Lost in translation

The world is governed by competing forces. There is the force of construction and there is the force of destruction. And then there is the force of confusion.

I. Constructive force

Annie is lying unconscious on the ground, and I’m supposed to revive her. First I call her name, then I squeeze her shoulders. No response. I unfasten her shirt and start chest compressions, counting to thirty. Then it is time for the breath. I pause from my frantic work to unwrap my mouth shield. Once secured over Annie’s inert features, I tilt her head back to extend her windpipe, hold her nostrils shut, and breathe. Nothing happens. Adjustments are made. I’m not squeezing the nose properly. I try again; still her lungs fail to fill with my air. I blow harder. Nope. I tilt her head back more, surprised at the flexibility of her vertebrae. Finally her chest rises, once, twice.

This is my first CPR training, and although both the dummies and the instructors are admirably patient with me, I can’t help but think that multiple redo’s would be less than desirable with a real victim. I picture myself pausing in the midst of a rescue to try to remember the mnemonic, DR CAB, or asking  Annie to just hang on, I’ll get the breaths right this time around.

Maybe someday I will be in a position to save someone’s life. I hope not.

2. Destructive force

Do you remember the gentle animal lover who has been making posts on this blog? She’s gone.

The transformation happened on the third day that, while standing shod in my flip-flops at the kitchen sink, I felt a tickle pass over my toe. Then another. Ants were once again exploring my feet, and they were also mapping the entire kitchen floor. Now, I have allowed all sorts of bugs to crawl on me. I remember one summer day, reclining on the swing in the backyard, I watched with fascination as a honeybee landed on my elevated foot and wove its body between my toes, perhaps assessing the crevices’ resemblance to a honeycomb. Then I went inside and wrote a poem about it. Spiders, roly-polys, gnats, ladybugs, lightning bugs, the rare butterfly–all have been my playmates. Darwin practiced entomology as a hobby, and I like to think that I do too.

Yet I find myself spraying some K1000 poison onto these ants, feeling little remorse. The ants are discomfited by the chemical shower, but generally scatter and survive. It’s the wrong kind of poison, of course, but the intention was there, and I will not be thwarted. I sweep, then I mop with a cleaning fluid that supposedly kills cockroaches. I am hoping it also works for ants.

That former animal lover is still here, don’t worry. I observe a pigeon outside the window and coo at it in the way Dianne showed me. It cocks its head. I coo again, then set some chunks of stale bread on the windowsill, an offering to the animal kingdom at large.

3. Confustive farce

Maybe I have that disorder Chuck Close has where he can’t recognize people’s faces. Except unlike him, I haven’t been making any brilliant art lately. I found out that I’ve been calling one coworker by the wrong name for a week now. I was calling him Jamal…perhaps he simply dismissed my mistake as a flattering nickname, as Jamal means beauty. In any case, he didn’t correct me. Yesterday I encountered an acquaintance on the staircase, smiled at him, and said, “Hey Jake.” Except it wasn’t Jake; it was a stranger who bemusedly smiled back. At least I’ve gotten assertive when it comes to my own name. No longer will I accept “Layla,” “Lali,” or other variations. My soft (mumbly) voice makes things difficult, though–upon first introduction, I become Haile or most recently Nelly, anglicized beyond repair.

Then, once introductions are past, there is the actual conversation. The wonderful diversity at the World Center means that English is spoken with every imaginable accent. In theory, I believe that responsibility for communication lies with both the (nonnative English) speaker and the (native English) listener. The latter needs to learn to recognize unfamiliar inflections and pronunciations and understand nonstandard constructions, just as the former learns the new language. In practice, I’m decent at understanding most accents, but add in a noisy background or multiple speakers, and I become an echo: What? Sorry, what? What?

It’s lunchtime, and this guy is telling me about some upcoming plans to go to the American consulate. I’m not entirely sure what happens at a consulate…maybe passports? Consuling? I ask him why he’s going, but don’t understand his answer. “So, where is the consulate?” “It’s in Tel Aviv,” he says. Eventually I discover that he’s going to “a metal concert,” where I’m sure he’ll get his passport issue worked out.

Even my friend the written word poses problems. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m surrounded by two alphabets I can’t read, Hebrew and Farsi. So I joined a Farsi class as a latecomer. I studied a few letters on my own beforehand. After the other students had settled in, I realized they spoke at least basic Farsi. It would seem the teacher took me as a charity case into a class intended to teach Farsi speakers how to write. As I struggled to sound out words, my head felt a little cold, like it wanted a dunce cap. I needed to remind myself that it had been many years since I had last learned a new alphabet (the English one), and that was back when my brain was young and agile. So please, if you say anything in Farsi, don’t be surprised when I respond invariably with “Esme man Layli ast” (My name is Layli).

Procrastinating roosters

In the mornings when I wake up, I hear distant crowing. It must be roosters. Yet all of my chicken knowledge says that roosters crow punctually at the crack of dawn, which is before 5:00 AM. So what’s going on? Am I actually hearing roosters? Where are these roosters living–in the middle of the city? And why are they procrastinating?

I had my first day in the office today. I work with four Persian ladies. I’m not sure if I count as an honorary Persian lady because of my quarter ancestry, which was in fact our first topic of conversation, probably because of my name. At my one previous office position as an intern for a ballet company, I ate lunch at my desk and my breaks involved sitting at my computer reading New York Times articles. So imagine my delight when I found out that my officemates take two short breaks daily, during which they convene in the kitchen to chat and share fruits, nuts, and fragrant Persian tea. Even as I adjust to living in Israel, I’m surrounded by all things Persian, especially the food. The lunchroom is the first (and most likely the last) cafeteria I’ve encountered that serves heaping trays of saffron chicken, steamed rice with plentiful tadik, and yogurtlu patlican (technically that last one’s Turkish, but still delicious). Maybe learning Farsi would be just as useful as Hebrew! I’ve already learned to read the numbers in Persian–I think five is my favorite. Two and three confound me.