My bookshelf has a small Arabic section, mostly dictionaries, grammars and the like. Fifteen years ago I begged my way into the University of Amsterdam’s Semitic languages faculty; I didn’t have the prerequisite degree to do master’s level language study, but because of my time in Morocco I was able to convince the academic staff to give me a shot. Eighteen months later I withdrew from the program after failing, twice, a required exam, both times by 1 percentage point. The program proved too much for me, what with holding down a job and doing simultaneous evening studies at a business college. But I still have the books and they look very impressive sitting up there on my shelf.
I’ve never had much facility with languages. They don’t come naturally to me, and any success I’ve had has come through a lot of effort and embarrassment. (As a child I can remember cringing when my dad made simple mistakes while speaking Portuguese; now I see the same thing happening when my kids listen to me in Dutch.) When I was doing my Arabic homework it wasn’t uncommon for Renata – who wasn’t studying – to lean over my shoulder and correct my work. Talk about a confidence booster. During my lifetime I’ve studied English, Portuguese, New Testament Greek, Dutch, Moroccan and Modern Standard Arabic. I’ve not “enjoyed” any of it; as I said, it’s just hard work for me.
I’m a user of words, not a lover of them. I use words, I read, because my work requires that of me. But I could be perfectly happy in a world less populated by books and reading. And talking. I’m useless talking on my feet, if I haven’t prepared remarks beforehand, and I generally feel most people could cut there verbal output by at least 30% with no ill-effects done to anyone.
Renata doesn’t talk much, but she does loves words. She is an avid reader, loves playing Scrabble, can quote poetry and lyrics, hears plays on words I don’t catch. She picks up languages much quicker than I do too. She laughs at odd times when we’re watching TV (I don’t think she’s deranged; rather, I think she’s heard something that went right by me.)
So, isn’t it odd that I write a blog? I mean, it’s only words. And they aren’t even words that necessarily have to be read by anyone. It’s just me sitting at the computer every now and again, making note of random memories and experiences. I could be writing for no reason, and no one, at all. (The WordPress people kindly keep track for me and I’m gratified to know that this blog averages well over 400 reads per month. Thank you, whoever you are.)
There’s an Arabic proverb that roughly translates: “When you are too poor to give anything else, you can always give your words.”