I’ve been in the UK for just over twenty-four hours. In another twenty-four hours I’ll be gone again, somewhere over the Iberian peninsula on a plane bound for Morocco. I finished work on Tuesday night and I’ll be back to the grindstone by Saturday afternoon. Even by my standards, I’m cutting it fine for breathing space.
It’s my birthday that spoiled it. It’s quite stupid, really. I should have been heading out next Saturday, not this one. Any other day and I’d have been quite happy to head out to begin the third and final stint of my Year Abroad… But it’s the thought of spending an entire day traveling and winding up in Tetouan, alone, and very probably lost in translation on my twenty-second birthday that held me back.
It’s only another day in the year. And twenty-two is nothing special. But I’d rather have got cozy and settled in before I think too hard about aging another year. If I’d had half a brain and just a pinch of common sense, I’d have ignored the detail and given myself just a few more days to rest. Another week, perhaps. But I didn’t, and I’m off tomorrow, to begin the placement I fought so very hard to win last summer. I guess I have little choice but to tackle it head on, beaming.
There’s also the fact that I won’t be ‘alone’ for long. Just two weeks after I touch down, I’ll be joined by two Arabbuddies from Durham: Team Jordan’s very own Katie Lang and Kat, both Team Morocco veterans. The temptation to resort to English will be strong. All the more reason to knuckle down and get stuck in first. As the first Durham Arabist to test the waters at Dar Loughat – a pioneer, if you will – it’s my prerogative to get off to a good start, which means the less tempted I am to fall back on English, the better. I won’t have any repeats of Jordan.
Not that it’s a competition or anything like that. Language learning never should be. Even if it were, I’d have lost already. Kat will be fresh from at least five months and more in Jordan, Team Fes totaled six or seven shortly after Christmas and the Lebanon lot have just clocked a whopping nine months in Beirut, so any chances of the Arabic class of ’17 coming back on an even playing field are already dead in the water, but at least Katie and I are of the same mentality: namely, one of ‘ah heck, let’s just get this over with, shall we?’.
But that’s ok. Arabic is fun, it’s interesting and the countries where it’s spoken doubly so, but I never really wanted to go anywhere with it. A desire to explore North Africa and to make myself understood in the process are all I really wanted from it, and that’s exactly what Dar Loughat can provide. So what if I’m going to return to Durham near the bottom of the Arabic pile, despite having started off so strong? Put me in a Spanish class instead and watch me fly. Arabic is no lost cause either. Morocco will bring out the goods. All I have to do is hold up my end of the bargain and work for it.
The train’s pulling in to Paddock Wood. England looks so very green and lush and beautiful… And cold. It was almost worth making this brief sortie back home just for the train ride. The Kentish lowlands are really quite pretty.
I know next to nothing about what happens after I touch down tomorrow. I know I’m getting picked up from the airport, which is a plus, but as for the name and number of my host family for the next two months… Zilch. Kaput. I’m just hoping there’s something fixed on the other end. I seem to remember that it was just as laissez-faire in Amman, but I’m striking out alone this time. And whilst it’s hardly more a priority than having a roof over my head, I wonder if they’ll have WiFi… Internet access has been very touch-and-go this year; quite literally so, now that I have a portable device in the form of this Durham courtesy iPad. Since July 2015 I’ve leant out of windows, loitered about cafés and put in extra hours in the staff room in search of WiFi. Even here at home I’m going to have to go next door into the common room to post this. Here’s to third-time lucky.
First priority when I get home is to get packing. If I could finish unpacking first, that would be a plus, too. I suppose I should also spend tonight thinking about my dissertation; module registration opens tomorrow, so I’d better do that just before I go. I’m not lacking in ideas. I’m holding a book on captive narratives in the Empire years, and in my rucksack are a further two studies on women in the Indian mutiny and the role of Lawrence’s young men in the Khyber border disputes.
Unfortunately, I’m not studying for a History degree, and since the Spanish never had a hold over the Indian subcontinent, there’s precious little good any of that will do me, besides being thrilling reading. I’ve been obsessed with the Raj since Pavilions.
It’ll be something literary I suppose – that’s where I work best – but I haven’t quite narrowed it down yet. I’ll try to focus my three potential fields into two titles apiece and see what Durham’s advice is. I’m getting myself another £9000 in debt this year just for the privilege of studying at university (future generations, look back and weep); the least I can do is ask them to do that much for me so that I’m all cleared to begin in September.
Before that, two independent research projects in the target language are outstanding: one each for Spanish and Arabic, on bandit legends and the Barbary pirates respectively. All I need is reliable internet and I’ll get cracking. Morocco, don’t let me down.
The next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Africa (oh, but that felt good. I should say that more often. It makes the next leg a great deal more exciting, when you think of it like that). Until then, wish me luck. It’s going to be quite the uphill struggle, getting back into Arabic after almost a year’s wanton neglect, but I’m up for a challenge. Bring it. BB x