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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Robin Moger: Two 1975 Stories by Muhammed Mustajab

Muhammad Mustajab, undated. Source: albawabhnews.com

The guide

He wandered into my path. My shoulder knocked into his shoulder and we smiled or apologised. The traffic, he said. I walked on. He turned and followed me. He said again, The traffic. I moved to the kerb and waited. He said shyly, I’m looking for the university placement office? He held out a piece of paper. I didn’t look at the piece of paper. He said, My eldest boy. He said, I’m from Tanta. He said, It’s cold. The traffic. I said, The office isn’t far. Take the first bus you see. I said, Get out at the university. Take any bus, I said. He put the letter back in his pocket and he smiled. Started moving his feet again. Started to walk away. I paused for a second and let him pass. I looked behind me. I called out. Don’t take the bus, I shouted. Listen to me. He came back. My voice was raised. Don’t take the bus, I said: It’s not far. The traffic, I said. I gestured at the pavement. I said, Just keep going on this side. I said, The office you want’s at the end of this street. He smiled. This way’s better, I said. He smiled. I said, The end of the street. Better than the traffic, I said. The letter was in his hand. He started to cross the street. I said, This side of the street, all the way down. He paused. Took a step forward. Immediately after the university, I said, and he was thrown up in the air. The whole world screaming. Rolling to a stop over his body the car.


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Nurat Maqbool: Gone

nilimasheikh-talk-01

Nilima Sheikh, Hunarmand, 2014. From “Each night put Kashmir in your dreams”. Source: cdn.aaa.org.hk

“Rizwan, it’s you, it’s you. Is that you, Rizwan?”

“Yes, it is me. But who are you? I know your voice but I can’t put a face to it.”

“Ah, never mind. Your father… your father has been looking for you. Where were you? What took you so long?”


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Yasmine Seale Translates Aisha al-Qurtubiyya

On being proposed to by a male poet

The Guennol Lioness, Mesopotamia, third millennium BC. Source: Wikipedia

I am a lioness: never will I let

my being be the break

on another’s journey.

.

But if that were my choice

I would not answer

to a dog, for to O!

how many lions

am I deaf.

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