Locals learn Arabic to welcome refugees

Selkirk student Adib Malas has been teaching Arabic to a group of Nelson residents.

Selkirk student Adib Malas has been teaching basic Arabic to a class of Nelson residents.

Arabic Lessons from Bill Metcalfe on Vimeo.



Adib Malas looked like he’d been speaking in public for years. He was funny and comfortable before an audience of a couple of dozen Nelsonites, many old enough to be his grandparents. His English was nearly perfect. Not bad for a 19-year-old Syrian who first encountered western culture only a year and a half ago.

The Selkirk College student was teaching basic Arabic to some Nelson residents who belong to three different groups hoping to bring refugees to town. The three 90-minute sessions ran last week at the Nelson United Church.

“The lessons are fun but humbling,” said class member Lindsay Robertson. “Adib is very engaging. He is a natural teacher. Everyone was involved, but not intimidated.”

Malas has taught a few Arabic lessons before, in Castlegar. The main difficulty, he says, is that Arabic has consonant sounds that are completely foreign to European languages.

”We have no ability to make those sounds,” said Robertson.

Malas appeared to enjoy interacting with his students. He said he’s grateful to the group, and surprised by their commitment.

“I love it,” he said. “And it is amazing that people so far from a crisis are responding with such great care to a huge problem.”

Robertson said the training, which amounts to three 90-minute sessions, is largely symbolic.

“We can show them that we care with a ‘hello’ in Arabic,” she said.

But it’s also practical. If the hosts can learn only a few practical words, that will help. And she said Malas’ training sessions are not just about language, but include personal stories and cultural advice.

“He told us that the [local] men will have to talk to the [refugee] men, and the women to the women,” Robertson said. “He said they might have trouble crossing gender lines. He was saying this to a group of ‘liberal, progressive’ people and I could just feel us all checking our cultural biases and expectations.”

Talking with the Star later, Malas confirmed this and said if a man talks to a woman, he likely won’t look directly at her, nor she at him.

“If you are a [western] female and you start a conversation with a male, it is not disrespectful in the Syrian culture to look away. It is customary to do so, because males are not supposed to touch females or look at them. The same applies to females if they are looking away or hiding behind doors, that is customary. It is not disrespectful in any sense.”

Malas was born in Syria and spent most of his life in Saudi Arabia. He’s in the rural pre-medicine program at Selkirk.

Asked what was the most challenging adjustment to Canadian society, considering the very repressive social norms in Saudi Arabia, he replied “There was a huge cultural shock when I came here. I came from Saudi Arabia which is more segregated than Syria and had to adjust from a place where you are seeing zero skin of females. It was less pronounced for me than for other people because I had a lot of access to the Internet and media.

“But I had to learn how to be casual around women, how to live in a society that is not male-dominated, and to understand that males and females are equal. I feel like I have done this. I enjoyed being in a class taught by Linda Harwood in Selkirk College where she focuses on subjects related to feminism and that has been very helpful for me.”

So here he is, embedded in western culture, joking with his male and female students about their mangling of Arabic consonant sounds, laughing at them and with them.

“We all feel lucky to have spent time with this very interesting young man,” said Robertson. “It’s been an honour for us.”

 

Just Posted

Avalanche Canada issues special public warning

Very weak layer buried under recent snow a cause for concern

KBRH on watch for bed bugs after two recent cases

Spokesperson Mandy Lowery says there has not been a bed bug sighting at KBRH since Dec. 8

Coffee card donations return at Wait’s News

The program supplied over 200 cards last year

Trafalgar students build home for sanctuary horse

Grade 8 students collaborated on a project with a local farm sanctuary

Nelson won’t restrict parking amnesty to West Kootenay

So far, more than 800 people have responded with amnesty payments

Some types of cauliflower, lettuce recalled over E. coli fears

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced recall because of possible contamination.

Ryan Reynolds to narrate movie about B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest

Vancouver-born actor known for Deadpool movies will voice film to be released Feb. 15, 2019

Airline passengers could get up to $2,400 for delays, damaged bags: Canadian agency

Canadian Transportation Agency is releasing draft regulations for public feedback

Top of mind: ‘Justice’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle and President Trump’s Twitter feed.

‘Spider-Verse’ swings to the top; ‘Mortal Engines’ tanks

“Spider-Verse” has been very well-received among critics, and audiences in exit surveys gave it a rare A+ CinemaScore.

Canadians spent almost $64,000 on goods and services in 2017

Households in B.C. each spent $71,001 with housing costs contributing to higher average

Speaker at rally says Alberta oil ‘puts tofu on the table in Toronto!’

RCMP estimated more than 1,500 people attended the rally in Grande Prairie

White House closer to partial shutdown with wall demand

Without a resolution, parts of the federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, Dec. 21

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

Most Read