التعهد اللغوي: The Language Pledge

Some of the girls at Halawiat Masr (Egyptian Sweets)--my transliteration is pretty bad but that should give you an idea of how it sounds...

Some of the girls at Halawiat Masr (Egyptian Sweets)–my transliteration is pretty bad but that should give you an idea of how it sounds…

As of this afternoon I am bound by Middlebury’s famous language pledge, meaning I communicate exclusively in Arabic for the duration of my time in Egypt (again, with the exception of important communication and, we have discovered, matters pertaining to our security in Egypt). Orientation is officially over, and our classes begin tomorrow. The schedule is nice because our one-on-ones will not begin until February so we get to focus on just the Arabic for a week or two at the start of the semester and we have a bit more free time.

I really enjoyed getting to know the other students over orientation. We got along very well as a group, and I feel really comfortable with them given that I just met most of them about a week ago. Now we have a bit of a language barrier to get over as we stumble along in our as yet awkward blend of 3amiya (dialect) and Fusha (standard Arabic), so it is definitely nice that we got a chance to meet each other in English over the past week. Luckily, there are five girls here from last semester, as well as three new students who are all very able to communicate, and they are helping us along, as are our Egyptian roommates. It is a struggle, but Middlebury has provided enough support for us to get by until we are truly communicative.

So far since the pledge, a few of the girls and I went to Fathallah, which is a supermarket. There were four of us standing by a pile of drying racks, arguing loudly in what I am sure was incredibly broken Arabic about whether we should buy two now or just buy one, shop around, and find the best price for a second, and this whole scene elicited a lot of stares from the Egyptian public. But, on the plus side, we took a taxi home, and for the first time in Egypt he didn’t try to get more money from us because we were American. I would like to think this is because we were attempting to speak Arabic, whether or not our Arabic was perfect (hint: it wasn’t).

Just a warning to everyone who follows the news, especially in America: we know that there are a very high number of demonstrations and protests planned for this week. This Friday is the two year anniversary of the revolution, and it would be an understatement to say that people here are still very dissatisfied with the political situation. Clashes started yesterday in the western part of the city and are likely to continue through the weekend. Middlebury is very much on top of the situation, and we are consistently getting texts about areas to avoid. Most likely, we have been told, we will be expected to stay in our dorms this Friday, the anniversary itself, as the situation that day is hard to predict. Hopefully I will have internet throughout this time, so if you see scary news stories feel free to contact me here, on Facebook or by email, but also know that Middlebury is honestly keeping us extremely safe. For the most part, especially recently, protests and clashes take part in an isolated area of the city, while elsewhere life goes on as usual. It is that second part that is of no interest to reporters, and therefore is not always clear if you only know Egypt from the news. I will be following all program advice, and I will be safe in my dorm a lot of the time this coming weekend.

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