I was watching friends the other day. In Arabic. That was totally weird! I really had no intention of watching Friends and I certainly didn’t intend to watch it in Arabic. But it’s like you get “caught” in some web and can’t get out of it…it just captures you and you sit and listen to it not understanding it at all…yet understanding all of it despite the language barrier.
Here’s what really got me. The voice over in Arabic sounded SO MUCH like the real actors. I mean, was it my imagination–could this be possible? So I decided to run an imperfect but convincing none-the-less experiment made possible with the wonders of today’s technology. I left the cable on the station with the friends program and then played a DVD on my computer of the friends TV program. It would have been ideal if i had the same episode playing I know but it was close enough for me. Dang if the voices weren’t almost the same. Is there some kind of computer program they use to “Arabize” the voice track? I don’t think so but it was so close to wonder about that especially Ross. He doesn’t speak Arabic does he? Maybe I should google that or check out Wikipedia.
Watching TV here is a strange experience. There are all kinds of programs and movies I know that take on a whole new level of complication and sophistication in Arabic. And then there’s the programming in Arabic. If I turn the sound down and just watch the screen I think I can pretty much tell you what is going on. Things are very dramatic in the programs they run–lots of passion ooze from the screen. Man loves woman. Woman loves man. Man and woman get together in some very intense relationships. Man betrays woman. They fight. They argue. And here it’s like one of those choose-your-own-adventures books—Man and woman kiss and make up OR Man leaves and woman cries. Like I said predictable. At least the few stations I’ve seen in my channel surfing. So TV viewing here isn’t much different than the TV viewing you find in the states.
One station that baffles me (and now other people I’ve shown it to) is one in the “A’s”. It’s actually channel 29 on my cable station but my remote is programmed to show me the channels by the letters in the alphabet. It’s the Al Saha 2 station. I have tried googling that to learn more about the station but have yet to sort out my mystery since it’s all in Arabic. Anyway, the first time I looked at that station all that ever happened was camels streamed across the screen one after another. Big camels and little camels. Some were two-humped camels but most were one-humped camels (like Bill and Moses). Some were a light tan and others were a darker shade of brown. Occasionally the camels were decked out in fancy head and/or hump gear—sort of like beaded hats or saddles. But not always. In one corner of the screen there’s a little icon of a phone that pops up. Then numbers linked to the different mobile service providers (for instance, mobinil) flash up in the same corner next to the phone icon.
My husband is an auctioneer and I thought maybe they were auctioning off camels. The station is somewhat reminiscent of livestock auctions you’ll see during late-night programming on US cable stations. (Hey, give me a break, my husband’s an auctioneer REMEMBER?) I’ve been told in the gulf-states they value their herds of camels so it makes sense right? One day I had some visitors over who speak better Arabic than me and I showed them the station to solicit their ideas. That evening we actually saw some different programming for a bit of the time. Instead of camels streaming across the screen there were herds of camels driven by “shieky” looking men in pricey 4 x 4s. A few of them stood out of sun roofs with megaphones. But, mostly they just drove along on the sidelines of all these camels rushing across the dessert. But camels and more camels. That’s all it was.
A third kind of programming on that same channel seems to be the middle-eastern take on a rousing sing-a-long. I just turned the station on as I’m writing this to see what was playing and sure enough we have the sing-a-long at this hour. There’s a group about 50 men in white ankle-length robes, thobes. They port ghutras on their heads which is a white, square-shaped cloth that is held in place by a chord called a iqal circled around their heads. Most chords are black but some are made of a blue and white or red and white checkered colored material. The men are singing or chanting and there seems to be someone leading out in their get-together. Although to date I have no idea what this particular program is about nor what it has to do with the camels that stream across the screen but I am determined to figure it out before I leave.
This whole Arabic thing is really a challenge. It can be isolating to be unable to easily communicate. Every time I get into a taxi I always wonder if I’m going to end up where I hope to end up. I carry a map of the Maadi area with me in my purse but learned after a few taxi rides it doesn’t do me much good. They really aren’t very good at reading maps. I’ve learned the most basic words—“go straight”, “turn right”, “turn left”, “NO, OMG DON’T HIT THAT CAR!!!” I know that expanding my vocabulary and skills would help me a lot and at least make riding in a taxi a much less threatening experience.
I have learned how to count from 0-10 in Arabic—and write it too although I have difficulty remembering which way to correctly orient “2”. But it’s coming. And, who knows, maybe before I leave here I’ll actually be able to figure out what they’re saying on my mystery station 29! That’s my goal anyway.
And, before we finish this missive, let’s learn some Arabic together:
٠ = zero sifr
١ = one wahid
٢ = two ithman
٣ = three thalatha
٤ = four arba’a
٥ = five khamsa
٦ = six sitta
٧ = seven sab’a
٨ = eight thamaniya
٩ = nine tis’a
١٠ = ten ashra