Friday, June 20, 2008

Portrait #23: Francophone lady

There are a couple sites in the Old City of Damascus that all tourists hit. One of them, specifically popular among Christian tourists, is the Ananias Church, which is said to have been built in the location of the home of Ananias. In the book of Acts, Ananias is a Christian man who has a vision in which he's told that Paul, the guy who came to Damascus to kill all the Christians, has now had a change of heart and if Ananias would just go to visit Paul on "the street called Straight", he could help Paul along on his new life journey.

So this guy Ananias's house-turned-church gets quite a bit of tourist traffic. I've been there several dozen times.

Today, I saw an open door that's usually closed, so I decided to peek in and saw a rather large room. At the far end was a desk and office equipment, in the middle was a dining table, and near the door was a commercial refrigerator with soft drinks apparently for sale. There was a woman sitting at the table and she looked up as soon as my head poked in. She asked in English, "Can I help you?" And I replied in Arabic that I had been here several times but not to this particular room.

She came over to me and started explaining to me in French that this was a multifunctional room, and that they had soft drinks for sale. I've been feeling the need to brush up my French lately, so I went with her on the French thing. She asked me about where I was from, about my group, where I'd studied Arabic, what type of job I was looking for, the typical questions. After answering the formalities, I asked her why was she speaking French, of all languages, with me? Where was she from?

She told me that she's Syrian but was raised Francophone. Her education was all in French, and she speaks French quite a bit better than English. In fact, she is currently a French teacher... or a teacher at a French-speaking school, she may have said. Even when it became clear it's been awhile since I last put together a sentence in French, and even when she found out I've been in the Middle East for several years and know Arabic, we still chatted in French. She said her English is a bit rusty now because she doesn't use it, so she understands about my French. Her name is Violette, what a lovely French name!

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