October 07, 2008


Lebanon's literacy rate hovers somewhere around the 90 percent. This thought comes to mind as I am standing with my sister in law in front of a road sign somewhere in the mountains above Beirut.

SIL: “Aba, aba, Abado?”
Me: “No, it’s Anata… Anathiye? No. Anadayo?”
SIL: ”Something Aba. Abadaya?”

I’ve lived here for some 18 years now, and SIL – on and off – since she was born. We speak fluent English and French and have a good command of the street Arabic. You’d think that together we’d be able to read those signs, no?

Me: “Anadaya?”
SIL: “No, it’s is not an n. If the points are up, it’s an n. They are down.”
Me: “Aba… Abou.. Abi maybe?”
SIL: ”What’s that one the end? An I? I always mix up between the two.”

We have a literate teenager with an IPod in the back, but it has taken all our negotiation expertise to convince him to get in the car and join the family on a day out.
For fear of releasing his unrelentless wrath, we dare not consult his superior command of the Arabic language, and so we employ our peace keeping skills and leave him be. There is only so much you can ask (from) a teenager.

And so we stand, and decipher.
An old man passes by.

Ya isteez, shoe isma al-daya honeek?”
Ah, yes. Of course. Abadiyeh.
We knew that. Almost.

And that is when the quote ‘Lebanon's literacy rate hovers somewhere around the 90 percent’ goes through my mind. We are the 10 percent.

What were you talking about with that man,” asks the teenager from the back, who has deemed us worthy enough to be temporarily addressed.
You think we are going to tell him? Confirm what he knew all along; that we are stupid? No way.
“We asked him whether he lived here.”

A sigh comes from the back seat.

What a stupid question. Of course he lives here. What do you think, he came walking all the way from Beirut?”
You never win.


nicolien said...

I guess that book I brought you is currently used to balance the table in the mountain-house? ;)

Raffi said...

Sietske, I know that teen at the back is feeling :) perhaps he needs a little bit of space to be with his friends and take his own decisions.

Kio said...

I simply loved it!