Cherubic Arabic


Kaitlyn Wallace, 21st Century Journalism

Mashes of Arabic, English and other various sounds zing across room 366 as students attempt to wrangle and subdue the lyrical Arabian speech. They sit at dark groupings of tables near the front of the room, leaving the back decidedly empty, save the seat I had managed to sneak and the teachers desk in the back corner opposite me. Mumbled phrases of broken Arabic float around and a pair of rusted wind chimes sways in the slight breeze beside me, making the room seem startlingly comfortable yet intriguing. What seemed to be a Persian rug, but upon further inspection was not, sat in the back corner to my left, faded yellow and Tuscan red beanbags nestled on top to make group work both stylish and comfortable.
“في رأيي…” (Benesbah lej) Arabic teacher Annie Hasan said, leaving students to fill in the blank with answers to a poll they had been discussing. She was looking for the student’s opinions on their favorite restaurants throughout the KC-MO district and answers ranged from Jack Stack Barbecue to the South cafeteria to KC Joe’s, wide-spectrums that display the various ethnic tastes and preferences of the students inside the classroom. The room is brightly lit, conveying a feeling of amenity and satisfaction, leading the students to share their thoughts with the class, though haltingly. They hesitantly chime in, voices a little unsure, words sounding thick and uncertain in their mouths, their tongues unsteady in the way a ballet dancer is when learning a new routine. Leaning in, they whisper conspiratorially about worksheets and answers while Hasan flits around, glancing over hunched shoulders and upturned heads, correcting answers as she goes. Students quietly shuffle their papers while working on worksheets of conjugation, frustrating endeavors from their expressions, and near silent whispers float stealthily over the sound of the humming air conditioner from above.
Raising a hand, a student expresses a thought that undoubtedly many have but none are brave enough to utter. “I feel like I did something wrong,” senior Melissa Larson said. Many nods follow and Hasan marches over to check her work. Hasan again goes around the room, helping those few students that are lost behind the rest. Students respond to her questions, their strong accents strangely guttural while still being enchanting and musical to the ear, drawing the listener to a different place and time.
“Please get your wajib out,” Hasan said, leading the students to a new session in class… Grading homework.
“I was so frustrated by the homework,” Larson said, head propped on a hand as she pulls out a folder and stares at the page she pulls out. A few nods hear and there from students who agree but don’t wish to speak. Hasan walks around while waiting for them to get their pages from their bags and sighs at their light grumbling.
“Wait, what was the homework?” A boy near the back asks, glancing around in an almost comical way; eyes wide, grin splitting his lips in a gruesome impression of the Cheshire cat. The other students stare at him for a moment, then shake their heads, turn away, and leave him to flounder.
Standing, I made my way to the door. A red satin quilt frames the door, a green star embroidered in the middle that reminds me of Christmas and church. Memories of late nights, early mornings at my church for Christmas eve danced in my head like Sugar Plum fairies, then with a shake, disappeared, morphing back to being just a blanket with a star. Pushing the door open, the student’s voices mingle into an almost chaotic jumble. The door finally opens and the hallway is blessedly silent, the complexities of the Arabic room put behind me as I escape.