Sunday, 27 November 2011

Word of the day: zanikh زنخ - rancid

A couple of my med-student flatmates used this word several times in conversation, with particular emphasis on the 'ikkkhhhh.' I wasn't paying attention to what they were saying, but this word flew back and forth and caught my ear. I have an irritating habit of whipping out my little notebook every time a hear a new word, interrupting the conversation, and asking everyone in the room if they have a synonym in their own dialects. They almost always do. They tease me that I'll never learn all the dialects, and they're right, I won't. Every person I meet speaks a different one.

I think words that describe something gross should have a 'kh' somewhere. There's wasikh (dirty), and kherbana (busted, wrecked when describing object, or rotten, when describing something edible). People draw out the 'kh' sound to show their disgust.

My friend's son, at a year old, would stand in his crib and say 'ikkkhhhhh,' especially if he knew he was doing something he knew he shouldn't be. It was one of the first distinctly Arabic sounds he learned, I think because he heard it so much. Whenever someone caught him rooting through the garbage or the diaper pail, they'd say 'ikkhhh,' and pull him away. Laughing when he said it back didn't help keep him out of the dirty diapers.

I've heard badly behaved people described as having 'rancid blood.' As one of my flatmates put it:

نقوله (دمه زنخ) عن بني أدم عندما حركاته مش منيح

Friday, 4 November 2011


I woke up slowly on this Jumua' morning two days before Eid. It had to be late, but the light filtering through the drapes was mellow, and the air was still cool. I was half-aware of a strange sound coming from outside. Pink patta patta pink patta patta pink plonk.

Rain. The first rain we've had all year. And a grumble of thunder, and irate drivers leaning on their horns.

The little stone courtyard at the bottom of the stairs was flooded, an inches-deep swimming pool and graveyard for stranded cockroaches. They're not very good swimmers, it turns out.

The leaves on the fig and green lemon trees, dusty, brown-edged, and wilted yesterday, were crisp, green, and vibrant.

This is better than Eid, better than Christmas. People who haven't been able to water their crops or wash their clothes or bathe properly or drink clear water for nearly a year just got the best gift God could give them.

Not a gift we're prepared for, however. The sound of sirens and honking reminds me that the roads are certain to be flooded. It rains so rarely here that there are no drainage systems to speak of. Many people with ground floor flats will be sloshing through a few inches of cold water and wishing they hadn't bothered putting the winter carpets down. I don't have any clothes appropriate for going out in the rain, and most working-class people won't either. All the people living in tents will be cold and miserable for the next few months. Some of them will die, children and the elderly and even young adults, struck down suddenly by ordinary illnesses that could be easily treated, given access to medical care and better housing.

As mixed a blessing as rain is, it is still a blessing, and cause to celebrate, for those fortunate enough to have dry-ish houses, warm sweaters, and good friends this Eid.