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6/13/10 10 Words I'll Miss

Earlier, I handled a honeydew melon, and murmured, "Aftiikh...just one of the many words that I'll probably never use again."

I spent two years trying to learn a language that's not used outside of Morocco, and not understood by most of the folks there, either.

And while I don't mind letting go of shpulel (snail) or abkhosh (black), there are a few words that are just SO HANDY that I'm going to miss them. Or maybe stubbornly insist on using them, despite the confusion and communication FAIL that results...

1. Marhaba. Usually translated as welcome, marhaba means a wealth of things. Make yourself at home. What's mine is yours. Help yourself. Be my guest. Do what you will.

"Hey, can I get the last cupcake?"

"I'll be in your town next weekend."

"Is this seat taken?"

2. Safi. This one short word (almost rhymes with "coffee", but the vowel is more of an ah than an aw) means enough, I'm all through, that's that, I'm done, that's all she wrote, etc.

"No more couchsurfing for me. Safi."

To a vicious pest (whether beggar child, harassing male, or overzealous clerk): "Safi! Safi-safi-safi."

"Hey, did you ever get that massive project finished?"

3. Yalla. It's used in all the ways that "Let's go" is in English. We're leaving now. Hurry up. Hey, c'mon already. In Iron Man, the bad guy uses it with his minions, when they're not working fast enough to please him.


4. Kif-kif. Same thing. Same deal. Same difference. It's all the same. Whatever. I don't care.

"Do you want ice in your water, or not?"

"Are you on Team Edward or Team Jacob?"

5. Maashi kif-kif. NOT the same.

"Folks keep saying, 'Ooh, yes, I've been to Morocco. It's just so Westernized!' And I have to explain that the tourist cities and the rural villages are maashi kif-kif."

"When I left for Morocco, phones had *numbers* on them. Now they're shiny blank plastic things. It's not a phone anymore, it's a Star Trek tricorder-communicator thing. Phone. Computer. MAASHI KIF-KIF."

6. Zween. Fancy. Pretty. Chic. Attractive. Deluxe. Elaborate.

"Ooh, check you out! You're all zween!"

"The public areas are full of zween features like 2-foot-tall cushions and store-bought rugs, but the family rooms have one-inch cushions and (imho, prettier) hand-made rugs."

7. Shweeya. A little bit. Also used in the expression "shweeya b shweeya", meaning "a little at a time" or "bit by bit" or "step by step".

"Are you readjusting to life in America?"
"Shweeya b shweeya."

"Do you want some more cake?"
"Shweeya, thanks."

"All the grass and trees growing everywhere make the air so oxygen-laden that I feel shweeya loopy half the time."

8. Inshallah. If God wills. As God wills. Idiomatically, hopefully. In Arabic and Tam, you can't talk about the future without adding the specific caveat that all plans are subject to the will of God. After 27 months, I can't make absolute statements about the future anymore. In English, I use hedges like, "I'm planning to..." or "I hope to..." or "Hopefully..."

"See you tomorrow!"

"Will you be in the Bay Area all summer?"
"Through August, inshallah."

"So Kauthar, you're going to go to America, find a man, and then bring your man back to Berberville so we can through you a big Berber wedding, right?"

9. Lhumdullah and al-humdulillah. Both meaning Thank God or Praise God, the former the more common, more informal version, the latter the more correct and more emphatic form.

"My father's cancer is in total remission!"

"I found that thumb drive I borrowed from you."
"Oh, lhumdullah, that's great."

"How've you been?"
"Lhumdullah." [Shorthand for "Fine, thanks to God.]

10. Bismillah. Technically, In the name of God, but idiomatically, it's more, OK, let's begin. When you start anything - a meal, a car engine, a journey, a new book - you invoke God's name, to establish that every action you take is done for God.

Climbing into a car: "Bismillah."
Taking the first bite of a meal: "Bismillah."
Taking the first bite of a really fabulous looking dessert: "Bis-miiiii-laaah!"

It's no coincidence that several of these are "God phrases". I *like* the God phrases, even more than most other PCVs. In America, at least in the major metropolitan centers where I've spent the past weeks, God's name isn't part of the educated white vernacular. In English, I feel like I'm taking God's name in vain if I say, "Oh, thank God!" or "God willing" or a half-dozen other expressions that I can routinely use in Arabic. And I *like* thanking God for all good things, and acknowledging that I'm submitting my will to God's, and all the other things that I can do in Arabic without a second thought, but can't do in English without feeling like I'm coming across as a "Bible-thumping Jesus freak," as one friend would say. (Yeah, you know who you are.)

Part of me wants to keep using these ten words/expressions, because they're just so handy...but the point of words, handy or cumbersome, is communication. And if nobody understands me, I'm not communicating anything.


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