Friday, September 14, 2007

Chalk Dust in the Sun

I was in a 200 year old tower house in a small town outside of Sana'a in the Yemen Arab Republic back when it was North Yemen. A German Moonie named Fritz Pipenburg was teaching me and 11 other Americans some of the finer points of Classical Arabic grammar. I had been in the country for only three weeks and I still had not managed to fully wrap my mind around the fact that I was in this strange place and probably would be for two years.

I was having fun learning Arabic during the day and then occassionally skipping a lesson and catching a taxi into Sana'a with Patricia to go practice by getting lost in the Old City and having to find our way back to arRowdha.

My mind was drifting away from Fritz and toward the low-angled light streaming in through the stained glass gamaria windows common in Yemeni houses. Fritz had just erased the verb "a'aref", (to know), and the dust from the once-words was swirling through the sunlight in a dance far more graceful to the eyes than the sound of the word ever could be to the ears.

Even then, in the moment--in real time, I knew that that image would be a powerful metaphor someday. Well, here it is 20 years later and the image still knocks me for a loop whenever I picture it.

Funny thing, though. I still can't make it stand for anything more than what it already is.

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