Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ah, A Little Saliva Never Hurt Anyone

I just had something so shocking and incredible happen that I just HAD to share it with you right away. This morning I got up and pulled out my last clean shirt when I found that it had not fared very well during the trip to Cairo. The shirt had so many wrinkles it, it resembled a crumpled up ball of aluminum foil. I knew we had an iron in the laundry room here at Dawson Hall so I made my way in that direction.

On the way, I passed the common kitchen where Nadia and Marsa, (Her name is Martha, but in Egypt the TH sound has devolved into the S sound. We spent an hour studying this in Arabic class one day.) our two cleaning ladies, were working in the kitchen. They are always ready to help with Arabic but until today most of what they said completely passed over my head. They both greeted me enthusiastically with “Sabal Il Here!” [Good Morning!] And I responded in kind. Marsa handed me a fruit to eat, which I tried and found to be very sweet. Later I found out it was a date. I then got a lesson in how to say the names of various fruits. I learned the words for pear and banana. Most of the words they spoke finally had some sort of meaning and the words I spoke, they apparently understood. This is a marked improvement since two days ago, when I stood there baffled with my arms in the international “I don’t know,” position. I understood when they told me I was doing well. I tried to tell them they are good teachers, but that didn’t translate well because they started talking about the school where we live. I thanked them for my lesson and the “bela” [date] and then made my way into the laundry room.

I found the gigantic iron sitting in its cradle, on top of the ironing board and plugged it in. When I ran the iron across my shirt, despite the fact that the iron was piping hot, none of the wrinkles came out. Oh, the iron must be out of water I thought. I looked in the reservoir and sure enough, no water. Now, normally I wouldn’t have thought twice about filling an iron up, but since I’m the backwards person in a new country I figured I’d get help from Nadia and Marsa to make sure I did it right. I retrieved Marsa and she showed me the little cup with a spout that you use to pour water into the tiny hole on the iron. She filled the iron for me and said a whole lot of words in Arabic that I didn’t understand. I leaned forward onto the ironing board with my hand planted on my shirt, and squinted my eyes in the hopes that Marsa would realize I didn’t understand. Just then, she took a swig from the small water cup and in one swift motion spewed water from her mouth all over my shirt and hand. I burst out into laughter as she picked up the iron and began diligently ironing my shirt. She ironed the whole thing for me and didn’t even seem put out. I said “shokran” [thank you] with what must have been an enormous grin on my face and then ran to recount my tale to my fellow flat mates. We all had a nice laugh.

It’s always nice to start a day with a little laughter. Well, I’m off to Arabic lessons now.


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