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Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 39, Tuesday - Muscat

First up for the morning was a test of my Arabic listening skills: could I follow a meeting about various university departments while six people debated their merits? The answer: sort of. My knowledge of the technical terms is rather limited, not to mention they were speaking Omani Arabic (which I am still adjusting to), and sometimes speaking over each other, but I was able to at least follow the debates. (They are looking for overlap between departments, and whether said overlap is valid.) I even got to contribute a little, in English (though I did introduce myself in Arabic), because they were interested in how the University of Washington handles career development for students.

Day two at my desk, I am learning about the different programs which are offered through this department and what everyone’s jobs are. I have also met two more girls who work in this department, Nawal and Ibtisam. I met them yesterday and today they are going to take me to Mutrah, the old souq, and Marwa and Hameda will meet us for dinner.

I remember the souq from three years ago, although we only went through part of it then, and I saw more of it today. We started out just looking at the different items, but then Nawal and Ibtisam decided that I should have an abaya (the black outer-dress which is worn over whatever clothing you choose to wear underneath) and we spent the rest of the time looking for one.

We did also visit the gold souq which literally glows from the yellow reflection cast by the lights playing off the pieces of jewelry in the windows. You see store after store practically dripping with gold as you wind through narrow ally-type walkways.

By the time Marwa and Hameda met up with us, we had still not decided on an abaya, so they said they would get me one later. I promised to wear it if they did.

Marwa, me, Ibtisam, and Nawal

We had dinner at a cafĂ© by the souq and near the water. We had shwarmas (sandwich with Arabic bread and roasted meat) and fresh fruit juice. I have been drinking a lot of fresh apple juice here, which I love. You can get almost any kind of fresh juice you want, which I think is great. I wish we had that more in the US.

After dinner, we got ice cream and walked along the waterfront a little bit. It was the perfect temperature for walking around a little and a beautiful area to walk through. Plus the company, again, was great. :)
Nawal, me, Ibtisam, and Hameda
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Since I had a request on my last post to talk about the different dialects, I’ll write a little about that here. You might have noticed that I talk about “Omani Arabic” or “Kuwaiti Arabic” or the other countries versions of Arabic. Now, technically they are all Arabic, but they are all different from each other.

Sometimes it is small differences, such as how classical Arabic has a letter similar to our “j” but in some of the dialects it is pronounced as a “g” so the word dejaj, which means “chicken,” is pronounced degag, with harder or softer pronunciation depending on the region. This change is simple but can be confusing when you are listening to the flow of conversation and you hear a word that sounds familiar but it takes a moment for your brain to process the word as you heard it compared to what you have learned. This ability becomes faster over time, and while I am rather used to it now, it sometimes still throws me off a bit.

There are also bigger differences, such as when a word is completely different between different countries. For example: “to go” in classical Arabic is the-ha-ba, which nobody says; colloquially it is most common to say rohh or Omanis may say seer while in Lebanon they might say fill. There is no way around this except to learn the new word from context or by asking someone.

When it comes to the difference in pronunciation, it is easier to learn here just by listening. I discovered that the “g” sound is more heavily pronounced in Oman, while in Kuwait it is sort of halfway between a “j” and a “g.” Lebanese and Jordanian Arabic are softer and have sounds that more resemble French, while the Gulf region keeps more of the hard-sounding letters. By just listening, I am able to adjust my hearing after a few days and my understanding improves quite a bit after a week in each country.

When it comes to the variance in vocabulary, I often wish I had a colloquial list or dictionary. Since the words are sometimes completely different, it can be very hard to guess. The nice thing is that, when I do learn a new word, I hear it repeated in context which gives me a better understanding of how it is used and helps me remember it better.

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