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Gaza: Language is a Challenge

18 Aug 2016

Australian anaesthetist Paul Chan is in Gaza for his first field assignment. 

So we celebrated the surgeon’s birthday last night with home made risotto and a bought cherry and cream cake. The residence and the team are nice, but if one thing about the new housemate stands out it’s…..

I’m the monolingual. French is spoken by everyone except me. It is nice because it is melodic but is not great because I can only recognise the occasional word from high school. I think people switch to English for me or translate when I am around. Titles like “Der Kleine Hobbit” by JRR Tolkein and “Harry Potter et Le Prisonnier D’Azkaban” are on the book case. But the national staff speak English! The international staff are looking into Arabic lessons at night.  My contribution was that I taught Moha, our logistician, some Australian slang today. I guess it doesn’t exist in French or Arabic. He loved it. 

"Titles like “Der Kleine Hobbit” by JRR Tolkein and “Harry Potter et Le Prisonnier D’Azkaban” are on the book case"

You only need to look at the MSF sign here – “Medecins Sans Frontieres” and beneath it the Arabic equivalent. It would have done me good to learn at least one of them.

Arabic is more of a gulf between me and my surrounds. It might sound irreverent, but my driver on arrival was making me feel welcome, and challenged me to remember three Arabic expressions.  If I could, he would make me a coffee or buy me a coke. I had no chance of writing this, or understanding the roots. So I just took the sound, found something like it, drew the image of it in my head and voila – my first 3 Arabic words. Like how Arabic for ‘welcome’ sounds like “Keith Hard Luck ,“ the reply sounds like “Al - Ham Driller” and that ‘I am happy’ in Gaza sounds like “Animal Soup, Firenze.”  Go on, visualize Al – Ham Driller. You know you want to.  He made me coffee. 


Read Paul's first blog here


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