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With only literature and textbook grammar to go on, though, we made our own symbolic gestures out of direct translations of American slang. The silliness was a welcome distraction from the truth: that we were getting no closer to learning how to say nothing, how to be eloquent in real live Arabic. It felt like we had skipped many of the wordy steps in the construction of American romances.
No one had taken advantage of Etihad Airlines’ falcon policy, by which a bird of prey is permitted at merely three times the cost of an extra checked bag. With no such distractions, I watched the Chinese game show , and felt the world grow small: it was just as terrible as American TV, and just as glorious. ” said the pretty attendant in a pretty hat, balancing three glasses on a tray, two of them shades of orange. I had never been much for going with the flow, but a certain flow had brought me here.Downtown five years earlier, 9/11 had forced on to the airwaves—it was wartime with rhetoric to match, and the battle lines of our new enemies were painted with huge, clumsy brushstrokes. Every word is potentially a talisman, conjuring the ghosts of the entire family of words from which it comes.” Its trademark haziness can only be cleared, as far as it will ever be cleared, by knowing as many members of that family as possible.The attack had made us all forcefully selfconscious. And yet, the language unfolds even through the missteps, and as we skitter along the web of rules and quirks, the ghosts of Raban’s Arabic come quickly out into the daylight. In school, from a Moroccan teacher or a Tunisian or a Syrian, we learned Modern Standard Arabic.Consciously, in my only moment of choice, I just thought it would be fun. When I talked to Itai in his camp in the Negev at officer’s school in the Israeli army, where he trained boys younger than we were to train boys younger than they were, I could hear him shaking his head over the wire. There were native speakers of Arabic dialects unversed in the literary language, political scientists, Hebrew-speaking Jews, and total neophytes like me, and no one denied the impression that this was a language that represented a certain opposition—that it was on the other side of something.Many of us were drawn in because we were nosy, and we looked for bridges across the murky gap.