August 25, 2014
Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “B”. The blog Flickr is hosting an A to Z Challenge in which bloggers create blog posts based on each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. The posts begin every Tuesday and began on July 8th. I just started the challenge so I am a little behind…but I’ll catch up. Yesterday I posted my interpretation of the letter “A” – Al Ruwais, Abu Dhabi. Today, the letter “B”.
When I arrived in Al Ruwais to begin teaching, there was certainly a language barrier, not between my students and me, but between most of the adults at the school and in the community. One such adult was Barang, my bus driver.
My bus driver, Mr. Barang, was a wonderful man from Pakistan. Although he was certainly under no obligation to do so, Mr. Barang had agreed to pick me up from the hotel I was staying at and drive me to school, and then pick me up from school and drive me back to my hotel. I was not allowed to drive until I had received my resident visa. I was living at least 24 kilometers (approx. 15 miles) from my school and public transportation was not an option, as there was none.
Mr. Barang was a local school bus driver for the primary grades. However, he to pick me up every morning before his route began and take me to school. At the end of the day, he would come and pick me up after he dropped off his charges and deliver me safely back home. There was however, one teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy, little problem: At the time, I spoke only about 4 or 5 phrases of Arabic, and Mr. Barang spoke only about 4 or 5 phrases of English (maybe more).
On the way to and from school, we tried to converse, you know small talk. We managed to find out each other’s ages (me 48, him 47). I discovered he had a 23 year old son that either is a doctor, or was studying to become a doctor. For his part, Mr. Barang was able to understand that I had 4 children. However, he could only seem to remember where one of them lives (Kuwait). Additionally, I was able to put together that Mr. Barang believed that believes bus drivers in America made considerable more money than he did.
I often had to try and suppress a grin when Mr. Barang would speak to me, for no other reason than he did what I believe most people do when trying to communicate with someone who does not speak their language: THEY YELL! Here was a typical conversation:
“LA AFHAM, MISS VICTORIA!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. B. I don’t understand.”
And then came the day in which I had to travel to a town approximately 145 kilometers (90 miles) away. Mr. Barang was to be my driver. The afternoon before we were to go, we tried to communicate to one another what time and where he should pick me up, how long I would need to be gone, and when and where he should drop me off. We were getting nowhere. Frustrated at our lack of abilities to effectively communicate these important details to one another, we both simple huffed in exasperation and sat in silence for the 20 or so minutes it took to drive me home.
Upon arrival at my hotel, I slowly rose from my seat as Mr. Barang slowly turned to face me. We smiled weakly at one another. Here is how the conversation went:
“6:40 TOMORROW MORNING, MISS VICTORIA?”
“Maafi mushkillah, Mr. Barang.” (No problem)
“WAIT FOR YOU AT TOWN?”
“Na am, shokran.” (Yes, thank you)
“BRING BACK HERE AFTER?”
“Na am, Insha’Allah” (Yes, God willing)
“THANK YOU, MISS VICTORIA”
“Shokran, Mr. Barang. Shokran.”
We did it! We had communicated with each other.
That, dear Readers, was the first of many conversations in which I spoke Arabic. Now, looking back, I can see that most everyone I came in contact with did their level best to communicate with me in my own language, English. While I was desperately trying to learn Arabic so that I could communicate in theirs. Now that’s the kind of communication problem I can really dig! Peace, ~v.