min ayna anta

I pulled the car up to the gate at the compound, and the security guards wanted to look in the shunta (trunk, boot).  So, I reached down and yanked on the release.  Nothing.  I tried it again.  Empty pull.  The car had just been in the shop, and I grumbled regarding the quality of serve.  I turned off the engine and got out of the car to go back and unlock the truck manually. 

As I did, I said, “The latch is not working.”

The security guard shook his head and replied, “mafi english (no English).”

“Ah.”  I held up the key and conveyed that I would have to open it up myself.

He and his partner both nodded their heads, and he continued to speak to me in Arabic.  I finally figured out he heard him ask me, in Arabic, if I spoke Arabic, and I answered back, “anaa atakallum shwaya (I speak a little).”

So, he started talking to me in Arabic, and I couldn’t figure it out.  I realize, now, he was speaking regional Arabic, while I understand mostly Modern Standard Arabic (and there is a difference).  Finally, he said, “Lebanon?  Israel?”

“Ah…anaa min America (I am from America).”

“America!”  He smiled at me and grabbed my hand to shake it.  I smiled back and closed the trunk, and his partner stuck out his.  I shook it and smiled at him, too.   “Welcome!  Welcome!”

I’ve been here for nearly three years longer than either of them; but, I did appreciate the sentiment.

*   *   *   *   *

Stopped at Starbucks to relax with a latte.  The barista and I had conversed a couple of time before, and he asked me how I was doing and all the usual niceties.  Our conversation turned to his home country of Nepal, and I discovered he was a very well-educated, degreed man who couldn’t get a job in his home country; so, he ended up in Saudi Arabia making coffee drinks for others.   It was a very quiet time in the store.  So, I sat down at one of the tables, and we talked about the political and economic situation in his country.  Great conversation.

I could tell his co-worker wanted to join in, but his English was limited.  So, he mostly just smiled and watched the two of us.  Finally, during a lull in the conversation, I turned to him and said, “min ayna anta (where are you from)?”  He cracked up, and then responded, “Syria.” 

My Nepalese friend and I returned to our conversation.  A bit later he had to go do something work related, and I was sitting there quietly finishing my coffee.  The Syrian gentleman came around the corner, smiled at me, and handed me a stick of chewing gum.  I was a little surprised by the gesture, but I managed a return smile and a thank you.  He nodded and returned to work.  I finished my latte and left. 

When I return to this store, now (which I do often), or even just walk past, I am greeted warmly by these two guys.  Coffee, talk, and a stick of gum.  Simple things.  Profound effects.

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