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June 17, 2008 Dentist

My neighbor, Rebha, called to me through the window, “Kawtar! Kawtar!” I couldn’t see her (I was actually seated directly under the window), and I was concentrating on what I was reading (ideas for environmental education), so I casually called back, “Eyyah!” She laughed at that. She asked how I was, and I answered, and then I asked her how she was, and about that time it occurred to me that it was ridiculous to be shouting this conversation through a window. So I went outside, to where she was filling bottles and buckets with water.*

We chatted for a few minutes (and I understood everything she was saying! Yeah!! We talked about the weather, my recent trip to SouqTown, and I actually understood it all!). At one point, she asked if Fatima had left. I thought she was referring to the Fatima in my family (actually, there are two), so I was confused, but then I realized that she meant the other Peace Corps Volunteer in Berberville, who has adopted the name Fatima. And yes, she was off traveling. On her way to a dentist, actually.

And I made the mistake of mentioning this to Rebha, thus opening a whole big can of worms.

Rebha was confused at the idea that Fatima would travel to see a “doctor of teeth” (which is the phrase I was using for “dentist”). Weren’t her teeth good? Yes, I began, they’re fine, but … and that’s when I regretted beginning this discussion. I wanted to explain that Americans routinely go to dentists for a check-up…but I didn’t know how to say “routine”, or “check up”. My mind began scrambling for ways to rephrase. She wants to be sure? Don’t know how to say “sure”. She wants the dentist to confirm that everything is fine? Don’t know how to say “confirm”. She wants to verify that nothing is wrong? Don’t know “verify.” I was beginning to feel *really* stupid. I launched into a sentence, hoping that something would come to me. “In America, people like to …” I dribbled off. Do I know how to say… Check? No. Find out? No. Be reassured? No. Know? Yes! “They want to know that everything is good. So they go to the doctor of teeth in order to know if everything is good with their teeth.” And Rebha was satisfied with this explanation! Whew. Or else she didn’t want to put me through the agony of trying to find yet another way to explain it. Tough call.

You know, thinking back on this conversation, I just realized that I conjugated that sentence entirely in the first person. I was so focused on the words that I forgot about the conjugations. Whoops. What I said was, “In America, people I want for me to know that everything is good. So I go to the doctor of teeth in order for me to know if everything is good with their teeth.” OK, so maybe Rebha understood me. Sigh. Imiq simiq.

* Berberville only has potable water on tap for 2-3 hours every morning. Potable tap water only came into the village a few years ago; before that, people had to walk to the river half a mile away, or for cleaner water, up to the spring about two miles away. Only the newest houses in the village have interior plumbing. Everyone else walks to one of the many spigots around the village. Everyone – whether they have plumbing or not – fills up buckets and bottles every morning, so that they’ll have access to water throughout the day. Zahra, who lived for the past two years in the house I’ll be moving into in six weeks (inshallah), came up with a clever solution for this. The house is new, so there is plumbing, but again, that’s only good for a few hours in the morning. So she bought a barrel – sort of like those coolers that show up at sporting events and school picnics, with a tap on the bottom – and put it next to the sink. She ran a hose from the sink spigot to the top of the barrel, and every morning she’d fill it up, and then throughout the day she could have water running into her sink, just by opening the tap on the bottom of the barrel. I bought all of her housewares, from her bed to her leftover olive oil, so soon I’ll have this nifty device! (Inshallah)

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Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps