مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bring it.

My epic week of exams and papers has officially commenced. Wish me luck.
Today: Arabic exam, part 1; religion paper
Tomorrow: Arabic exam, part 2
Thursday-Saturday: Hebrew exam (thank heaven this has been newly classified as take-home)
Friday: Organic chemistry exam (Sn2, Sn1, E1, E2, dehydration)
Saturday: Write first draft of 10-pg. paper on Egyptian Arabic morphology/syntax
Wednesday: Linguistics exam (morphology, syntax, semantics)

An hour ago I wrote an essay in Arabic at ten thousand miles per hour, and tomorrow I've got grammar, casing, reading comprehension, and all different kinds of translation (MSA --> English, EA--> English, English --> MSA). BRING IT ON.

In other news, this morning I opened my near-dead computer to shoot off a snappy e-mail to the kids I TA for...and ended up sending the draft to my ENTIRE Arabic class instead. FML.

P.S. The kid I mentioned in the post below sent us chocolate and came over to apologize. I gave him such a tongue-lashing I think it emotionally unseated his ancestors. But I hear he's okay now.

Friday, October 22, 2010


You uninformed, immature, insensitive loser.

A female runner was attacked by a man with a knife just last week. Over the summer a girl outside her apartment complex was dragged into the trees and beaten, raped, and left to die.
And yet you still retain the presence of mind to break into my apartment at 12:30 AM in a black ski mask and death's-head costume with an eighteen-inch machete. Once we heard you break our combination lock we hid in the back and I grabbed a butcher knife and if you would have come close enough I would have stabbed you in the neck.

I don't care if you turned out to be some stupid kid in my ward just joking around. It wasn't funny.
I called 911 on you and I hope they read you the f-ing Riot Act.


Throughout my time in Arabic I have consistently encountered this word:

Pronounce it: al-'au-ru-ba.
Just how it sounds.
Straightforward, right?

But today, in a moment of sudden clarity, I realized that الأوروبا means "Europe"
...and not "Aruba."


For a year and a half I have wondered why we kept reading about the Arubans and their contributions to history. It always kind of threw me off, because I never remembered learning much about Aruba outside of Arabic class. I just chalked it up to "political stuff I don't know," because there's a lot of that in Arabic classes when you aren't a Middle Eastern Studies major.

Aruba is an island in the lesser Antilles that is actually part of the Netherlands. Its citizens hold Dutch passports and its climate is desert-ish (they even have cacti).

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Yesterday while waiting for a speaking appointment, I listened to a few boys from my class teasing each other in rapid-fire Arabic. Sure, one is a graduate student, one spent his high school years in the Middle East, and for the other Arabic is the fourth of four acquired languages, but listening to them made me feel inadequate. I can't speak that quickly with that kind of accuracy, and admitting to myself that I don't feel up to par despite all the work I pour into the subject is frustrating.
  • Should I be doing more?
  • Can I be doing more?
  • Arabic is my first acquired language.
  • I'm still me-as-a-speaker in Arabic, and I don't know why I'm surprised.
It has taken me twenty years of English to feel like I'm an adequate speaker. Despite my propensity for precision in writing, in speech my sentences often trail all over the place. I can be hard to follow, and I know that. And if you know me, you know that much of the time (in English) I simply don't say anything. What I do say in public is always carefully calculated, with vocabulary and syntax predetermined and often noted in shorthand so conversational pressure does not make me forget. My plans are time-consuming and meticulous and absolutely unknown to those who call me articulate (an adjective I've worked incredibly long and hard to win). In Arabic, too, my speech is followed only by intense planning. In my way I can get everything right, so in the past I've passed the speech components of my midterms and finals with flying colors. But I don't sound like some people I know--I don't sound fluid and at-speed and comfortable, and because I've spent so many focused years working on those qualities in my native tongue, I don't know why I expect them to follow so easily in my acquired one. People who can sit down next to you and babble about life, the universe, and everything in English seem to be able to do so in Arabic, but I'm not one of those people in either language.

Furthermore, the cognitive dissonance that results from telling my pre-med colleagues that I care more for Arabic than organic chemistry (true) and then turning around and telling my Arabic colleagues that I feel okay with my proficiency because it's not my major and I'm going to med school anyway (...true?) is almost more than I can handle.

I don't know what I am, and I don't know what I want to be.

Am I sacrificing a valuable degree in the hard sciences for mediocrity in a language others will always know better than I? The fact remains that I'm not a native speaker and therefore am not as valuable a linguist. Language, though, does not have to be put to external use. If I want I can spend time throughout my whole life learning to read contemporary Arabic literature or studying grammar and usage for my very own fulfillment. Academia is suffocating and I don't want to spend my life convincing myself that documenting the nuances of allophonic variation in Dialect X OR the subtle antigenic variation in Obscure Disease X actually matters.


But right now, as a serious premedical student and a serious language learner, I need to remember that:
1) I will consistently try to do my best for myself and for no one else
2) My best is good enough for me
3) It's okay if my best does not equal the best
4) I can be proud of what I can do and do not have to preoccupy myself with what I can't do
5) A 4.0 GPA can't last forever (and according to admissions statistics, nor should it)
6) Everything will work out in the end

D&C 90:24: "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things will work together for thy good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another."
Now that I think (I hope) I can do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Today in o-chem recitation, while I was venting to my friend about the mounting pressure of my upcoming Arabic exam, another boy in my class interrupted me with, "Hey, you speak Arabic?"
"Kind of," I replied. "I'm in a class."
"Cool. I'm Palestinian. I live in Jerusalem."
I got excited! And then I felt bold.

me: "بقالك أد ايه في الامام المتحدة؟"
kid: "مرة تنية؟"
m: "بقالك أد ايه في الامام المتحدة؟"
k: "...سنة."
m: " !سنة بس؟ دا كويس قوي"

I babbled on in what I'm sure was poorly constructed colloquial Egyptian for a little while, and he just sat there, kind of smiling. He answered my questions and I was happy I was being understood by someone who actually speaks the language. Soon enough, class started and I distracted my attentions. But in the car on the way home from school, I remembered the conversation and stopped short.

Yes, الامام المتحدة DOES mean "the United Nations," not "the United States," and yes, that means I DID ask him (twice, mind you), "So how long have you been in the United Nations?"


The worst part is, he didn't even SAY anything! He didn't correct me or laugh or tease me or anything! He just took it and acted like it was a legitimate question. He answered me as if he knew what I meant, but it took him two tries to understand what I was trying to say.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Tonight, as I am paid to do every Tuesday night, I slide a 100X confocal microscope lens through a drop of oil on a thin glass slide. Despite my years of practice I still approach the eyepiece winking, though I advise my students to do otherwise. Open both eyes, I admonish, and save yourselves the strain. But maybe I just want to be the only girl in the room who for hours at a stretch can keep one eye in focus. Tonight, though, as my one eye successfully navigates the wasteland of pink toothpaste that is healthy brain tissue, I wonder about its origin. Whose is this slice of self? At this, my internal professor kicks into auto-response. Well, of course, he drones, it's the patient's. I interrupt: It's my patient's; I claim her because no one else does. I pick out the thin vessels fatally obscured by erythrocytic ring-stage Plasmodium falciparum (the deadliest sort of malaria) and I visualize my dead, human patient who probably had a family and used that prime pink real estate to construct real thoughts. Tonight I scan the only remaining physical evidence of her (his?) hypotheses and revelations, moral abstractions and predispositions, prejudices and secret loves. Does her family know she lives?--that part of her is in my eighth-floor lab? That an autopsy sample taken from someone who died without access to the saving expertise of tropical disease specialists somehow ended up in my cabinet, in my hands, in my eye?

In my lab are brightly labeled boxes. Within them I group each disease in numbered slots, and within each slot I keep one six-micron slice of the single most traumatic experience in a person's life. I can see what killed her; what crippled him; I can tag it on the slide and on next week's lab exam I can ask my students to tell me how those people died. Normally, my slides read like guesses in Clue--Leishmania donovani, in Bangladesh, with overwhelming hepatosplenomegaly--but tonight they are obituaries. I scan through with morbid fascination, then crumple up my interest and continue.

Friday, October 1, 2010


My university made a commercial.

In this video you see dramatic and beautiful scenes, like sunrise over the bell tower and a full and animated football stadium. You get sweeping shots of the fabulous Tanner building (hub of our famed  business school) and the dramatic spiral staircase in the multimillion-dollar JFSB. Inspiring, I know. But during the shot of the science kids, pause the video. A group of three--count them, three--science students sits in a spacious room with actual unattached chairs and within five feet of the professor, who is actively pointing out parts of the brain on his notably non-1970s-dry-erase-projection slides. Each student sits in front of her own plastic neuroanatomy model, when in reality the two rooms of the anatomy lab hold probably that many between them, to be shared between six hundred students each semester. And do not neglect to realize that that shot is taken IN THE TANNER BUILDING. Science kids never get to set foot in that clean, spacious, modern, expensive place.

As a whole, the commercial reminded me of this.

Come on, BYU. Self-respecting universities don't have to advertise...or pretend they allocate money to departments that in reality have to shut themselves up in the windowless fire hazard that is the MARB with equipment older than any of the students.


I never thought it would come to this.
Last night I dreamed about branched alkanes--specifically this one, ethane, and its 3 kcal/mol rotation barrier.

See, there are many different conformations of ethane, and some are far more stable than others. In my dream each group of three-dimensional hydrogens rotated in sixty-degree increments around and around the central sigma bond, switching their orientation in space from staggered to eclipsed and back again.

This is what happens to you when you spend two days studying for an organic chemistry exam (ten hours), and then you take the exam (four hours). My poor subconscious doesn't have anything else to work with.