Monday, 26 March 2012

A small diversion into accents and 9/11

This is my third term at Ulpan. I've been attempting to learn more Hebrew. It somehow escapes me. I learn the words and then they disappear. It's interesting that the word ulpan is actually Welsh. It means 'studio.' The room that we learn in is in a building that used to be a bank. It has now been divided into separate offices and we share a floor with a firm of lawyers, a party company and a jewlery workshop. Quite eclectic. Downstairs, at the entrance, is a watchmaker who looks as though he has been in situ since 1948. He looks as if he has stepped out of one of those 1940s French movies. Shutters within shutters.

We are a diverse lot in the classroom but there are very few of us. One of my classmates is an elderly (in age) gentleman from Michigan. He has been here in the country for about five years. He's the youngest looking eighty-five-year-old that I have ever met! He takes the bus every day and wears jeans and a canvas bag strung across his chest. I once asked him about his family. What about his wife, I asked. Is she here too? He didn't answer that question but he told me that some of the courses that he takes at the university are paid for independently. He often apologises for welling up when speaking. It could be something as uncontroversial as the weather. You see, his son was killed in New York on 9/11. I only knew someone else tangentially who was killed during that churban. A friend of a friend of Zach. This time I really felt those goosebumps and had no idea how to respond. All I could say was that I was 'So sorry. So very sorry...'

It's part of the landscape that you don't know who you can come across here. One of the guys at the building site next door is an African. He doesn't look Ethiopian or Eritraen. He's possibly from the Sudan but I often hear one of the other workers, who generally sings along in Arabic, speaking to him in English and explaining what it is they want done. He doesn't look displeased to be sweeping up after the huge and noisy lorries once they have deposited their cement every Sunday from 7.30am. In fact he looks jolly happy at the end of each day when I see him swinging his arms towards the car that will take him back home. He's deposited his hard hat with everyone else's. No doubt he considers himself one of the lucky ones. If he did come from the Sudan, as so many other refugees have done, then he would have had the most awful journey. We really don't know the hardships that these guys have gone through to get here. It can't be so terrible here if they, knowingly, deposit thousands of dollars with the Beduin in the hope that they will somehow smuggle these hundreds and thousands of desperate from darkest pits of Africa. We often hear of how they are tortured and raped for even more funds and how often the Egyptians simply shoot at them. Yet they continue to make their way.

Walking back home in the sunshine after this morning's attempt at grammar and pronounciation, I stepped behind a couple of women merrily chatting at full speed. One was an Israeli in her forties and the other a Philippina. How I envied her. Her Hebrew was effortless, flawless and colourful. She spoke it with a distinct accent, in the same way that any non-resident would do. I'll bet the guy on the building lot will also be speaking flawlessly within the next year or two too while I continue to take courses.


Stephen said...

Alice's jac's mum is English but jac's dad is a welsh speaker (if you follow me) and they live in west Wales. She told me she had been to wlpan (welsh spelling) to learn welsh. I asked her to repeat thinking I must have heard wrong and when I realised I hadn't i said to her Welsh must have adopted the word from Ivrit. But from what you say it's the other way round which begs the question how come the word travelled from Wales to Israel

Ros Morris said...

Maybe it's even the other way around! Who knows? My Ivrit teacher told me that there are Hebrew words that are used in many languages. Lots of Hebrew even sounds like French...