Henna for Eid
"You're so cute," says a student. "Are you Muslim?"
I shake my head. "I'm Christian."
"Oh," she says, nodding. "Not Muslim - yet."
Four walls, windows, a smart board, white board, projector. Student desks in five rows, four deep. Dark eyed teenage girls in ankle length, shift style uniforms. I sit on the teacher's table facing the class, legs dangling.
At the Madrasa al Thanawiya al Binaat (secondary school for girls) I'd already participated in a science lab (broadly speaking), audited science and English classes and sipped tea in the teachers' lounge. I'd wandered the building with a special education instructor and chatted boardroom style with group after group of high school aged local girls.
Today I would be a substitute Homeroom and Physical Education teacher (apologies to actual US PE teacher, Bernie). Sort of.
Some of my Arabic children's books
Qataris are a minority in Qatar and Arabic is not spoken on the streets or in the shops. The majority of expats don't study the language because there's so little opportunity to use it. I persist because I like the language and people (and perhaps also out of a compulsive need to finish-what-I-start, no matter how impossible seeming). I supplement my studies by reading Arabic children's books, learning Arabic nursery rhymes, speaking with Arabs (when found) - and visiting Qatari government schools (where allowed).
The gym is closed in the (real) teacher's absence and there are no curriculum notes.
"Speak English with them," says the principal. She smiles. "Make them bi-lingual."
Oh, right. Mafee mushkilla. No problem.
My escort is a sunny and enthusiastic Egyptian English teacher wearing bright blue eye shadow. "You girls," she says, in Arabic. "You are all so sleepy." She moves to the closed classroom door, pounds on it with both fists. "You are like, 'let me out of here'!"
Laughter. Students sit higher in seats.
"What sports do you play?" I ask. L'boon ay riyada hini?
"Basketball, volleyball, football…" Smiles. "With the feet. Not the American football with hands."
"Do you run?" I ask.
"Of course. We wear long pants and tee shirts and run in the gym."
"People don't run on the street in Qatar," I say.
"No, but you can walk at the Mall or Aspire Park and you can run around the Pearl to the naked beach."
Naked beach? MY beach? I laugh.
The young Qatari shakes her head. Not funny. "We call it that because people wear very few clothes there."
Conversation is a rapid-fire mix of standard and dialectical Arabic and colloquial English.
They want to know:
Do you live in a compound in America? Do students wear uniforms to school? Do you have pets? How old are your children? Are they boys or girls? Tell me about your grandchildren? Have you been to Boston? Will you go shopping at Villagio with me? Do you know Adele? (Sings:) "Someone Like You…"
I smile. "Will you teach me a Qatari children's song?"
A student writes:
"mama jabat baby
baby helloo sagheer"
"It says, Mama comes with a baby; baby is small and cute. We sing this when a new baby comes home."
"Do you have rhymes? Silly fun songs?"
Of course! "Twinkle, twinkle little star…Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear…"
"Our nursery rhymes are from America, Lebanon, Egypt and other countries," a student says.
"And television," says Teacher.
The students sing popular American and Arabic music in angelic soprano and rich alto voices, complete with Middle Eastern trills and runs.
I offer Baa Baa Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool…?
The bell rings and Teacher and I sing (although I only know the first part) a popular Egyptian children's song:
Mama Zamanha Gaya
Mama zamanha gaya
gaya baedeh shiwaya
gayba al'ab wa hagat
gayba maha shanta
fiha wezza wa bata
quack quack quack quack quack
arfel wad el esmo "Adel"
gah doctor waamleh eh?
laa regleh bao zayel fatal
bas shewaya gowa eneh
rah nidiloh ho'na kbira
aref edal el ho'na leh?
Ma bieshrabsh el laban el sobh
we kol eshabo dehko alah
ha ha ha!
W hoa men yomha shereb
wetrabalo aadal fi ideh.
Mama is coming
She is almost here
She is bringing toys and gifts
She's also got a box
Inside there's a duck
Quack quack quack quack quack.
Do you know the kid named "Adel"
And what the doctor did to him?
He found him all tired
And looked inside his eyes.
He's going to give him a big shot.
Do you know why he gave him a shot?
He doesn't drink milk in the morning
And all his friends laugh.
Ha Ha Ha!
And since that day he drinks milk
And grows up
And has muscles in his arms.