Hadil Ghoneim: Home Accents

The author at school in Kuwait. Courtesy of Hadil Ghoneim

“You speak with no accent,” the American man remarked. He was hosting our small Egyptian delegation for lunch, and I knew he meant it as a compliment. It was my first visit to the US, but instead of simply thanking him, I found myself thinking over his comment. “I actually speak English with an American accent,” I said. The awkwardness dissipated as I went on to tell the whole group about growing up in Kuwait, attending an American school where all my teachers were from the US. That school’s Lebanese-American founders probably had the same self-aggrandizing sense of identity, too. They named it The Universal American School.

American wasn’t the only accent I picked up there. The majority of my peers were the children of Lebanese, Palestinian, and Egyptian professionals working in Kuwait. There were very few Kuwaiti kids, some Iraqis, some Syrians, and a small assortment of non-Arab nationalities. I wasn’t even conscious that I was mimicking the other kids’ accents until the Arabic language teacher, assuming I was Kuwaiti, asked me to tell the class something about Kuwait. Before I could correct him, another kid shouted out that I was Palestinian, only to be corrected by another. I was embarrassed, but also surprised at how deceptive my speech could be. I wasn’t aware that I was an accent chameleon. For a long time after that incident, I thought the way I spoke must be the result of some weakness or insecurity that I had as a child in a culturally mixed community. Nothing reassured me about my bidialectalism until I came across some British research on accents (the Brits are famous for obsessing over voices). Rather than a sign of inauthenticity, research shows that switching dialects and accents is a natural and subconscious adaptive impulse, and that it can be attributed to the increased mobility of the middle classes.

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𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 a young woman with child and a young man in love with her

I’d rather think about a young woman with child and a young man in love with her even though he’s not the father of her child, the two of them are the only ones in the world, and he, the young man, is thinking that the young woman makes him so happy that even though he isn’t the father of the child she’s carrying he has to help her, they have to find a place where she can give birth, the young man thinks, and then the two of them, the man and the woman, go off to find a place somewhere and someone who can help, but as they’re walking it starts to rip and tear inside the young woman’s body and then they’re at a farm, they go up and knock on the door but no one opens up, so either there’s no one home or else no one wants to open the door for them, but the house is dark so probably there’s no one there, so they go into the hay barn, there are some cows in the stalls, some sheep walking around in the main part of the barn, and it’s probably the heat that the animals are giving off that makes it less cold in the barn than it is outside, so the girl lies down in the straw and there she gives birth to a baby and she says that an angel has told her she would give birth to a baby boy so it must be a boy, she says, and she says that the angel told her not to be scared because God was with her and the young man sees that a light is coming from the child, an incomprehensibly beautiful light, and then the young woman takes her breast and she gives it to the baby and the boy falls silent, and he sucks, he sucks, the young man thinks, and everything about it is unbelievable because there’s such a strange light shining from the baby lying there at the young woman’s breast, then she looks up at the young man and she smiles at him and the young man thinks that this, this light, no, he can’t understand it, because this light from the child in the darkness

— from The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls

1995-99 (2019)

Madeline Beach Carey: Alternative Therapies

Ferdinando Scianna, Umbria, Melezzole, MESSEGUE’s Beauty farm. Source: magnumphotos.com

Olga was a screamer. It’s nothing you would have guessed about her, at least not at first. Or perhaps some would. Maybe almost anybody could have told me to watch out for a beauty school graduate with a military father. But I was shy, and clueless, and young, excited to be in a new place, excited to date a girl.

We met at the beauty parlor on Calle Numancia, near the main train station in Barcelona. It wasn’t just a beauty parlor, it was a huge complex, three floors, opened from ten am to midnight Monday through Saturday and until three pm on Sundays. You could get anything done there: nails, hair, waxing, electrolysis, Thai massage, California or Swedish massage, Botox injections, fish pedicures. Olga did waxing and I was both the massage guy and the handyman. I fixed broken lamps and collapsing massage tables, dealt with circuit breakers, repaired all sorts of broken nail-clipping tools. The owner, Adele, a French woman who weighed about 45 kilos, hired me the August I arrived from Buenos Aires. She liked that I had long hair, a thick black ponytail. You seem New Age, she said, and asked if I’d be interested in maybe teaching her tai chi.

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