There are lots of things I don’t like about being an adult. Navigating tax forms. Remembering only after dinner guests have arrived that the bathroom mirror is splattered with spittle from messy toothbrushing sessions. Being driven into a daze with the plethora of negative experiences and memories I’ve seemed to collect over the years that replay in my mind when I’m mindlessly folding laundry.
One of the memories that sometimes hypnotizes me into a daze during tedious house chores involves one of the most agonizing mornings I can remember. I was seven years old and spending the summer in Egypt with my family. One morning, I woke up to the usual sound of roosters and car horns and watermelon street vendors. But something seemed off. I looked around the room: My mother was gone. So was my father. And my brother.
I tried to tune out the organic sounds of a bustling Alexandrian street to listen to the sounds coming from the living room. I could hear the TV on. My mom and aunt were noisily chatting about the high price of meat. Three of my cousins were playing a loud card game. My father and uncle talked about the embarrassment that was last night’s soccer game as their sugar spoons clinked against their tea cups.
How did this happen? How did they all wake up before me? Usually, my internal clock made sure I was the first one up so I could head to the living room and wait for others to wake up, taking them all in slowly and privately. Now I would have to go out to the living room.
They all would look at me. They would surely wish me a good morning. I would have to respond in Arabic and make sure not to get the letters in the words mixed up.
Responding in English wasn’t an option–they would laugh at my incapacity and try to speak English with me. Which means I would have to endure a longer conversation than if I had just replied with a terse “good morning.” My aunt would ask me how I slept. I focused hard in my mattress on the floor to remember the way to say “good.” My uncle would make some sort of silly comment about my bedhead hair. I would have to fake smile at this joke he repeats every morning.
Fast forward 15 years later.
My Arabic accent is still thick and broken, and when I visit an Arab country and confidently ask the cashier at the supermarket “how much are the tomatoes today?” I know he picks up on my poor grammar and foreign accent. But he tells me their price and I leave with a bag of them. As an adult, I do not have time to worry about mispronouncing something in a language that is not my first or enabling my own insecurities.
I’m an adult, and I have tax forms to fill out, bathrooms to clean, and ice cream to be eaten for dinner.