When I lived in Alexandria, my understanding of Arabic was rather lacking in quality and in quantity, as I only used it with the servants and the hawkers.
Our main language at home was English, and second language was French. My grandfather and great grandfather (Anzarut) had attended school in Manchester (England) Manchester Grammar School, and my mum and dad had attended the Lycee Francais in Alexandria
Looking back, I feel that literary Arabic should have been part of the school curriculum right from the start....kindergarten level.
Unfortunately this was not the case, and I recall with a groan that the serious study of literary Arabic was instigated at a most inconvenient time.......a time when I found it impossible to learn or understand this otherwise quite beautiful and poetic language.
For some mysterious reason that I have never been able to comprehend, I was very good at grammar, so had high marks for dictations. I was also able to read quite fluently, but could not understand a single word....not one.
One day among others...we had to write a composition in Arabic on any subject we wished, so with my limited vocabulary which comprised a dozen or so colloquial words, I wrote two and a half pages.
It went something like this
We have many chairs (ehna andenna keteer karrassee) and we all sit on a chair, because the chair does not sit on us. The chair has four legs (arba'a raigle), we have two (etnaine).
We do not have four legs like the chair (ehna mafeesh arba'a raigle zay el korsee!). We only have two, (ehna andena bass etnain.....keffaya) and this helps us walk, but the chair cannot walk (mouche moomkenn abbadan) because it has four legs (doll keteer awee ).
etc...etc...on and on for over two pages of script..all absolutely grammatically correct (at the time).... EVERY WORD IN ARABIC.....and with absolutely no spelling errors.
In those days we had a baboolah looking Arabic teacher of more than ample proportions.
The morning after we had given in our assignment, our Arabic teacher stood facing the class, pointedly staring at me with Machiavellian eyes, an open copybook in her hand..
"What on earth is she up to" I wondered fearfully..."and why is she staring at me like this?"
I found out soon enough..my strenuous efforts at writing my first novel in Arabic had something to do with it....and I had this strong gut feeling of angst that my ten minutes of homework had not been appreciated.
"I am going to read to you something that one of you has written" she snarled with a twisted evil smile on her lips....and so Miss Farragh read my composition.
She had not even finished reading the first sentence when my classmates started laughing uncontrollably ....They were all used to my propensity towards writing outrageous comedy, as I had written a few rather amusing plays that had been performed in front of the whole school.
My school chums were rolling over with laughter, tears streaming down their face, well before the Arabic teacher had finished reading.
Miss Faragh (we all called her Miss Farkha) put my copybook down, and nearly exploded with rage. She had wanted the class to laugh at me, and not with me. She lunged towards me with a rugby tackle ...I was a tiny thing, and she was ENORMOUS !!!
It was obvious that Miss Faragh was hell-bent on turning me into a mince-meat shish kebab ! (WAHDA KOFTA KEBAB,)
Luckily for the survival of this grandmother of 6, she found it very difficult to manoeuvre the narrow aisles between our school desks.
I was terrified of her! Miss Farragh meant business! I hopped on top of the desks and jumped from desk to desk to escape certain mauling death.
My school chums were cheering me on, aiding and abetting this fugitive, by pushing their desks closer together so Miss Faragh would not get through.
Finally, panting with exertion, totally out of breath and shaking with rage, she rolled over to the classroom door, flung it open, threw my copybook out in the corridor, and in her guttural Arabic accented English roared "FOLLOW IT".
With a hop, skip and jump (Cirque du Soleil eat your heart out!!) I executed a final somersault that successfully catapulted me toward freedom and safety, and have lived NEVER to regret it!
Fortunately... in spite of the big Zero that I received in Arabic composition, this did not significantly affect my school average, due to the high marks that I attained in every single other school subject.
The End. (Khallaaas)
22 May 2009
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