Monday, June 23, 2008
A battle for the heart and mind of Miriam
If the Arabic School at Middlebury had a mascot, I think it would be Miriam. As you know if you've read any of my Jordan or Syria blogs, Arabs love kids. And Arabs who happen to be living in America, teaching at an intensive Arabic program for the summer, are no exception.
Somehow, I forget between each summer how much attention cute little blonde kids get in Arabia (or pseudo-Arabia, as we are experiencing here). And also how many sweets. Many of the faculty here have turned to flat-out bribery to win Miriam's affections. I'm afraid it's started a bit of an arms race.
The director got her to learn his name by showing her pictures of his own kids - never mind that the pictures are 7 or 8 years old and the cute baby girl, who is Miriam's favorite to look at, is now 10 or 11. Another teacher showed Miriam her gold cell phone and even let her hold it. That scored major points, at least for a little while, until the director trumped that with his Blackberry phone.
One of the veiled teachers struck out to an early lead, but it wasn't really fair since Miriam is partial to muhajjibas. And when the hijab is purple and sparkly - well, let's just say that it was all Miriam could talk about for a few days.
Yesterday, yet another teacher stopped by our house and gave Miriam a little toy phone. She reigned as favorite for a day, until the veiled teacher gave her some M&Ms at lunchtime. And so it continues.
In the "slow and steady wins the race" category are two Americans, one a teacher and one an admin employee. Both of them understand that the best way to become a little girl's favorite is not always sneaking up behind her and tickling her, especially when you're the fifth (I'm not exaggerating) person to do so in the last five minutes. So we'll see where they end up by the end of the summer.
Fortunately, after a rough week or so of jetlag and getting adjusted to her new surroundings, Miriam really is starting to warm up to everything a little more. The other day at dinner in the cafeteria, the director made some general announcements and then brought the microphone over to Miriam and asked her to count to ten in Arabic for everyone. To my complete surprise, she did it, no problem, in front of everyone. Actually, she only counted to nine, but she said "nine" with such a triumphant flourish that we all clapped and cheered anyway.
I hope Miriam is getting old enough to realize that we only allow her to be so spoiled during the summers. In Jordan in 2006, it was being fed chocolate cake by our landlady (but only once, and against my will). In 2007, it was getting a free lollipop at every visit to the corner store. This summer, apparently, it's being showered with gifts.
But come fall, real life will start again.