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The Diary of a Bint Batuta | Blog

Life Style

Part II

The airport was so small, it looked almost like a really big living room. The security was almost laughable.  After less than 30 min to be cleared, we were on our way. I didn’t know what to expect having never travelled around Africa.

I came face to face to what would be the norm in Khartoum, dust. Everywhere I looked there was red dust, which is what you expect to find in a desert particularly one that borders the largest desert in Africa, the Sahara. The heat was scorching, almost unbearably so. Having come from a tropical climate with weather temperatures that were perfect, this was a shocker to my system. Nevertheless, I was pretty excited about the adventure, I Dalia Yunus was going to learn survival skills as well as Arabic in this harsh climate. I was ready for my adventure!

I was introduced to my roommates in the hostel I was going to live in and the space was crammed, with all of us having just bed space and a metal locker to put our belongings. Talk about rough living; but this was the start of my adventure.

After settling in, I was shown where the bathrooms were, and they were outside. I would have to cure my fear of the dark instantaneously or else there would be no more showering before bed.

The first night was full of surprises; clearly, there was no curfew or lights out. The girls came and went as they pleased until the wee hours of the morning. Sleep was going to be a challenge. “And shoot was that a cat in the room? Oh my, I can’t sleep in the same room as a cat, I’ll die.” I leaped up and shut the door, and hoped no one thought I was a psycho. It was very strange sleeping in an environment that wasn’t familiar, everything felt creepy and terrifying. The smell of the room and the air outside were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Was there any breeze? I couldn’t tell. Moreover, against the heat we had only those loud, zappy ceiling fans that drew dry air all night... “Wow this was hard, how would I survive a month let alone a whole year?” I knew I could always turn back and head home, my parents had told me if I couldn’t   handle it, I was welcome back home. However, giving up was not an option, I needed to learn Arabic.

Thankfully, the night passed ok, morning came, and we got ready for school. I saw the girls run out screaming “Aaish, aaisha”. I had no idea what they were on about. A Kenyan girl from the coastal town of Mombasa, came up to me and asked if I had eaten breakfast? I told her I hadn’t and she said we should get some tea and “aaish”. That word again! I had to ask “Mwana Hamisi, whats aaish?” she just laughed and said “ohh samahani, aaish ni ile breadi ya wa sudani, usijalie kiarubi utaishika”. All I could think was whether I was seriously expected to speak Swahili too? Gosh did these people know I was a city girl born and bred in Nairobi. My idea of speaking “Swa” as we called it, was speaking English, dropping a few words of Swahili and making up the rest in the slang we called “Sheng”.

We went out to the common dining area and saw the girls lining up for their tea and bread which I now saw was the hot dog shaped buns. I gulped my tea down and hurriedly ate my breakfast and left for school. The institute was located about 25 minutes from the hostels but in the summer, this felt almost like an hour. The sun was already overhead and it was only 8.30 am in the morning. What would happen at midday? I shuddered at the thought and knew it would be scorching.

As we ran up to the old building that housed the language center I was excited but terrified; I loved school and learning but all the school and learning I had ever done was in a language I understood, this was entirely different. Worse still, the moment I sat down I realized that some of my classmates had studied Arabic before in their previous academic career and this was more a brushing up on their language skills as opposed to learning from scratch as I was. I was even more nervous by this point but I kept praying all would be well.

Our teacher walked in and wow, she was a beautiful woman who had her hands and feet all done up in henna (which I would come to understand was only worn by women who were married and unmarried women wouldn’t wear it). She had a beautiful cream and green thobe on (which was a draped clothe that fell from her shoulder and came around and covered her right up to her  feet.

She introduced herself as Ustadha Haya and went to tell us how she would conduct her class and her expectations of us.
  1. No dictionaries were allowed.
  2. No electronic recording of lectures for playback, so no recorders and no electronic dictionaries.
  3. All of us had to understand what she said as she said it, with no assistance from any external factor.
Wow! No dictionaries, was this woman serious? I guess we would find out how serious she was soon enough.


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