Monday, 5 May 2014

Beirut Calling!

Beirut Calling!

Six months into this blog project seems the right time to share a plan I've been hatching for a while. In March I handed in my resignation and in June will be leaving Geneva to study Arabic properly in Beirut, Lebanon. The plan is to ghostwrite freelance in order to fund my study there, and currently feels a bit like this...

The plan!

My primary aim is to learn Arabic in Beirut, and a secondary aim is to interview Lebanese people about their experiences of living on the edge of of the continuing conflict in Syria. I would like to learn more about the refugee crisis and the realities of people whose lives are on hold in camps there. I talked a bit about the Syrian conflict in my post, Learning Arabic (al arabeyha العربية) and came back to it again with my visit to Zaid and his family earlier this year (A Syrian Kitchen In Italy). Alongside the stories of loss and displacement, there are stories of hope and courage which should be told as this region begins the slow process of recovery. 

I've chosen a school which offers special courses in the Lebanese dialect of Arabic. One thing you learn very quickly when you study Arabic is that you have to be very clear, very fast, about which branch of the language you want to study. For example, the Arabic used in North Africa is vastly different to the Arabic used in Levantine part of the Arabic speaking world, and literary Arabic is different to spoken Arabic. I have studied classical Arabic for eighteen months, so I know some of the basics, but now I have a choice between formal Modern Standard Arabic and the many local and regional dialects. 

My time in Jordan, Syria, Israel and Palestine in 2007 and 2008 introduced me to people who love to talk, and my experience of the Arabic language so far is that it is a language of communication, of taking time to say what needs to be said, of choosing words carefully. Here is a telling example from Egyptian author, Ahdef Soueif, discussing the difficulties in translating the word love into Arabic.

al hubb

‘Hubb’ is love, ‘ishq’ is love that entwines two people together, ‘shaghaf’ is love that nests in the chambers of the heart, ‘hayam’ is love that wanders the earth, ‘teeh’ is love in which you lose yourself, ‘walah’ is love that carries sorrow within it, ‘sababah’ is love that exudes from your pores, ‘hawa’ is love that shares its name with ‘air’ and with ‘falling’, ‘gharam’ is love that is willing to pay the price.

I have been building on my interviewing experience here in Geneva for almost two years now, and after some time I hope to be able to talk to people in Arabic too, or at least learn enough Arabic to start the conversation. 

As I wrote in my Three Month Review of Opening Lines, it has been an amazing experience to build a platform where stories and photography can be shared. With every post and interview I learn something new, and I hope you do too. If so, wherever you are, I hope you will come back to read the stories I find to tell in Lebanon. 

Until then, I'll be tying up life and saying a sad goodbye for now to beautiful Geneva and the amazing people it has brought into my life. 

Thanks as ever for reading, and here are all the countries this blog has been read in - over eight thousand times! - in the past six months, with new readers last week in Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

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