running away from myself and start immersing myself in those three cultures.

Arab culture is one of those three.

The problem is, you can't "immerse" yourself in a culture without knowing the language. So mastering Arabic is key in this new quest. And the beauty of mastering Arabic is that not only will it help me get closer to who I am, but it's a tool that'll help me on one of my original goals: working for the benefit of the people in the Middle East.

My first step in mastering Arabic has already been taken: I signed up for a Contemporary Arabic Literature course, taught completely in Arabic. Now I just have to take the next steps: to survive all the pages upon pages of reading, and actually do well in the course.

This is going to be one interesting semester.


Anonymous said...

I completely relate to this. I also used to find myself torn between three cultures (Arab,Hispanic and American) and never really figured out which one I felt more comfortable with. For now,I just embrace them all.


Nicholas Karavatos said...

Depending on context, there's often social pressure by members of one identity group or another to "choose sides." What kind of world would we have if we all refused to take sides? No in, no out; no us, no them. Can we say that "identity" as it was known pre-2000 is irrelevent post-2000? That would be revolutionary, and all identity groups (gender, poltical, religious, geographic, etc.) would fight for their turf and tug us to one side or another. When I sit down with the African-American members of my immediate family, who are we? Are there groups out there who want my family to be one or the other? Looking under the covers, multicultural platitudes don't go deep enough. We know there are struggles. However, as I trash "who's side are you on," I wonder about letting go of my class consciousness. Yes, what about class? Everytime I think "power to the people" I have taken sides with an identity group. If I takes sides in class consciousness, have I implicitly affirmed that any other identity group is validly us/them? The acceptance of multiplicity is this century's challenge. Anytime someone says, "You are _____; therefore, you must be _____ and you must think/feel _____," they separating us, not bringing us together. Everyone should have a DNA analysis to prove how we are actually very little of what we think we may wholly be, just to shake it up.

Omar said...

I'm proud of you, Nour. Language is the first (and, some might argue, most important) step in understanding a culture.
I think Pr. Karavatos has a point though. While it's really important to find your identity, you have to be careful you don't alienate yourself from who you are now in the process.
Good luck in the course. Let me know how it goes.

Ayesha said...

I think that taking an Arabic Literature course as a first step is a good decision -- of course when you have the essential background of Arabic.

The beauty of words or the literary works themselves can give you the motivation to explore more of such a rich language.

Best wishes Nour

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