Monday, March 10, 2008

LOVE LETTERS

“I need support and a woman to give me what I need to make us both happy.”

One plus two makes three (Mohamed keeps trying to convince me it makes twelve. I argue twenty-one). So I have three jobs now. And third time’s a charm except that since everything is backwards in Arabic it’s like I’m starting all over again as an odd-job-girl out-of-context.
Love assistant is a bit vague, so I prefer Scribe.
I am teaching English to a woman who speaks French and Arabic (if forced to and of course I force her to), learning English for her American love-interest. I started last week and have already written three love letters and translated seven (this is his average per day).

The catch is that he writes to her in English, then emails her through some sort of automatic translator into French, so she receives the letters in French but they don’t make any grammatical sense, and I have to try to slip the word back through the seam-hole and decipher what the original English word was, then respond to him in English based on what she is narrating to me in French, and then to make sure it’s correct I translate it back to my student in Arabic, who then translates it back to herself in French.

Catch #2 is that these are not so much love letters as love games. He uses all kinds of muddy language to avoid saying the wrong thing. He does not so much say things as roll around in a pile of words like a dog and hope that some of them stick. I usually spend the whole lesson with my face scrunched up because his English pains me, miming things like “indirect” and “cloudy.” Yesterday I drew a “ladder of feelings” to explain how “I have feelings” ranks in comparison to “I like” and “I love.” Today’s batch forced me to add “I would like to love,” “I have feelings of love,” and “I think I could love.” When I don’t know how to translate something, I launch into extensive metaphors in Arabic and Mime, and she looks at me in that old familiar way that I used to look at my Derija teacher before I left her for an old textbook, because at least the old textbook didn’t lie to me, or judge me for my taste in pet names (relatedly, Gimpy fled home, Kosovo is not as independent as I initially observed, while Katya- is healing nicely after maiming her leg, possibly in an attempt to imitate her big brother. And Bisoux is too pregnant to care about them anymore.)

I think my student has mostly given up on learning to speak English, and we will just translate and compose love letters all day. Which is basically the best job ever. And comes with free cake, and coffee in zebra-print teacups, but only if I ask.

2 comments:

Ahmed said...

I think it's the worst job ever. It's a job from which I could definitely get fired. What you are basicly doing is conveying emotions. First you have to understand how your student feels and relate those feelings to something in your past experiences and then express those, not as she feels it, but rather as you think she does. The same goes for translating her correspodent's letter. My problem is that if this guy is a player, I'll raise the BS flag. Of course, she's not gonna like it. I would miss the free cake and the coffee in the zebra-print teacups.

Ayla said...

Good words.