Bring on the Arabic Birthday

My birthday fell on a Monday this year, and the first time I got sung to was in Arabic at ten in the morning by my classmates in Arabic 204. My professor pretended to have forgotten all about it before sneaking in a Whole Foods bag into the classroom, from which he took out a huge white cake with “Happy Birthday, Daniela” written on it. He taught the class the words to the Arabic Happy Birthday Song, and a few of us had thick white vanilla frosting for breakfast.

My professor is a man from Jordan whose smile comes from the warmest part of his heart. Teaching Arabic to beginners isn’t an easy task, and it takes an enormous amount of patience to deal with our outbursts of laughter every time we try to pronounce one of the many complicated sounds of the language. Ben, we call him, makes the challenge as enjoyable for us as possible, even going as far as assigning and remembering Arabic names for each of us, so we can feel just a little less foreign to the culture we’re trying to immerse ourselves in. Every time he calls me “Shams,” my Arabic nickname meaning “sunshine”, it somehow feels more comfortable and familiar than when a lot of my friends call me “Dani,” the American nickname I was christened with upon arriving at Duke.  

At the beginning of every class, he asks us for “akhbar,” news, so that we can practice our speaking skills for relevant and daily topics of discussion that interest us. Lately, we’ve gotten very good at saying the word “president” in Arabic; it seems that everyone of us has something to say about alraees amreekee (the American president).

I cannot imagine what it is like for Ben to read the news every morning. He and his immediate family immigrated into the U.S. from Jordan, but he still has his parents and other extended family members there, and he has to weigh out the longing of wanting to go home with the fear of not being permitted into the U.S. again if he leaves. Worse, he has probably constantly had to worry about how great the quality of his children’s lives will be growing up in a country that is now telling them their religion makes them dangerous, after he made such a tremendous effort to get them here in the first place.

Personally, reading the morning news has turned into something that either leaves me enraged or in tears, or, occasionally, laughing. “President Trump is now speculating that the media is covering up terrorist attacks.” “Donald Trump threatens to take ‘Muslim ban’ to Supreme Court.”Betsy DeVos’s confirmation victory is a huge loss for America’s public school kids.” It seems as though this administration is living in a false reality, or, at least, a reality very different from the one my peers and I are in. While the people immediately around me cherish diversity and acceptance, it seems that the Trump administration wants to destroy everything that immigrants once loved and hoped for in America.

Currently, the Federal appeals court has ruled 3 to 0 against Trump on his ban, and so the executive order will remain frozen. As the Washington Post put nicely, “In a unanimous 29-page opinion, three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit flatly rejected the government’s argument that suspension of the order should be lifted immediately for national security reasons, and they forcefully asserted their ability to serve as a check on the president’s power.” Trump’s already infamous Twitter response was an all-caps “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” This case began when the state of Washington filed a complaint against the president, and quickly after, Minnesota joined in against him. As FiveThirtyEight explains, “the District Court for the Western District of Washington, a federal trial court, granted those states a temporary restraining order, blocking the White House from enforcing parts of its executive order.” Trump’s administration then appealed that order up to the 9th circuit, and this will eventually come to reach the Supreme Court.

Whether and when that day comes is iffy, according to the rest of FiveThirtyEight’s predictions, due to the unpredictability of what the presidential administration chooses to do next. Perhaps this is the simplest and most frustrating fact of life under President Trump: the not knowing what’s going to happen next, or who’s going to get hurt. Throughout the elections, I never thought in my worst nightmares that his policies would really hit so close to the ground that they would come to even affect me, a privileged college student, but now I have to see the brokenness Trump’s hateful actions have caused in the eyes of my Arabic professor every Monday and Wednesday morning. And as scared and in pain he must be, he will continue to smile every morning and ask us for the news, listening to our miserable attempts at his beautiful language.

And, thanks to his warmth and perseverance, I will eat pieces of birthday cake for dessert out of my fridge every night for the next few weeks while I listen to Fox News argue why people like him simply can’t be trusted.

Your family is in my heart, Ben, every day and night.

by Daniela Flamini

Daniela Flamini