Like the Nose on your Face
“He has big nuts and…”
This is what happened. The students were writing paragraphs about friends, cousins, fathers, or uncles. I had them do this on the board. When Fareed came up to write on the board - once being young myself, I assumed he was being plucky – I decided to not censor him since the decision was mine whether to censor him or not. In my role, I feel as if I am a facilitator not a policeman so I let him write:
He has big nuts and a more beautiful...
And, I did not say anything. And, I saw no problem with this since there are no females in the class. And, since it is all guys the class is, to me, at times like a glorified locker room – if we can in fact use glorified in this context. And actually, no one but Fareed probably knew what this was referencing so in that case I was somewhat immune from castigation – if we can in fact use castigation in this context. Really to me this is no big deal. I did end the sentence with a slight grammatical stretch with:
After the other students had a turn and the paragraph was complete, I had Eesa come up and read aloud what had been written. Naturally, I had to stifle a giggle when he stumbled over the ‘nuts’ part and I had to correct him and have him pronounce it properly. I am a teacher after all. If you are going to say ‘nuts’, ‘nuts’ should be pronounced properly. Like I said, I am a teacher. But, I must say, I was impressed by Fareed’s poker face when Eesa said ‘nuts.’ And if memory serves me correct, he said ‘nuts’ three or four times, maybe five. Fareed is good at playing oblivious like ‘nuts’ was the nose on his face.
Most of the students started copying down the paragraph without really questioning what was written. There were sentences like “He is short. He has brown eyes. He has black hair. He likes swimming. He likes football.” All of this we have discussed. We did several days on adjectives though when I write ‘adjective’ on the board they give me that look like a caught carp that has been lying in the July sun for an hour or so. Then I might write ‘short’, ‘tall’, ‘big’ ‘small’ – and then they know adjective. It rings a bell. Yes, we have discussed that. Thus, most of them did not question ‘nuts’; what they thought ‘nuts’ referenced, I have no clue.
At this point, let me take a detour and tell you about what happened yesterday. I tried to get the students to tell me how I would go about finding an apartment here. I have a morning class for three hours and then an afternoon class for a few hours. They are different students in both classes.
Eesa is one of the students that I love because he provides comic relief but at the same time I know that I provide him and his friends comic relief as well. Yesterday, I wrote on the board:
“How would I find an apartment?”
Keep in mind that these are low-level English students and this whole question was over their collective heads. How I was able to get the point across was use our big classroom (4mx5m we decided as a class) as a pantomime apartment. I wrote measurements in meters on the board. I acted as if I was cooking, showering, sleeping. Finally, Eesa understood.
“Live with me, no problem,” he told me.
“Live with you?”
“Yes,” and then he added “500 riyals you, 500 riyals me.”
“You pay 500 a month and I pay 500 a month?” I questioned to make sure and I wrote figures on the board to illustrate. Now, the actual class-time of this was much slower than what you are reading. Every question took at least 10 minutes if not more to get through what I was trying to say because, as I said, they are low level English. At one point, I drew an apartment on the board. Granted, I would be the same way if I was in an Arabic class and the teacher was trying to explain completely in Arabic what I was trying to say in English, though already I know some fabulous Arabic words that I throw around right and left which greatly pleases the students. Maphia Mooshkala – (No problem) is my favorite, Mynephsic – (All by myself) is another.
Eesa then tried to explain what the apartment is like with bedrooms and such. The rest of the class helped him with this. All of them got very involved. At that point, just to be subversive, I drew a bed on the board with two stick figures in the bed and pointed to Eesa and myself and asked him with a certain sort of finality:
“You and me?”
“Huh?” he asked with the most shocked expression as a few of the quicker students, or at least the students paying attention started to giggle.
“You and me?!” I said with more authority, which at this point had most of the class in an uproar.
“No. No. NO!” And with that he jumped back about two feet as I put my arm around him. This naturally sent the class into even more of a laughing fit.
“You and me,” he told me as the rest of the class listened; with this he drew a line down the middle of the classroom.
So then in my afternoon class, I posed the same question. And, I had the same molasses type of reaction. One of the Mohammads was able to decipher what I was saying and told the rest of the class in Arabic. Faisal wrote on the board his apartment is 1500 SAR a month (divided by 3.75 for American dollars) and it is just steps away from the campus. I told him I wanted to look. He asked me if two tomorrows would be okay. I told him yes.
But then another Mohammad said he had an apartment and from what I could figure my share would be $500 SAR a month (do the same math as above), which seemed like a really good deal. He would show me after school.
So after school, I met up with him, leaving a tiny bit early - since my office hour, which is never used ever by students, is the hour after school. On the way out, I must say I did feel a bit like Janet Leigh not when she was stabbed in the shower but when she is leaving with the money from her company after she had feigned a headache and she waves to her boss as he is crossing the street and then realizes that she was not supposed to be downtown with the company money but at home with a headache. This is because Samir – who runs the school – was locking the side gate, the gate the students most often use, when we were leaving. I told him I was going to help the students.
“Good. Good,” he smiled as we left. A teacher told me later that I actually was fine since I was with students. Samir approves.
So this Mohammad and I got in his cousin Ameir’s beat up Toyota with two other students who in fact are more cousins and we headed to…I don’t even know where. His cousin Mohammad is one of the more advanced students at school in a higher-level class and he talked to me as we zipped in and out of traffic. Ameir weaved in and out of traffic flawlessly.
We arrived at the apartment, which reminded me of a once incredibly grand hotel that has declined into a somewhat bug-ridden flophouse. Advanced English Cousin Mohammad went to the only bedroom and removed some of the clothes and debris that had been scattered about and told me:
“This room yours.”
Naturally, I was taken aback. At this point, I was not quite sure how to react. These four cousins – two sleep in twin beds, two sleep on the floor, all in one room – graciously and selflessly offered their home to me. As in, they were going to give me the only bedroom and they were all going to sleep in the living room that they had hastily converted into a bedroom. What was I to do? I can safely say that this is the first time I was ever in this situation. And I started to rethink my idea of asking students for help when it comes to apartment hunting. Actually, I started to rethink a lot of things at this point.
For the time being, I would just go along with it and not say anything. I was not sure how to not be rude. This was truly a testament to the Arabic hospitality that has been shown to me so far during my brief time in this country. How could I not be moved? But how could I not be rude as well? How could I?
While I am thinking this over, the other cousin who is named Abdur(blur) but goes by Blur carried in a big bag of food and drinks, which included a platter of fruit. Advanced English Cousin Mohammad went about setting plastic saran wrap on the floor with Ameir’s help. Blur set out the food. We then all dug in with our hands, yes eating rice with our hands scooping it from a big platter.
This is the way to eat Cupsa, which is my new favorite dish. I love the Arabian food and you do get to eat with your hands just like you did before you started using utensils. The more adept you are at eating with your hands, the more revered you are. You are not looked upon as some hillbilly named Roy or Bubba.
Over and over, I told them how much I love Saudi and the food and the people. The dinner was full of warmth and good humor. We finished and then it was prayer time. They laid out the prayer rug and Advanced English Cousin Mohammad led the prayer, which I thought truly spiritual. Some of this had to do with the fact that I had no clue what was being said in the prayer. There was a lot of kneeling and bowing and chanting but it was disarmingly beautiful.
After the prayer, Original Mohammad (from my class) after looking up a translation and consulting Advanced English Cousin Mohammad on the proper way to say it said:
“Mr. Tyson,” he then paused for dramatic affect, “will you accept our offer to live in our house?”
Naturally, I was floored. And I was not sure how to answer but by simply saying:
Of course, Mohammad was sad but I had actually answered in Arabic. And they now understood that I wanted to live by myself. Mohammad told me he is sad that I am not moving into the place but he understands.
Naturally, the whole thing was a misunderstanding. And, now they want me to come over and see them every day, which is not going to happen since my mornings start at 6:20 a.m. these days and I am completely exhausted when I get home from school in the late afternoon.
But then we were talking about nuts weren’t we and how I decided to not censor Fareed for writing said word on the board. This would have been no big deal but then Ziad asked what nuts are when I sat next to him to look at his paper. I told him to ask Fareed. Fareed pointed to his nose.
“Not nose,” I said to Ziad and told Fareed to explain. Fareed was the one who wrote the word on the board after all so he should be the one to explain what it is. This would serve him right for bringing bathroom humor into my classroom. He just pointed to his nose.
“Not nose,” I said once again. “Fareed?”
He just looked at me perplexed.
“You know what it is,” I said coaxing some sort of response from him.
“Nuts,” and he points to his nose once more.
At this point, I pointed down to the region where they reside and I said “Nuts!”
With this Ziad turned white like he had been shot and Fareed just asked truly perplexed “Nuts?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “Nuts.”