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.
* * * * *
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.