by Frank Banton

He was such an unhappy boy from Jordon: easy to rile, friendless, almost always alone, a mediocre student at best, and often just a pain in the ass. Now he was in the twelfth grade, and I was his homeroom teacher. This meant seeing the kids for about ten minutes in the morning just before first period. I would take attendance, read announcements, and find some way to joke around with them. In some ways it was my favorite period of the day.

One morning I glanced into the classroom, and there was Ashraf, about fifteen minutes early and sitting alone. Something tugged at my heart, so I walked in to join him. As I got there, a bizarre idea popped into my head.

“Ashraf,” I said, “I want you to do me a favor.”

He looked up, wary and suspicious.

“Ashraf,” I continued, “I want you to teach me how to say shit in Arabic. I can say it in French, I can say it in Italian, I can say it in German, I can say it in Spanish, and I can even say it in Polish. But I can’t say it in Arabic.”

By now he was more than suspicious; he was also shocked that a teacher would ask such a thing.

“Look,” I said. “It’s just the two of us here, so no one will know. Please, how do you say it?”

So he said it, and I began repeating it. “No,” he said, “it’s more guttural, more in the throat.” By now he was completely involved.

I kept repeating it, and he began to nod his head.

“Is it good?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “it’s very good.”

“Do I sound Jordanian?”

“No, you sound Egyptian, but it’s very good.”

I don’t know what all this meant to him, but every time we met after that, there would be a hint of a smile on the corner of his mouth.

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