Bilingual Breakfast

“I’ve heard that the bathroom tastes very good here.” 

The patrons at the table behind me are out of my line of vision, but not out of earshot.  It’s not my intention to eavesdrop, but with an opening line such as that, how can I resist?  The club’s dining hall has pretty much emptied out after the crowd’s mad dash to eat after a full day of fasting.  Ramadan buffets in Egypt are a sight to see….but from a safe distance.  One generally needs to have sharp elbows and quick wits about them in order to successfully fill a plate, as the competition for delectibles is fierce and furious.  Today I have opted to forgo the buffet round and extend my fast until the dinning room shifts into menu mode, usually about an hour after the sunset iftar is called.   Its just safer that way. 

              The twists and turns of language acquisition!

“I’m going to have the shoe salad.”, her companion states briskly.  I hear his menu snap shut and thump down on the table.  He’s clearly made up his mind.  The rustling and shifting sounds that follow suggest he’s already occupying himself with reading the paper as he waits for the server to arrive and take the order. 

“But you said you wanted traffic tonight.  If you had wanted salad we could have stayed home.“  Her exasperated tone hints that there is a history to this conversation and I’m only catching a fragment of a fuller emotional dialogue. 

 “I’ve got plenty of shoes in the refrigerator and the female genital region is about to spoil.”  The accusatory tone is unmistakable.  As her partner in frustration begins to respond with words that are obviously being filtered through clenched teeth, it’s at this point that I decide to check in with my own dining companion. 

Cautious not to be overheard myself, I lean in towards the back of the menu across from me.  “Umm….Muhammad, what’s that all about?” 

“Hmm?  What?”  he grunts, not even glancing up from the list of options.  His eyes are practically eating the words, he’s so hungry.  Poor guy. 

“Seriously.  You’ve got to hear this conversation.”  As I quickly but quietly relay the dialogue, his eyes slowly move towards me with an expression of shock layered with more than a little bit of bafflement.  It takes him a moment to process what I’ve shared.  He has a better view of the couple in question and his attention, as well as his body position, now shifts in their direction. 

Their debate has continued and the severity of it has actually convinced the waiter to hold off on approaching the table.  I can see him hovering nervously off to the side.  The words are a blur to me at this point.  My brain can’t keep up with the sounds entering my ears.  The angry tenor is reinforced by sounds of utensils and plates clanking, newspaper being thrust down and back up and down again as comments are batted back and forth. 

A grin spreads across Muhammad’s face as his posture straightens and he looks back to me.  “Tell me again what you heard.” I begin to sense the error I made but I again relay the words I had heard, albeit a little less confidently this time.  He shakes his head as I continue from sentence to sentence and then almost chokes on his laughter when I get to the rotting genitalia. 

“Its absolutely wonderful that you’re making an effort to learn this language…” He gives me a genuine smile.  “…but there are a few words I probably should clarify for you.” 

The waiter swoops in, eager for a distraction from the growing hostility at table 24, and we place our fast-breaking order.  The seething couple will eventually get past their own menu selections and order as well, but not before Muhammad and I commence an impromptu Arabic lesson. 

hammam = bathroom      hamam = pigeon

gazma = shoe                      gazar = carrot

zahma = traffic                   lahma = beef

koosa = zucchini                koos = female genital region (but not so nicely phrased)