Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #12: Alphabet

November 18, 2009

I woke up with Walid Farhoud, my new Arabic Immersion instructor from iTunes, droning on in my earbuds:

“Wahad…One.”
“Tnain…Two.”
“Tlateh…Three.”

Learning by osmosis. They say that babies absorb language, even while in the womb. Well, I’m an Arabic infant, so here’s to it.

In addition to the spoken word, I’m learning to read and write. It’s challenging, for sure. Also, it’s an extremely artistic way of expressing oneself. As June Jordan always said, “language carries the consciousness of a People.” Such a beautifully written language must have an equally beautiful conscience upholding it.

I don’t mean to simplify people, or to reduce this place to an elementary understanding. I’m just saying that my country, the US, is sending young boys and girls (even forcing a single mother to foster her child!) to bomb, and shoot, and torture, and rape Peoples who speak this language. I mean, “we” know so little about the people, the diverse people who populate the middle east and central Asia. We can’t even read their writing! Perhaps learning the language would help to solve problems, or at least provide a frame of reference for mutual understanding. Perhaps.

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.


Old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a smart poet. Notice that he says, “If we could read” the history, not simply, or passively “hear.” To be literate requires commitment. It requires dedication. Desire. Even love. If only our so-called leaders had this type of love in their hearts.

So, while bombs have fallen, and may well fall again here in Beirut, I let my pen bleed letters in this new tongue. I want these letters that I write to be absolutely perfect. I want them to look like I have taken my time to inscribe them with that original type of love that language has grown from. The love of connecting to other human beings.


A final word to all my students at Harlem Village Academy: Leadership, on the importance of penmanship. The way you write reflects so much. The way that you shape our shared language on a blank page carries with it a new meaning, for a new day. Let your words be flowers. Let them bloom on your pages. Let them reflect, in their shape, in the care that you put into them, your history—the history of your people. Let them be a key to your blooming future.

For, some day, someone may leaf through your writing, in search of a new understanding of your life and times.

Ahumdill Allah!

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