Teaching Arabic to Our Homeschooling Community

Dolphin Cruise

Following our camping trip in Dubai, we spent two more days in Abu Dhabi with dear and beloved friends. Coincidentally and serendipitously, I wasn’t the only visitor passing through that weekend. Another dear and beloved friend, who I consider to be more of a mentor than a fellow student, was passing through. Before babies and the Arab Spring, we were students together in Hadhramaut, Yemen. She was the very first person I extended my hand to greet on my very first night in the city. Like the first greeting until our most recent, her humility and sincerity has always moved me to reflect on my own spiritual state.

Al Riyam Park

Unlike some of the other students, this special sister was efficient and focused. She was tenacious in her studies and intentional in her socializing. It was a tremendous blessing to see her and her reflection in her children. We chatted and reminisced but mostly reconnected. Meanwhile, the teacher who hosted our modest welcome gathering in the park spoke to me warmly and liberally in Arabic. She later invited all of the attendees to an evening event and called upon both my reunited friend and myself to speak to the entire audience in Arabic. The entire encounter was surprising, and we quietly chuckled about how we were similarly put on the spot to speak back in Yemen many years ago.

Nakhal Fort

Standing in front of those blessed Yemeni and Emirati faces, I shared a bit about my life and how I came to embrace Islam. But more potent than what I shared was what I received. As much as I doubt myself about this fact, it is true—I can speak Arabic. Perfect? No. Native-like? Never. With mistakes?  Yup. But, all of my years of study produced something. I’m not only understood but I understand and with my former colleagues and teachers gazing at me with their good opinion and lofty expectations, I realize that I have more to give to our little community in Muscat than I thought.

Nakhal Fort

Upon my return, I quit skirting around the issue and stepped up to make myself available. Though I would welcome more capable candidates for the task, until they arrive, I believe it’s my purpose to teach Beginner’s Arabic and Qur’an recitation to the children and mothers in our little homeschooling community. So, by the grace of God, that’s what I’m doing and the more I embrace my role, the more I find great resources and support at my disposal.

Farm in Barka

For the younger students, ages 4-7, we’ve started with basic vocabulary groups like colors, shapes, foods, animals, the weather, etc. At some point we introduced songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and The Days of the Week in Arabic. I even translated “This is the Way We…” to fit into a lovely set of graded story books that can be downloaded on Scribd. I recently discovered Arabic Seeds and that’s a great resource too!

For the older students, ages 8-13, we’re using the tried and true Madinah Islamic University Curriculum with as many extension activities I can come up with like Pictionary, scavenger hunts, charades, drawing maps, writing stories, etc. The pdf version works well for the mothers that I teach, but the Goodword edition is much more appealing.

For those of you interested in starting an Arabic playgroup or class in your homeschooling community, my best advice is to start where you are and with what you have, learn as you go, and have fun! I’m certainly not the fountain of Arabic language I’d like to be, but I do need to honor what my teachers have poured into me by pouring that knowledge into others.

International Book Festival

Adjusting to Ankara: Myths and Realities

Ankara

Turkey is our fifth country of residence since living abroad.  As with our past moves, there’s something fascinating to me about that very first ride from the airport to the place you will call home. From the time those sliding doors open from the safety of the airport lobby to the mystery of the world beyond it, there’s an initial impression, energy, and vibe. I watch it all—the landscapes, the people, the signs—as closely as my jetlagged eyes will allow, seeking something familiar or a point of reference to orient myself around. With time, all of those initial mental snapshots start to become landmarks in a maze and then later an organized grid. The streets I walk and places I know so well now were once disorienting, but now they are my home.

It’s hard to say if our adjustment went quickly or slowly, but all I know is that right now the weeks seem to be flying. We are settled in our apartment and neighborhood, we’ve picked up some Turkish along the way, and we have a good sense about what the city has to offer. By no means are we expert expats but we know where we are, what we’ve experienced, and what we expect for the duration of our stay. We’ve had some interesting surprises since coming—some based on our own expectations and others based on the experiences of others or what we’ve read online. However, there are a few things we’ve learned for ourselves and we hope it will help the next family in transit.

Prayer Space

Myth: Turkey is similar to other parts of the Middle East. 

Reality: Not all of Turkey. Yes, the mosques are present and the call to prayer is heard, but none of that means you won’t see what would be considered very taboo in other parts of the Muslim world. For example, open homosexuality, public displays of affection, tattoos, drinking, smoking, etc.

Myth: Finding vegan food will be easy.

Reality: We were heartbroken when we discovered that a common vegetarian dish, lentil soup, may be prepared with animal stock. Hummus and baba ghanoush are not as common as Turkish restaurants abroad led us to believe. So, we have to be a bit more focused in our pursuit by seeking out Ege (Aegean), ev yemekleri (homecooked foods), vegan 0r veg-friendly eateries.

Aegean Food

Myth: If you have a residency permit, you can leave your passport at home.

Reality: Some transactions at the bank, post office, or a notary will still require your passport or a copy. Getting an ikamet residency can be arduous but it is necessary and will make sure you’re lawfully abiding in the land.

Myth: It will be great to receive care packages from abroad.

Reality: Receiving packages has been mostly a nightmare for us because of customs rules, fees, etc. We recently had to opt for a package to be destroyed because the paperwork to retrieve it from customs was worth more than the package itself. We’ve learned the hard way and now know not to request any cosmetics or food products. Books from Amazon UK, on the other hand, arrive easily as long as they’re not worth more than 75 – 100 Euros.

Myth: Mail order makes life convenient.

Reality: Not always. In the winter, mail order produce was a dream come true. I sat home, cozy and warm with the kids, while farm fresh produce came to my front door. It’s hard to predict when deliveries will come and you don’t always receive a SMS message in advance, so you can be left waiting all day long. If for whatever reason you miss a delivery, retrieving it can be a pain without a car.

Myth: Turkish people love children.

Reality: Turkish people really, really love children. Almost like good luck charms, it’s hard for most of them to pass a child without a smile, rub on the face, or kiss on the cheek. And, if your children look anything like our chocolate bunnies, beware! They may well want to eat your kids or at least take their picture.

Myth: In Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, English should be easy to come by.

Reality: Oh no! Even in official offices, you may not find a single English speaker, so get started on your Turkish as soon as possible or make friends who can help by translating.

Myth: You can receive money transfers easily.

Reality: Make sure the sender uses Western Union and uses your complete name (inclusive of your middle name), so it perfectly matches your passport ID.

Myth: All you need is a SIM card to use your phone from abroad.

Reality: You must register your phone by paying a fee at the bank, receiving an e-password from the post office, and then completing your registration on a Turkish website within a couple of months. Our first attempt was unsuccessful, so we have to start the process all over again or buy a Turkish phone.

Myth: You can buy train tickets at the post office or a travel agent, according to the internet.

Reality: Nope. The website says you can but…nope. If you don’t succeed in buying tickets online, go to the train station.  My friend teased me saying that Turks never trust what the internet says.  Lesson learned.

Marital Advice That Works for Us

Celebrating our ten-year anniversary at home with the children

Celebrating our ten-year anniversary at home with the children

My cousin is getting married today and unfortunately, we can’t be there to attend.  Our newborn is not yet six-weeks old and we’ve had to rework our travel plans accordingly.  In lieu of our absence, we wanted to congratulate the newlyweds and offer ten practices and principles that have really benefited us in our years of marriage.

Be committed to a common aim, purpose, and spiritual path.  There should always be something greater in your life than yourselves and each other.  Your lives should orbit around a constant that is unchanging, not the temporal.

Express gratitude generously for things both big and small.  Everyone wants to feel appreciated, even when they do what’s expected of them.

Be committed to your personal development.  Always set goals for self-improvement and support each other respectively.

Avoid blaming each other and instead work together towards solutions.  Blame is rarely productive but teamwork most often is.

Share new things that you read/learn/think about and be reflective.  Sharpen each other’s intellect and rediscover each other through stimulating conversation and thoughtful introspection.

Value each other’s interests.  Understanding what a person loves or enjoys helps you to better understand them.

Be selfless in your service to each other.  If you are both sincere in your giving, there is no need to keep tabs.  In a healthy relationship, giving and receiving is mutual.

Maintain attractiveness, health, and well-being.  Value your self and spouse enough to take care of yourself both inwardly and outwardly.

Honor each other and your families.  Never tear each other or family members down, in public or private.  Always seek to build, not destroy.  Offer criticism constructively and advice sincerely.

Choose your companions wisely.  Surround yourself with friends that value marriage, fidelity, and family.  Build a community around you that nurtures your marriage and a marriage that nourishes your community.

Our warmest congrats to you both.  We pray that your union is blessed for many years to come.  Welcome to the family, Fiona!