Saturday, 28 May 2016

Arabic Language, Bedu Poetry and Frozen.

Arabic is quite a poetic language I think.  This epiphany was reached while visiting a Saudi friend one day and she was attempting to teach me Arabic via the phrase 'the sky is blue'.  Only the sky wasn't just blue.  It was shades of blue, depths of blue and sounds of blue depending on which grammatical notes, words or purposes were added to complete the idea of how blue the sky may be.  I might get the basics of this language while I live here, I thought to myself then and there, but it will take a lot longer to learn the poetry of it.

From discussions with my friend and tutor I gathered that poetry elements are mostly found in classical Arabic which is, as my friend described it, proper Arabic.  This comment naturally led to a discussion on the types of Arabic out in Arab world.  She speaks both Saudi and classical Arabic, her situation determining which and when - Saudi at home and with friends, classical for more formal times.

Within Saudi there are numerous differences  in the local language depending on what tribal region you hail from.  And there is also Bedu Arabic, different again.  She said Egyptian Arabic is the most popularly spoken Arabic outside of Saudi while Quranic Arabic is in the Quran.

 Added to that are the other regional differences in dialect - Lebanese, Syrian, North African not to mention the variations in Gulf Arabic and so on all with their own specific vernacular and it becomes clear, very quickly, to a Kiwi attempting to learn, and possibly travel the Middle East with my Arabic For Dummies book, (hailed in the book blurp as the only Arabic Language book you'll need), that the Arabic language is anything but standard.

This morning I Googled Arabic Language and poetry (yes I'm at a lose end today), and came across a fair amount of information on the topic.  What I found basically confirms that Arabic has made use of  metaphor, simile and idiom to create verbal imagery, flowery phrases and even exaggeration - a.k.a. poetry - as a normal part of the language for centuries. There was an understanding, researched aeons ago by Arabic scholars apparently, of the relationship between words spoken or read and the pictures the brain could see if you were descriptive enough. 

It stands to reason that if poetics makes up so much of the Arabic language, that same emotion and sensitivity would spill over into the culture, though we expats tend to label a Saudi beating round the bush as 'avoiding the issue' or an emotionally charged conversation about something quite minor as 'typical Arab crazy'.   Who'd of thought it's all just poetry in motion. Compared to Arabic, English is quite literal and direct. Directness isn't a big thing in Saudi. 

One article I found says that as time marches on and as more western influences arrive and the world modernizes with language apps doing the talking the poetic language of Arabic is at risk of being lost by today's generations.  Language is a moving changing thing and one day if Arab nations aren't careful, much like Latin or even Shakespearean English, Classical Arabic could wind up a thing of the past, studied by the few. 

Another article said that Modern Standard Arabic (another name for classical arabic) is only limited in its ability to express everyday experiences but is perfectly suited to in-depth conversations on politics and philosophy.  I'm not sure how that works, but they are sure it does.  Basically, the feeling in this article was that, instead of linguists treating modern standard and vernacular arabic as two different things, they should look at them as supporting each other.  Modern Standard Arabic can be made more  relevant by incorporating colloquial words and phrases, colloquial language can have more substance and expression using Modern Standard Arabic.  A debate for the linguists that I'll leave right there. 

The other thing I found in my Google search was the song 'Let It Go' from Frozen.  Disney, or somebody, has recorded the song in numerous languages and Arabic is one those.  Elias Muhanna wrote an article in the New Yorker, 'Translating “Frozen” Into Arabic' that was an interesting read on the changing of Arabic in this modern day and age and how translating this movie using classical language instead of the more popular colloquial language somewhat shifted the experience of the film.  I'm presuming that means made it more 'stuffy'.  Sort of like the movie Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo Di Caprio, set in the modern age with automatic weapons as fire power, but spoken with Shakespearean English.  Not a movie I enjoyed very much I have to say.

Although all those years ago (six to be more precise) my friend had made me aware that Arabic oration is akin to poetry, I never thought any more of it till we met Marcel Kupershoek in Ha'il, at a celebration of his work.  He is from the Netherlands and, while posted to Saudi with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office he fell in love with the oral traditions of the Bedu and spent a few years studying their language and poetry.  Then he wrote books on the subject, as you do. According to Amazon's synopsis of his book Arabia of the Bedouins'

...he was posted to Saudi Arabia where, 'he started exploring the country's vast deserts and hunting in the Rub 'al-Khali , the Empty corner. Three years later, having familiarized himself with the Bedouin dialect and poetry, he set out to do five months of fieldwork among the tribes of central Arabia, travelling the Saudi desert in search of the living chronicle of the Bedouins.

He established contacts with tribesmen and Bedouins in this remote corner of the desert and discovered the powerful tribes of Utaybah, Qahtan, Subay and Dawasir, whose poets celebrated bravery and feats of arms. His host, Khalid, a Utaybah Sheikh, told him all he knew of his ancestors' chivalrous feats and daring raids when the tribes were a law unto themselves. He also became the first Westerner to visit ad-Dakhul and Hawmal, two mountains mentioned in Imrul Qais' famous pre-Islamic ode. His encounters are recorded in this part travelogue, part book of poems and study of traditional Saudi society'.
There are actually five volumes of Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia. And you can find all of them on Amazon. If you want to listen to the poems on which these books were based, you will find the original recordings of the poets and transmitters can be downloaded for free as MP3 files from Brill’s web site at

I admit I haven't yet read the books.  It just seemed a good idea, as we have met the bloke, and this post is about the poetry of Arabic language, to give them a mention here.  I did, however, have a quick listen to the poetry.  I find it helpful, while attempting to learn Arabic, to listen to people speaking to try and pick up on sounds and words or phrases.  It is obvious  I have a long way to go yet to learn Arabic.  

It's late and I'm rambling.

Ka Kite...


Friday, 20 May 2016

The New Improved Princess Souq

The Princess Souq has been moved and with its relocation has come a major upgrade.  Gone are the low ceiling and piece meal materials of wood, plastic corrugated roofing, canvas throw overs and rotting carpet that used to hold the old, dark, dank and dirty princess souq together.  The new location of princess souq, part of what is officially called the New ibn Qasim Market, is held up with high metal frames covered with large white sunshades and underfoot is a lovely patio type tiled floor.  We thought the move might hike the prices, but no, you can still buy garish gowns for next to nothing at the Princess Souq.

The other thing that seems to have been cleaned up at the new location is the D&D's (aka Dirty and Disgusting men).  You can read all about them in my previous Princess Souq post.  We spent a hassle free morning at the souq when I went with a couple of friends.  That isn't to say there aren't still men, but they seem reasonably sane and relatively capable of normal interaction with women.  And they were happy to go on my little Weehee (was meant to be woohoo, but really, it didn't come out that way) video.

The clothes are still hung in racks packed closely together so you feel like you're moving through an ocean channel of frills, tulle, silk and satin.  And that old second hand smell can still be caught when you are deep into the rows of hangers, reminding you that your purchase will likely need a good wash or dry clean when you get it home.  And when you pull a gown off the rack to assess it more closely, chances are high that baubles, ruffles and and diamantes will be present in excess.

The ladies found themselves a few goodies.  I just took photos.  Some gowns actually look quite reasonable in an overstated way and for less than 40 Riyals you could find yourself a gown or two.

Mrs B happy browsing.

It can be a fun rushing over to assess the costume discovered with calls of 'Come and look at this' and 'OMG - this can't be for real' to 'Wow, what a bargain.'  Some women head down to the souq on a very regular basis.  I am not one of them.  Hailing from the shorts or jeans with t-shirt brigade I don't have a lot of call for gowns so will go on the odd occasion if I'm feeling particularly bored, want to buy some princess dresses for the granddaughters or there is a nice lunch somewhere afterwards.

The new princess souq is south of the south western ring road.  One lady, in giving instructions, said it was just down the road from the old souq.  It's actually down the road, under the bridge, Turn left then, with the concrete works on the horizon, turn right and then.....oh never mind, here's a map.  Google co-ordinates are 24.568012, 46.745333.

Location of the New Princess Souq, Riyadh

Ka Kite,

Monday, 2 May 2016


I've been a bit under the weather lately due to a long term thyroid issue that, it was determined by my endocrinologist, needs to be sorted out once and for all because the plan, started almost two years ago, to regain normal function has not panned out.  More drastic measures had to be taken.  My options were surgery or radioactive iodine.  I chose the latter largely because I have a couple of friends who had surgery here in Saudi, and lets just say the scar they carry around as a momento isn't pretty.  Vanity, it appears, is a bit of a thing with me.

My doctor agreed the 'atomic cocktail' was the way to go, so I was sent to see the bloke downstairs (quite a young bloke and, if I was looking, cute as well) who talked to me about a thyroid uptake scan to test how functional my thyroid actually was and, therefore, how much radioactive iodine would be required to treat it .  My thyroid meds had to be stopped about five days before the scan.  I also wasn't to eat fish of any description for three days prior, and breakfast was off the cards the day of the scan.

On the appointed date I turned up at Radiation Reception and met a friend who was booked in for the same test.  We sat and chatted, comparing thyroid function notes, as you do, until I got the call to follow a nurse to a smaller waiting room.  The doctor came in followed by four women dressed in white medical outfits and black veils who I presumed were nurses.  The whole procession was quite intimidating actually because only one of the ladies nodded a hello and smiled with her eyes.  They stood fanned out across the room, reminding me of a defensive line prepared to tackle me should I do a runner.

To lessen the tension, I asked the doctor if these young ladies were trainees?  It turns out they are employees at the hospital.  OK then.  This must be an awfully important part of the process to have this many in the room.  When the doctor left to get something he'd forgotten, the Line Up were just standing there, doing nothing at all, so I decided to speak with them starting with Smiley Eyes who was perfectly happy to chat.  She said they were all on placement in the radiation department and would be there for maybe a year.

On his return the doctor explained the process for the day.  I would be taking a tablet with a small amount of radioactive material and was to return four hours later for the actual scan.  Food was still off limits for another 2 hours.  Mentally calculating the time, that would make it midday before I could eat.  Eating, for me is a necessity.  When my blood sugars drop I can very quickly become an unhappy chappy.  Would I make it?

Doctor handed me a paper cup with a tablet and a bottle of water.  The Line Up gathered around as I took the tab.   All the heads turned my way and, as the masked faces watched me drain the water bottle, various horror story plots flashed across my mind complete with accompanying dramatic music - Invasion of the Body Snatchers was one plot, Hitchcocks Psycho provided the musical score.

Steak dinner at Gala Steak Inn.
You'd have thought with four hours to kill I would've managed to eat but the time seemed to disappear, lost in the drive home, the need to open the computer and answer a few emails and preparing a stacked lunch.  I was about to bite into my succulent, juicy, perfectly cooked steak with a side of creamy mushrooms, when the phone rang. The driver was here to take me back to the hospital.  He had come a little early because he had another pick up.  Sugar Plum Pie!  Stuffing food is not lady like, so instead I sliced off a piece of meat and carried it to the waiting car saving the rest for later.

The Dr told me the scan would take around 20 mins.  It is easy to feel quite claustrophobic when the huge scanning machinery starts whirring and thick slabs of metal descend toward your face while you're lying prone on the table.  I figured there is nothing I can do about this.  Might as well have a nap.  Sleep is a great healer for me.  If I can get myself to sleep, I can get through anything.  So I dozed off.

When I woke I was told all was done, and to come back again tomorrow.
They have to compare scans, so you have to come back tomorrow.
Well, that was news to me, but what choice did I have.

It was after three by the time I headed out the door and, without having had anything substantial to eat all day, a migraine was threatening with the headache throbbing at my temples.  I knew I had to eat.  And not just anything.  I had to eat fries.

For some reason fries help to settle my headaches. And I mean fries, not crisps or baked potatoes.  Not sugar or chocolates either.  Fries.  Just down the road from the hospital is a burger joint and it was to there I rushed, ordered my meal and then sat upstairs in the almost empty dining area, closed my eyes and waited for my fries.

They arrived with a burger and thick shake.

I ate the fries, looked at the burger, sipped the shake.  When food is not appealing, I know I'm in a bad way.   Shutting my eyes again and leaning back in the booth, I waited for the effect of the fries to kick in and the headache to subside.

When my eyes reopened the only other people in the diner were a young Saudi couple sitting across the room having a bit of a snuggle.  It was cute.  The blinds on the windows were being wound up signalling the end of salah which meant I had dozed for at least half an hour.  The young couple stood and left.  My headache had eased slightly, but not gone.  It was time to go home, lay on my bed in a dark room with a cold cloth on my eyes and sleep.

The next morning I ate before going to the hospital.  Repeating yesterday was to be avoided.  It was a good call as we had to wait quite a while before the scan. (My friend was back too, so we chatted till scan time).

A week later it was time to receive my dose of radioactive iodine.  The Nuclear Medicine anteroom was crowded so I got stuck in a smaller side room, more like a closet, which might have bothered me except there was a dental chair in there that just begged to be played with.  Fiddling with the controls, lifting myself up and down, and laying myself flat and back again made Hubster, who had come with me on this trip, look on with disapproval at my childish antics.  (As I get that look quite often it tends to have little effect these days).

Soon enough we were led off to chat with the Radiation Doctor who went through the list of do's and don't's related to taking radioactive iodine.  He mentioned the ability to set of airport alarms.  I thought that was cool and asked Hubster if we could fly somewhere.  He gave me one of those disapproving, don't be ridiculous looks.

Isolation from the elderly, the very young and the pregnant was a must, according to Dr Radiation.  And Hubster and I were to keep our distance as much as possible too, so for three days he slept on the couch and wouldn't let me in the kitchen near his food.  He prepped all the evening meals.  There was no complaint from me.

The radioactive iodine came in two tablets which were delivered in two thick metal containers.  Dr Radiation used his gloved hands to tip them, one at a time, into a paper cup then stood well back, out of my way, after I had downed them.  It appeared that staying away from people was to start immediately.

My doctor did say that hyperthyroid symptoms would get worse before they improved - but that little tidbit of info didn't really register at the time.  Naively I presumed that health improvement would be almost immediate once the weekend long stand down period for being radioactive was over.  So I planned a trip to Made'in Saleh with a Kiwi friend and his visiting parents for the following weekend

It turns out that climbing up mountains and rock hewn stairways, or anything remotely resembling an incline, to look at the view was not the best plan at this point.  It had been three weeks since I'd been off my thyroid meds and the doctor instructed me to keep off them for the next month.  My heart obviously hadn't received the message that it was to supposed to start behaving after a dose of radiation and was objecting to excess effort.  (In fact, by the end of the weekend the heart and body were objecting to any effort at all, which was majorly annoying and ever so slightly frightening).

Any normal person would have said, 'It's OK.  I don't need to come look at the view with you today.  You guys can tell me all about it when you get back'.  It seems 'Fear of Missing Out' is also a thing with me.  Buggered or not, I was going.  So I'd hang on to the Hubster's belt and he would drag me up the hills and stairs.  Slowly but surely, like a couple of aged tortoises, we got there.

The doctors instruction to revisit him a month after taking two nuked tabs for a blood test to see how things were going was welcomed gladly because it didn't feel like there had been much improvement in my thyroid function at all.  I was actually feeling like crap.  The heart was doing flip flops even with the Beta Blockers, I had internal tremors, the body temp was all over the place with subsequent sweating being very unlady-like, and the bowels had a timetable all of their own, usually marked "URGENT!"

When I called the doc for my blood test results his exact words were:
Are you sure you had radioactive iodine?
Was there a period of isolation?
Mmmmmm...I'll have to call the radiation department to see what they gave you and how much because according to the blood test, you are still very hyper-thyroidic.  Do you still have thyroid tablets, he asked.
Yes I said.
Go straight home and take some now.  Take four a day. Call me next week.

Oh great! (which is not exactly what I was thinking, but you get the point).  You mean this treatment hasn't worked!  Well, at least there was a reason for feeling worn out most of the time for the past month and wanting to do very little except lie on my couch.

What tends to happen when I'm not feeling the best, is that I go into what I call a 'Caving Phase'.  I like to hide in my home, go nowhere, do nothing, and see only a select few people.  Me and the cat just hang out, him sleeping on top of the back rest of my couch, me surfing the net or dozing.  Going out to do anything, even shopping for supplies, takes a huge force of will.

The husband tends to get concerned when I Cave.  He thinks it quite unhealthy.  I beg to differ.  I know what my mind and body needs, and when I'm off color rest and a certain amount of isolation are what is called for.  It's the isolation that makes people think I'm terribly unsociable and possibly depressed.  I prefer to call Caving my way of looking after myself.

Except for my little jaunt to northern Saudi, and occasional forays into the office to show I'm still alive, I'd been caving quite the month after the dose of radiation.  Hence my lack of blog posting.  I just couldn't seem to get my head into it.  But I'm back on my meds now and feeling so much better.  Provided the country doesn't run out of my meds again (and you can read about that on my post 'Riyadhs Run Out Of My Meds'), everything should be fine.

Eventually, one way or another, the thyroid will get sorted and this time I'll be prepared for the effects.  Hubster see's this as a time for us to stay put until my health is 100% improved.  I think that's nonsense now that things are looking up, so am attempting to talk him into a trip next weekend - to a mountain with rock pools.

Ka Kite,

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