Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pictures Time!

Okay, so I think it's time I showed you a few pictures, world, no? Just a few, k? Here you go. Enjoy!

Remember how I said this city I'm in is built on 7 hills (so they tell us -- but I fully believe it) and that it's hilly all over? Well, here is the proof.

Try counting the stairs! In reality,
it's at least twice as many more as what you see.
The Middle Eastern version of Taco Bell :D (I half swear.)
Now, remember when I sad I curled my hair?!?! Yeah, well, take this: 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Middle Eastern Hospitality!!

EDIT: The country I'm referring to here is Jordan.

YOU GUYS!!!!!!!!!!!! I had the BEST day of my lifetime!!!! ‘Hamdulilllah! (No, no, I really, really think it was the best day ever! Not just “one of the best”!)
Okay, so here’s what happened.

Today, a group of my friends from CLS decided to go to this agricultural city here in the Middle East (RE: Since I don’t wanna name the country, I’m just gonna use “Middle East” instead of the name of this country, k?  You understand. Shukran jazeelan.) This city was the capital of the Ottoman Empire in this region of the Middle East, so it has historical significance as well. But blah blah blah on that. Lemme get to the story. Oh, but before that, lemme say that we had to leave really early, which means waking up extra early, even though today (Friday) was and is the only free day we’ve had and will have for another 2 weeks or so, because most stores, etc. are closed on Fridays here, since this is a Muslim country and weekend here is Friday and Saturday. So we decided to wake up early to leave early. But then more people requested to join us, and for that, we took a bit longer. And I, too, woke up 30 minutes later than I’d set my clock for, because I was too tired from the day before. What we did and where we went the day before is a whole ‘nother story to be told in another blog post—soon, inshaAllah, I promise! :D But for now, get this:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Typical CLS Schedule

So, CLS is an intensive program, and we were warned about that long before we accepted their scholarship. So far, I have no complaints, even though we get little time to ourselves. The teachers are ammmmmazing; I haven't heard a negative thing about any teacher from anyone as of yet. The classes are fun, and the "speaking partners" (will explain in a sec who they are) are sooo much fun to be with and they're very helpful.

Basically, we were divided into 2 groups, group A and group B. Group A = those students studying at the level of Intermediate 5 and above, and group B = those studying from Beginning to Intermediate I. I'm in group A, and here's what my schedule looks like. It's not the same every single day, but I'll just tell you what it's been like so far. ... Oh, and why am I telling you this? 'Cause I feel like it. (Shoot. There's a word for this in Arabic... learned it yesterday, but clearly, it didn't stick in! It should be in my notes somewhere. I'll use it on you later. Mush mushkil (no worries).)

7-7:30am - wake up and get ready
7:30 - 8am - leave for the center (the one right up the street) to eat breakfast and socialize a bit (and talk in Arabic only :S We signed a language pledge the other day to talk only in Arabic during all program activities. It's actually not bad, even if it means a lotta the time Qrratugai has to be quiet 'cause she can't say what's really on her mind.)
8:00am-ish - take the bus to the center where we're studying Arabic (it's about 10 minutes away by bus)

8:30am - Fus'ha (Modern Standard Arabic) class
9:30-9:40 - break
9:40 - 10:30 - continue Fus'ha class
10:30 - break
10:45ish - 12-ish Media class (it's basically reading from this media book with a lot of text with questions following it and all. It's basically written Arabic that appears in the media)
12 - 12:45 - LUNCH (we've been trying different restaurants close to the center every day :D They're sooo good! And the foood... OH EM GEEEE! I love, love, looove Middle Eastern food more than I ever did before! :D I should like take some pics and make you jealous by posting them here in the blog, no? k.)
12:45-1:50-ish - 'Amia class (spoken/colloquial Arabic, with a focus on the dialect of this country)
2 - end of classes at that center
2-3 - break time for me. So far, I've just been spending 50 minutes of this hour figuring out what to do during that time that won't involve Arabic, haha. And then next thing I know, it's 3 o'clock!
3-3:30 - conversation with my speaking partner. You see, we have these really awesome speaking partners who talk to us *only* in colloquial. If we use fus'ha with them, they correct us and teach us the colloquial words/expressions. They also take us around the city (so far, only the city; haven't the time to leave the city just yet, but this Saturday is our first trip out, ka khairee! :D) and show us around and all. We get to ask them for nice restaurants, salons, malls, etc. And, so, during the conversation we have from 3-30:30 (some people's is from 3-3:30; others from 3:30-4, and it goes up to 5. And about 7 people share the same speaking partner.) Since I'll be using her name often, I'm sure, lemme tell you that her name starts with M. So let's call her M, k? And damn - she's gooorgeous, mashaAllah! But then again, we think all the women of this country are beautiful, LOL. They really are! And their make-up?! Oh God, it's to die for! It toootally goes with them... as opposed to women from many other places around the world, who shower themselves with make-up and still look ugly. I've never been a fan of make-up, but I may change my mind after I visit some salons here :D Starting in a couple of days, ka khaireeee! :D Oh yeah, and our topic of conversation today was: Salons! Learned all the things I need to know to visit a salon -- for now, anyway.
3:30-5: Brreeeeeeeakk!!!
5-6: Al-'amia class (colloquial/dialect). It's an extra class that we were to have all this week only. Today was the last day. We learned terms/expressions that have to do with getting/giving direction to a place (left, right, "keep straight for a loooong time," near this particular center, etc.). Since Ahmed is a common name all over the Muslim world, I guess I can tell you that our teacher's name is Ahmed for this class. He's also a speaking partner for another group of people. He's sooooooo funny! He claims he can't flirt, but, girrrrrl, he tooootally was on the roll when he was showing us how the girls of this country (or Arab/Mid Eastern girls in general, I am sure) want and expect to be treated and where and all. It was more a cultural lesson. Hilarious stuff, I tell you. He and M. acted for us, and it was so cool!
6-7-ish - dinner!!! In case I haven't said this before, the food is too delicious for me to describe it! Ahhhh!! We had a special chef, popular around the country, come to this place to cook just for us, we were told :) He's talented! Tf, tf, mashaaaaAllah.
7-12-ish: Work on homework/studying, lol. No, seriously, it does take that long :S Takes longer sometimes, even! But it's not like all we do is homework during that time.We take breaks, and we talk and socialize and laugh like crazy, and I sometimes chat with friends and family in the U.S./Pakistan in between. But it's fun to do homework together, so 4 or of 5 people in my class and I usually do it together.

Oh, and yesterday, between 7:30 (I think ... or maybe 7?) and 9:30, I went shopping for a jacket. I think by now, most of the students in the program knew I needed a jacket :p it was funny :D I mean, whaaat - it's rrreally cold here, especially at night. For me, anyway. (Remember: I'm tiny, so the little meat I do have doesn't help me much.) I wanted to get some nice hijabs and hijab pins, too, but guess what!! Some of the stores were selling hijabs for 38 dinars :| Like, what the hell! The hijab pins were cheap, though, or I thought they were - till a friend told me you can get 10 of them for a dinar in Downtown. I got 5 for a dinar in that one shop. It didn't have the dangling ones that I couldn't wait to get and still can't wait to get, so I still have to go shopping for those soon. So, yeah.

I think that'd be all for now... I have homework to take care of, remember? :)

Ma' assalaaaaamah!!

P.S. Sorry about such a broad title for this post ... I still don't wanna name the country, so I have to say "Midd East" until I tell you (or until you guess, whichever comes first, haha) which country it be, k?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Loving the Middle East!

Okay, so, I just discovered something that I had refused to believe for the longest time: colloquial (spoken/informal; "aamia" in Arabic) Arabic is almost nothing like formal Arabic (or standard; "fusha" in Arabic), and it's like an entiiiirely different language! Very few phrases and words, as far as I have learned now, are actually the same or similar :S Most bear no resemblance whatsoever! And who follows grammar rules, lol. It's lovely, though, I have to admit. A teacher of mine who has studied in Egypt and is fluent in both fusha and Egyptian dialect once told us that when he went to Egypt with the CASA program, he was totally lost in Egypt when he found out that the language he'd learned, the Arabic he'd spent three years studying and learning, was actually not spoken anywhere. I'm lucky in that at least I was warned in advance, but my poor teacher said he hadn't even been told that!

So, note to those interested in learning/studying other languages: understand that there's a huge difference between the language that people speak and the one that they write.

I'm also fortunate in that the people here, unlike most of those in Egypt (from what some of the students here have told me), are actually very friendly and understanding, and if they realize that you're speaking fusha with them, they'll teach you how to say what you wanna say in colloquial. In Egypt, I hear, they'll just laugh and say, "Quit it already. That's not Egyptian. Stick to English!" (LOL?! I know!) and they'll just speak English with you. Here, I haven't come across anyone who's like that; in fact, they'll stand there with you the whole time as you struggle with figuring out how to say something, whether in colloquial or formal! And they'll smile so brightly when you finally make it (lol!) and they'll even tell you how beautifully you spoke :D They love it when you talk to them in Arabic! :D Of course. Who wouldn't love hearing their language being learned by foreigners? I love, love, loooove it when a non-Pashtun speaks to me in Pashto, too.

Yeah, so, yesterday, we were touring the  city and went to the university. There, we encountered a few people who had musical instruments with them, and we were like, "We wanna hear you guys play!" We had with us what our program calls a "speaking partner," who is basically our tour guide and all. And so she taught us how to say that in (colloquial Arabic). The guy who agreed to play for us was like, "No English! Ask me in Arabic." And so we asked him in Arabic. Since we're learners, our accent was too English, and so he was like, "No, try again." Since I was taught to read and write Arabic from a veeery young age (something I'm soo grateful for right now!), and since I was taught tajweed rules (i.e., rules of reciting the Qur'an properly) by a teacher who wouldn't let us sleep until our tajweed was perfect, my Arabic speaking skills are pretty strong. It's just grammar at this point that I'm tryina learn desperately 'cause, BY GOD, Arabic is a difficult language! :S Anyway, so my point was that when I spoke up and begged him in the accent he wanted us to talk to him in, he was like, "You're Arab?" And I said, "Na, I'm Pakistani." And he played for us! I didn't record it, but I totally will the next time I see him. (I think chances are high, yeah?)

Moving on to the exciting stuff!! Did you know that this city that I'm in is built on seven hills?! No wonder it's soooo hilly, and in many parts, they even have these loooooooooooong stair cases -- long = over 60 steps, I must say! :S Great way to lose weight for those interested in doing so ... but I'm not one of them. :'(  AND it doesn't help that my hotel room is on the third floor, and even for that, I've to use a loooooot of stairs! Yes, there do exist elevators around here, and in this hotel, too, but unfortunately for sweet innnocent me,  the elevator doesn't stop at exactly my floor. Explaining that will take time, which I don't have at the moment, so that'll have to wait for another time.

Food is sooo good and cheap here!! I mean, roughly speaking, you can get a great meal for a price as low as 2 dinars!!! (I think 1 dinar = 1.8 U.S. dollar) Electrical stuff, though, including mobile-related goods (e.g., phone cards) are not cheap. And texting and long-distance calls are very expensive as well.

So, yeah :D That's all for now, folks! I'll talk about my classes in the next entry -- inshaAllah! Today was our first day. They were mumtastic (haha!! Get it? "Mumtaz" in Arabic = "excellent," "beautiful," "awesome," "great," etc.) I'm growing to love the language more than I did before, and I thought I loved it to the limits before!

k, more later.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Back from Swat (Pakistan)!!!!

Hello, hello, HELLLLLLLLLOOO my beloved readers!
Guess who went to Swat this summer and got back last night!!! Well, yes, that'd be me ... hence no blog posts or comments on anyone's blogs and all. In case you can't sense the excitement, I had a bahhhlaaaast (blast)!! Eeee!! k, I can't really write much right now. Am preparing for my trip to the Middle East -- you know, the CLS thingie (I'll tell you which country once I return, ka khairee, haha!). But, yeah, I have come back with loooooooooooooads of information about Swat, about Pakistan, about the people, about my language, about everything and anything I came across. I took thousands of pictures of evvvvvverything ... why, yes, yes, including cows, chickens, drinking vessels, beds, people, mountains, cow/chicken dung, etc. My relatives thought I was crazy, but I told them that this was precious stuff, something I had been longing to see for a long, long while. I told everyone I had come to *travel across* the region that everyone claims is a paradise on earth but that I had never seen as paradise 'cause, hell, the average Swati doesn't travel like that, ok? Only visitors and tourists and other non-Swatis come to Swat to see the area. Really, when I was there back 12 years ago, rarely did anyone go for visits to the main tourist spots, like Marghuzar, Bahrain, Kalam, Malam Jaba, etc. But this time, I told everyone that it don't feel all that good when a non-Swati tells you, "OMG! You're from Swat?! No way! That's like the most beeeeautiful place on earth!" And you go, "Really? Wow. That's what everyone says, but all I've seen is Mingora and Village X -- and all that comes in between, nothing more." So the main goal of my this trip to Swat was, yeah, just touring all over it. And I saw lots at last :)

I also came back with a tonnnnn of ideas for research, some of which are too unique and important for me to share with the public, but others, I'll gladly tell you all about 'em.

Will write more later, k? If you've any questions, don't hesitate to ask the expert here! :D (umm, yes, that'd be me.)

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