sometimes, i'm flipping through old sketchbooks, and i'll encounter chunks of pretty nice-looking arabic script and practice, and i can't read any of it, and i remember that there once was a time when i could. i never lived long enough in an arabic environment for it to sink into my deep memory, but there are some letters that pop out at me because of how hard i worked to learn their shapes.

"م م م م" i once wrote on the whiteboard, over and over, while waiting for my class to finish their assignments so i could grade them. "professor, khallas!" one of my students shouted, when he noticed what i was doing. he ran up to the front of the room and put his hand in front of my whiteboard marker. "you'll go insane, it's good enough!" i'll never forget the mim; it was the letter on speed limit signs, which i picked out before i started learning to read the numbers.

i learned the numbers by staring at license plates while locked in traffic; my car, a cheap rental, had a six digit plate, as did most other cars. those gave me the largest opportunities to practice reading. i had some mnemonics; the thing that looked like a '3' was '4', and the thing that looked like a '7' was '6', and the thing that looked like an egg was hamsa, which i remembered because i had a student who dropped my class named hamsa, and i had a jewish friend back home who wanted a hamsa tattoo, and there are five fingers on a hand, which easily cups a single egg. i always had a hard time remembering if seven pointed down and eight pointed up, or the other way around.

i remember a moment when the letters suddenly crystalized in my head, and i started laughing as i drove past 'cafeteria nashwan', because the arabic was a literal transliteration of the sound of someone intoning 'cafeteria nashwan' in arabic, and i could finally read it and understand the joke.

#daily #q

09 February 2018 20:42

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