A day of smells

What does a typical day in North Africa smell like? Well, this is my day in smells:

  • the cold of the morning outside of my blankets
  • the bathroom: a strange mingling of soap, wet, and a scent that creeps up the drain overnight
  • the sweet of a clean kitchen until I open the refrigerator and catch a whiff of leftovers with a hint of aged dairy
  • outside the front door, there is a deeper cold smell mixed with the trash that cats have been sorting through during the night
  • and speaking of cats, their odor lingers despite their absence–not overwhelming, just there
  • walking past several men’s cafes guarantees a pair of lungs full of cigarette smoke
  • exhaust fumes from cars, taxis, and buses
  • the smell of used taxi seats partially covered by an air freshener and the cold
  • trash, fumes, and the sweet citrus of the orange trees on the walk from the taxi to school
  • the faint smell of gas from the lounge heater
  • wood smoke seeping out of a nearby house
  • food cooking in the cafes mixed with the ever-present cigarette smoke and the scattered trash
  • rotting fruit rolling along the sidewalk, kicked and trodden upon by passersby
  • garlic and chicken for lunch and consequently garlic on my breath after lunch
  • exhaust fumes and the sharp stench of urine on my walk to the park
  • the lovely freshness in the sweet acres of green and water: herbs, damp dirt, falling leaves
  • drifting in the open taxi window on my way to teach English is cigarette smoke, meat cooking on open grills, smell of humanity, and exhaust fumes
  • the pungent scent left over on the school desks of my classroom: what I imagine to be from unwashed hands
  • dry erase markers
  • mixed scents emanating from my junior high students: perfume, body odor, energy
  • and as the darkness falls, so does the cold, again suppressing the daytime scents
  • but there is still a damp that hovers in the air
  • and there is still the soap scent lingering on my sweatshirt as I cuddle up to study Arabic before bed

Photo by Brian Jimenez on Unsplash

Making sentences

After 9 days of studying Arabic, we learned formulaic sentences today. I discovered I was capable of following a pattern… and making mistakes.

I plodded through the Arabic script, plugging in my information at the end of each sentence: “My last name is…”, “My country is…” The sentences ticked by, miraculously without authoritative interruption to correct my pronunciation. I gathered speed. “My city is…” And like a sentence-making machine, I burst out: “My wife is…” and then paused. I really didn’t know who my wife was. Hmm.

I wasn’t the only one making mistakes. My classmate smilingly informed us that she was a “teacher” of Arabic instead of a “student.”

We giggled at ourselves. But the fact we were making mistakes meant that we were producing the language (or at least some form thereof).

Language learning is tedious. I confess I think it unfair for an adult to struggle for speech and still be patronized by teachers. There must be a better way. But meanwhile, I’ll keep working.

The Arabic school director told me, “This will give you more sympathy for your English students.”

He’s right. I didn’t even laugh when a 15-year-old boy stood up and told the class that he was a “housewife.”

Update on taxis

In my last post, I mentioned how I liked to imagine myself as a taxi savvy. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the day has not arrived.

My first day of catching my very own taxi was yesterday. Perhaps the only reason any driver stopped at all was because I was a foreign target with light hair and trembling knees.

As the first taxi pulled up, I forgot to greet the driver. Instead, I stumbled over the two words that I needed to say. As we zipped down the road, I fretted that the driver would overcharge me. But I had prepared for this. I pulled out my orange sticky note and reviewed the transliterated Arabic phrases that, if correctly delivered, could save my pocketbook.

I was blessed, however. The driver began to chat with me in English and just before he deposited me on the side of the road, he tried to undercharge me. Imagine! The phrases I had reviewed were all for naught!

I was confident on my way home from school. So confident, in fact, that I when no “petit” taxi stopped for me, I decided to crawl in a “grand” one. The driver misunderstood my butchered pronunciation of my neighborhood and drove me in the opposite direction.

“Wait! No! This is wrong!” He slowed to a stop and had me repeat my neighborhood name several more times before realization dawned. “Aaaaaah!” And then he said the name with the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first.

We cruised along in the “grand” taxi, the driver overeager to make conversation and the passenger overeager to remain in deflated silence. The driver pointed to random things along the street as we zoomed past them and projected loud words toward my side of the car, as if I was supposed to know what he had pointed at in the first place. I stared out my window.

When we arrived safely in my neighborhood, I looked at him and shrugged to indicate that I didn’t know what he would charge. He pulled out a bill from his stash as a suggestion. I laughed out loud. It was the equivalent of $10 for a ride that normally cost $1.10. Not encouraged by my response, he shrugged and pulled out a hopeful $5. I shook my head and rattled my coins then handed him $2 to compensate for riding in a “grand” taxi and getting lost. He shrugged again and then rushed to introduce himself.

So far, not one taxi driver has known of the school where I teach English. My afternoon driver was no exception. He made a phone call and tried to look at the map I gave him…upside down. I tried to direct him in Spanish while he interpreted through his French filter. He finally believed the school existed when we screeched to a halt in front of it.

The adventures in taxis are probably just beginning.


Photo credit: W.K.