Adventures in the Land of ض

The magnolias, cherries and azaleas are making us all dizzy with the arrival of spring. We are emerging (I just got my second COVID vaccine!) from a year of lockdown. It is hard to resist the impulse to shout exultant nonsense syllables like “Woohoo!” But the Al-Bustan organization, which has given me joy for over a decade now, has, this year, given me actual words with which to express this exultant feeling. 

As I write, Al-Bustan is screening a film series titled  تحرير “Tahrir,” which brings us stories of recent Arab Spring events in Egypt. Freedom. I may not be able to say, “ana amreekiah min asl arabi,” but I can say I am an American who is feeling liberated by exposure to cultures I long to understand. Not long ago, I watched the Saudi film “Last Visit,” in the company of the two film makers and Al-Bustan’s Executive director, Mohannad Ghawanmeh. I never stop enjoying the latest horizon-broadening offering sprouting in this orchard. 

Sue Frank (R) performs with the Returners Percussion Ensemble

Another word Al-Bustan has added to my vocabulary is  مدوَّر  “Mudawar.” That is, Iqa’ Mudawar—the name of an elegant percussion rhythm which Hafez Kotain has brought to our Percussion Ensemble. Music classes in general are uniquely challenged by the limitations imposed by Internet technology. “Latency,” the lag created by immutable laws of physics which we experience in ZOOM classes, prevents us from playing together without sounding like sneakers in the dryer. But one bonus of these quarantine difficulties is the chance to learn new computer skills. That by itself is liberating. 

I’ve finally figured out how to make videos of myself playing the drums. It’s almost as scary as public speaking! But the more you do it, the easier it gets. 

The glory of this last drumming year has been the creation of a two-level system of classes. Beginners can sign up to learn the basics, and those of us returning are being offered new challenges each week. The new material is more difficult than anything we’ve seen before. So we need some supervision! We make videos of ourselves playing our lessons—useful as teaching tools. And Hafez and Jessica do the tricky work of editing each of us into a group performance piece at the close of each “semester.” 

Another verbal gift from Al-Bustan is the phrase “The Land (or Tongue) of “Daad—ض –which Teacher Noora has told us is a popular way to describe the Arabic language, in recognition of its unique vocal attributes. I have to admit, I crack myself up as I struggle to make the sound of the letter ضَ. I’m sure it cracks up anyone listening to me make the effort! But learning to read Arabic phonetically and use the Arabic keyboard on the computer to peck out sentences is being enhanced by learning to make sounds I never made before. 

Sue Frank taking Arabic Classes

It will be a joy to feel free to rejoin Al-Bustanis in the beautiful Hub which Hazami Sayed created for the ever-evolving projects of her organization. Here’s to meeting words, rhythms, and friends old and new as 2021 unfolds! 

-Sue Frank

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