Thursday, July 30, 2009

How to Read & Write Arabic 19: GHayn

The last post in the, 'How to Read and Write Arabic' series looked at the lettter Ayn, a letter which has no equivalent sound in English. This posting we'll move onto it's sister letter, GHayn, a letter which is very similar in looks to Ayn, you just need to add a dot on top.

Writing GHayn
Because GHayn is a connector you'll know there will be four different forms of the letter (inital, medial, final and independent) all of which are shown below. The pencil lines with numbers indicate the order in which you should write the letter, whilst the pink highlights indicate previous letters (on the right hand side) and the letters which follow GHayn (on the left hand side):





Making the Sound of GHayn
Even though GHayn does have an equivalent letter in English, it isn't that difficult to say and is definately easier than AYN to get right.  Just gargle for a minute or so with water, making note of the muscles you use and the sound you make. That in reality is what's needed when you pronounce GHayn.

And it's easy to remember: G for gargle and G for GHayn.

However, as with all the other Arabic letters which have no equivalent sound in English, it's strongly suggested you have the sound you're making checked with a native Arabic speaker, if you possibly can.

This week I'm going to change the format slightly.

Because this series has been going for quite some time, I think most readers will know the difference between the initial, meidal and final forms, this week I'm going to just use headings and photographs, without highlighting the letters. I'm doing this to make the exercises slightly more difficult and it allows you read the entire word, rather than just one letter.

Unfortunately I've only managed to find initial and medial GHayns, try as I might there doesn't seem to be a final or an independent GHayn to be found!



Hide & Seek
Now see if you can find GHayn in the photos below:

Good luck with practicing, be sure to come back in two weeks for the next letter of the Arabic Alphabet, faa.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Those Sexual Differences

No matter where I sit, or what's going on, this is the big question I'm always asked,

"How do you cope with Arab men?"


"Which men are worse, Arabs or Europeans?"


"What's the difference between an Arab and a Eurpean man?"

Take a Deep Breath
The last time I was asked this question was after overhearing an Australian man make fun of his wife.  She'd spilt some red wine over their restaurant table and there was wetness everywhere.

Loudly he proclaimed to the world, "Oh she's always like that, making a mess." Chairs were scraped back over the floor so everyone could hear him, and he continued to made one big fuss mopping up the wine.

Waiters were summound over, and then over again, to provide more and more paper napkins, allowing him to continue mopping and tell stories about the endless times she had done similar 'wrongs'.

Somehow his actions summed it up for me; the differences between Europeans and Arab men. Bear with me though, this is a generalisation.

With Europeans the put downs are subtle ~or not quite so subtle~ but always implicit, in this case the wife was 'stupid', 'clumsy' and 'annoying' but the words weren't actually said. Stories are told and subtly the story is given support as the wine was mopped up - wifey is stupid.  Easy to miss, but endlessly occuring.

With Arabs when there is negativity against a woman, and it definately occurs, then it's explict. It's not the subtle recalling of stupidity. It's simply a put down and you know it's a put down.  In someways easier to deal with.  You can rant and rave and get annoyed and state what it is that has PISSED YOU OFF.

So if I'd been at the table with my husband and had spilt wine over the table the waiter would've been summonded and asked to clean the table, and very little would've been said. It's a public place and negativity about the family is not going to be spoken, in any form verbal or non-verbal, to the outside world.

There is a glass celing in the Arab work place, but then I think there is a glass celing in the western world. I can still recall the Arab man who was introduced to me when I joined an organisation as a Regional Manager, and he thought I must be the new admin assistant.  However, when it came to promotion, it was the western men who were chosen by the western CEO over the women who were performing more effectively.

There is a traditional role played by women which is completely and utterly respected in the Arab world and which is not taken so seriously, in general, in the western world.  That is the role of a mother.  In my experience it is held in the highest esteem, a useful key role in life and the one person who binds the family together.  Mother-in-laws are equally important and I'm glad to say there is no such thing as a mother in law joke in the Arab world.

In the Arab world it seems to me there are key wing clippings for women and the legal system.  Marriage for example takes away many rights for a woman {see wgaw blog archives: pre-nuptual arrangements, Hourly Marriages and thinking about divorce?}.  

I think another issue involving women's rights in the Arab world is our objectification. We're either, 'good girls/virgins' or, 'bad women/whores'.
~Why any man would want to marry a virgin is true mystery - where's the good sex going to come from if a woman has never had sex before?~

I once asked an Arab man to explain this prediliction for virgins and he enlightend me with the explanation,
"It wouldn't be nice to walk down the street and meet a man who had had sex with your wife."

I questioned him a bit more and he replied in the same manner, from an Arab man's point of view it's simply about the embarassment that might be felt if you ever had to meet a man who had previously had sex with your wife.

He then went on to expand his thought with a proclomation it wasn't normal to like virgins and was in fact, "a perversion, like when people use leather stuff ..."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Life in the Student Lane

Today I was a student and the person I spent the entire day with, my co-student, was a sista; a gen-u-ine  flaps-down, ninja turtle, sista.

The first thing she said to me was, "Do you use perfume?" I had ladelled the Arabic perfume on this morning and could be smelt from 20 feet. I knew I was being set up, but answered in the affirmative, "Yes I do".

She wanted to know if I liked men to smell me when I was out of the house. Again I knew this was part of the guilt-trip set up, but answered in the affirmative, "Yes I do". To which she explained, I'm sure to protect me but in reality, using a verbal red rag to a bull, "It's haram to wear perfume. What if there was a man with a bad heart and he had terrible thoughts about you because you are wearing perfume and he could smell you?"

I've been here long enough to know about the perfume thing. And the time has passed where I'm supposed to be responsible for the actions of men I've never met. I explained, in a quiet, but firm and dignified tone, "If a man wants to have those thoughts then he's the one having the thoughts and it's for him to control them."

The cheeky cat then started on the nail polish, but I interupted her before she could start, "Oh, I know about the nail polish, that's haram too." {for an explanation of Haram; see wgaw archive: haram} Then the other sista chimed in, "Only on some days". As my husband says, "You always know when a Muslim woman is having her period because she wears nail polish for a week."

Then the sista wanted to know what I thought of Islam. Well, that's a difficult question when you're not Muslim and just been told the things you do are Haram. I answered as best I could, "It's great, but it's not for me", then she wanted to know, "Have you read the Qur'an?", and to which I could answer truthfully, "Yes, several times."

That seemed to satisfy something in both of us, and we continued getting to know each other and even chose to sit with each other and share experiences at lunch time.   It turns out I quite liked her.

But back to the blog.  I'm not really sure why I'm writing this post, maybe because today's issue has to to with cross cultural mis-communication and the fact that even with all these years experience I could have easily made one big cock-up, communication-wise, this morning.

I'm wondering if it's possible to ever become 100% fluent at communicating in another culture?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Something for the Weekend Sir?

Appologies to anyone who finds nudity an issue, but this is too good to hide away in the cupboard; a Kuwaitia gets more than she bargins for ....  Again sent by a friend in Saudi.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009


Today in class I had a student walk out on me.  I was teaching 'Report Writing' for a group of management trainees, nothing strange/funny there, except for this one man who wouldn't look at me.

I'd forgotten there is a school of thought here which doesn't allow interaction with non-relatives of the opposite sex, in any way, shape or form.  This means no looking at anyone of the opposite sex, no shaking their hand {see wgaw blog archive: shaking hands}, etc. In reality, not communicating with the opposite sex.

I've experienced this thought process for many years. When I lived in England in the 1980s I'd shared a house with an English woman called Jenny, who refused to speak to men; she was (and presume still is) a seperatist lesbian feminist.

Anyway, back to the man in the classroom this morning.  When I asked him to work on an activity with one of the girls wearing a hijab {see wgaw blog archive: hijabs} he went into panic mode (eyes flashing then quick movements away, total body recoil, sallow colour entered his cheeks), I over came this by doing a quick change around and paired him up with another boy.

However, at the first break he siddled up to me and said he was too busy to continue with the course, he had to go back to work to answer emails. I asked him to come with me to the course administrator to explain what was going on.  This he did, and although he wasn't paying for the course, we really couldn't force him to take part in something he refused to join.

Although it's strange to be rejected completely on the grounds of being a woman, I realised today rejection does become easier with age. What once fascinated me, finding out about thought processes I didn't understand, was no longer interesting.  But I was genuniely sad for him.  And for the girl in the hijab who had been quite embarassed by his obvious dislike for her.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How hot did you say it was?

One of my favourite stories about the heat happened whilst we were in Jordan:

We were having breakfast in our hotel restaurant when a little girl from England threw her entire 3 foot body at the window and pressed herself as close as she could get to it. She raised her arms above her head and continued to press or wriggle her entire body into the window. Finally when she was sure of her vision and the warmth she was feeling, she turned around and said with some astonishment in her voice, "Daddy, Dad-dy, it's still sunny".

Summer's Here
It's the 11th July and summer is here.  Instead of talking about how hot it is and how it's impossible to do anything outside, today's post lists some of the ways you know summer has arrived:

1. In the lift you can’t tell if the fan is on or off, the temperature feels the same either way

2. The sweat starts building up on the top of your head and runs down your face, taking your make-up with it, then runs past your armpits and down the small of your back and ends up in puddles around your backside. Then if it’s really hot, it continues to run down your legs and past the backs of your knees

3. The temperature feels the same whether you are standing in the shade (55oC/ 130oF) or the sun

4. If when you open your car door you look at the shadows on the ground you can watch the heat leaving the car in curls. Then you enter the car, sit down and burn your bottom on the seat. You attempt to turn the steering wheel but it is so hot it burns the skin off the palms of your hand. And you think about wearing gloves so you can touch the steering wheel, but it’s so hot your hands have swelled and the gloves are now too small to put on. When you finally manage to sit on the seat you find all your CDs have melted in the heat so now you can’t play your music and the plastic ballpoint pens have bent in half so you can’t write with them.

5. The birds in the garden have their beaks open and are panting

6. The water in the open air swimming pool is too hot to swim in after 10am in the morning

7. Your glasses steam up when you go inside and hit the air conditioning

8. The windows in your house are full of condensation because there is such a difference in temperature between inside and outside

9. When you go to the toilet you can feel the heat on your bottom coming off the water because the water is so hot

10. You switch off the water heater and use the water from outside

11. The pavements are so hot they burn your feet through your shoes

12. When you enter your office building you’re soaked to the skin and everybody sympathizes with you over the heat. And they’ll also be able to tell you the last day it was cooler and will compare today’s heat with yesterday’s heat

13. You think you’re going to die from heat exhaustion

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How to Read & Write Arabic 18: Ayn

The last few posts in the, 'How to Read and Write Arabic' series have looked at some difficult letters for non-native Arabic speakers, Saad, Daad, TTaa and DHaa.

This week nothing much changes because the next letter of the Arabic alphabet also has no equivalent sound in English; Ayn.

For me 'Ayn' was probably one of the hardest letters to learn in the Arabic alphabet.  Not only does it have no equivalent sound in English, or any other European language for that matter, it has four quite distinctly different formats when it's written.  I'm just glad it isn't/wasn't the first letter of the alphabet; what a nightmare it would be if this was the first letter to learn!

Writing Ayn
Because Ayn is a connector you'll already know there will be four different forms of the letter (inital, medial, final and independent) which are shown below. The pencil lines with numbers indicate the order in which you should write the letter, whilst the red highlights indicate previous letters (on the right hand side) and the letters which follow Ayn (on the left hand side):





Making the Sound of Ayn
Ayn sounds just like it's written in English - ayn. However, it needs some attitude adding to it.  The sound for this letter should come from deep in your throat, from that area around your Adam's apple. Apparently the scientific phonological term for the sound is, 'pharyngal voiced fricative', or to you and me that constricting sound you make when you gag.

Put your fingers on your Adam's apple and now gargle and make the sound of a large truck. It feels pretty daft, but you should feel your Adam's apple vibrate. Now control the large truck sound and change it in to an 'Ayn' sound.

As with the other letters which have no equivalent sound in English, it's strongly suggested you have the sound you're making checked with a native Arabic speaker - it's definately going to take some time to get Ayn right, but hopefully not too long.

To make this a wee bit more user-friendly you'll find some photos of Ayn below:

To start the word, or following a non-connector

When Ayn appears in the middle of a word

When Ayn is the last letter in a word

In this case, Budaiya, one of the suburbs of Manama in Bahrain

and in this case, Adfa or PAY


Hide & Seek

See if you can find the letter Ayn in each of the photos below:

What's Next?
I look forward to you joining me for the next letter of the Arabic alphabet; GHayn, a letter very similar to Ayn, but with a dot on top.

Monday, July 6, 2009

New airline?

This was sent to me this morning by a Saudi friend. Apparently Saudi Arabia has a new circumsied airplane for its route from Riyadh to Morocco?

You choose:  offended or amused?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cup of Chi?

For some reason this picture makes me feel like something good is going on; Arab hospitality anyone?

I really like it when the world stops being black and white and the grey takes over, for me grey is a far harder place to be than black and white.  That's why I like this picture, it seems to force you to think about the grey; it's all so eerily understandable and complex, all at the same time.