A New Song: In Celebration of World Arabic Language Day

Tallou Hababena  (طلّوا حبابنا) and a New Hairdo 

first-impression

I sat robed in a black plastic cape, my wet hair combed over my face for precise styling. Sometimes a new hairdo from my long-time Lebanese stylist, Toufic, at First Impression Hair Salon, involves cake and tea with his lovely wife, or buying a box of Girl Scout cookies from one of his daughters. As he snips and trims with precision and care, Toufic always fills me in on the latest news of his family, his country and the unrest of the region. I also like to freshen up my rudimentary Arabic skills with him and learn a new phrase or two. But it was unusually quiet this Thursday morning without the standard news from the “Old Country” rattling on in the background. That set me up for the perfect moment to inquire about Tallou Hababena.  Tallou Hababena was the new song my daughter had been fervently practicing with her low intermediate Arabic class at her school. They had to memorize the song and perform a traditional debke dance in preparation for the UN World Arabic Language Day, which is recognized globally and annually on December 18.

word-arabic-l-day

Inspiration to Research

A new song sums up graduate studies at Wayne State University. From the Psalms I am reminded that God is my strength and my song. This spiritual strength has carried me through the incredible combination of the increased academic challenges of fulltime graduate school and the physical weariness due to my current leukemia treatment. I have battled chronic leukemia (CML) for fifteen years, but my current treatment, Sprycel, is more toxic to my system and regularly challenges me with increased fatigue and dizziness. Being simultaneously on Sprycel and on a scholarship has pushed me to the edge of vulnerability and gratitude. I have been soaring to new heights and needing new strengths to do it. During my most difficult struggles I find hope through inspiring song lyrics. My source of inspiration has become my focus of research, new songs. Expression through song is powerful because it can be personal, social, spiritual, and cultural. A song can stir a heart, inspire a nation, or lull a child.

Contributing to the inspiration is the cultural and linguistic information contained within authentic music and lyrics. Song lyrics are a great resource for gaining cultural perspectives and memorizing new language forms. With my Spanish students, we print song lyrics and then research idioms, dialects, themes, styles, metaphors and verb tenses found in each new song. Through this wealth of cultural insight, my desire is to make life-long language learning meaningful and inspiring for myself, and for those that I teach and coach.

ps-40-3The Comprehension Quandary

So, as I sat at First Impression, my thoughts shifted from my studies back to my daughter’s Arabic song. Tallou Hababena had become my new challenge. My daughter had come to me weeks before with the Arabic script and the notecards she was using to transcribe the lyrics into English. Even though she didn’t understand the words, she was trying to prepare her best for her class performance.

As a family we want to position ourselves to engage the language and culture in our community. I’m training to be a Language Learning Coach. I am researching music for language learning purposes. I got all fired up. There was no way my girl was going to sing a song she didn’t understand in celebration of language! We went into full-on meaning-making mode: My husband acquired the translation of Tallou Hababena from a friend. We had watched various YouTube videos that helped us figure out that this song was about a songbird, nature, and the beautiful mountains of Lebanon. We knew that that title meant Come our Love. But something was missing. Why this song? How did it stir the hearts of its hearers?

Longing for Home

touficToufic felt free to enlighten me. With scissors in one hand and a comb in the other, and my wet hair in my face, his face lit up at the mention of Tallou Hababena by the prominent Lebanese singer Wadih El-Safi. “Kids wake up whistling this song. It’s a song about home. When someone has been gone, far away, for too long, their loved ones back in the villages wait for them to come home…” As Toufic burst into spontaneous song, my mind wandered to my family and loved ones far away, and how I wished I could be with them, especially at Christmastime. Tallou Hababena was in essence a version of I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams… Only this song had a beat you could clap along with, which I did, under my plastic cape! Even though I couldn’t understand all of Toufic’s words, I understood the powerful longing for my home and family back in Colorado.

My husband and I joked that before winter vacation most parents back in my hometown in Colorado were probably watching Christmas concerts, with their kids donned with jingle bells and red sweaters. But we beamed as our daughter and her 6th grade Arabic class walked onto the stage and began swaying their arms, stomping the debke, and singing along to Tallou Hababena (mostly) in unison. We were in full celebration of World Arabic Language Day, and Tallou Hababena would mark a new memory for us.

That’s the power of song. I have songs that mark some of my best memories, and some of the saddest ceremonies; songs of crying out to God Most High, songs that inspire, refresh, celebrate, and worship. I want to praise God with words and with my life, in more than one language, and I want to help others do the same.

~He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God~    a Psalm of David

(This article was published in the Yemeni American News, January, 2017)
Advertisements

A Thrill of Hope: Adventures in Scooching Over

(Adapted from the Yemeni American News, December, 2016 publication)

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people…” ~Angel of God~

When the world around me seemingly swirls with hatred, anger and fear, and my heart is heavy for the hurting, my coping mechanism is to reminisce on stories of hope. In my profession of language teaching, motivation is a key element for success. Motivation in life, as in language learning, contains two essential ingredients: 1. You have to think you can do something: hope 2. You have to think that it matters: need. In November I was reticent to click send on my article, Scooching Over, because I knew that if I made my thoughts public, my own words would move me to action, and I wasn’t sure I had the capacity to scooch over for a new friend in my daily life. The last thing I want to do in this refugee crisis is talk about doing something and then do nothing. The need was clear: I believed wholeheartedly that my small action to make a difference in one refugee’s life mattered; but I wasn’t sure I could actually do something about it on my own. That’s where hope is bigger than me. It requires me to believe that I can be involved in great and impossible things.

slide2

After taking a moment in my hectic day to pause and pray, I called my New American friend that I have endearingly nicknamed Zuzu. Zuzu and I had connected at the Sabeel Media Event in October, where she had expressed that she needed help finding a preschool for her son. I had already called at least eight preschool locations in her zip code before I got on the phone with Zuzu. I offered to come over the next day, take her to visit a preschool, and teach her some English. To my surprise, she told me NOT to come. She said that she had already found a preschool, that her family was moving to a better location, and that she was currently too busy for me to come visit her. As it turned out, there was no room in her week for me.   She didn’t need my charity to survive, which made me even more determined to get to know this highly motivated woman.

When things settled for Zuzu, I came by to see her new place. In her intermediate English she reported that she had signed up for English classes at the local college, she was studying for her driver’s permit, and she was in walking distance from most of the places she needed to get to each week. She has been in the U.S. since April and is determined to settle her family here. Zuzu’s vision is bigger than she is. Her hope is deep. Her potential is great. Her work is humble. She walks her in-laws to the doctor and her son to preschool; she cooks and cleans for her household of six. At night when everything is quiet, she studies English and listens to audio messages I leave for her to practice each week. Zuzu doesn’t want to live indefinitely off of the kindness of others. On the contrary, she wants to be an agent of care and change and assistance to others. She also would like to go home if she could. But she can’t. So her plan is to bloom where she has currently been transplanted—right here in they Detroit Metro Area, MI, USA.

|Her plan is to bloom where she has currently been transplanted|

 From our visits together I have learned that Zuzu is Syrian Kurdish. Her hope is seen in the languages she wants her kids to know: English of course, so they can thrive in their new community. Kurdish of course, because that is the language of heart and home. Arabic of course, because you can’t live in Syria and not know Arabic. She is preparing her son and daughter to function in this new world, but also to be ready to return to her beloved home country…someday, Inshallah, God-willing.

Sitting on the floor of her upper flat on soft blankets against big couch pillows, sipping warm, sweet instant coffee with milk, my first step in our mini English lessons, was to identify her goals for learning English: 1. Help her mother and father-in-law with their medical prescriptions and paperwork 2. Help her kids learn English. 3. Go to college 4. Talk about travel and places to visit 5. Tell her personal history. Zuzu believes that learning English matters. She also clearly believes she can do it. Unless you’ve ever worked with someone that motivated to learn something, it’s difficult to describe how exhilarating it is. Her need is clear. Her desire is clear. She has hope for her future that is bigger than she is. And I have the privilege of joining her venture.

|Together our hearts break for the displaced people of her country.|

 As a writer, I want to carefully handle the stories entrusted to me. This past week, sipping our coffee, I pulled out the Yemeni American Newspaper and explained to Zuzu that she fullsizeoutput_9e0
had inspired the article I wrote last month. I told her that I follow the teachings of Jesus the Messiah who says we are to love one another. His heart is for the orphans, the widows, and all those in need. As His follower, I offer what little I have with big hope. After all, the good news of great joy this Christmas season is for all people.

Zuzu shared with me another goal statement she had crafted late one night: I want to help refugees and orphans. I hope to be one assistant for all.  And be successful in my life and my children the best education. That my goals. Clearly, Zuzu and I share a vision of helping those in need. Together our hearts break for the displaced people of her country. I asked Zuzu if I could publically share her beautifully articulated goals because they inspired me, and I think they would inspire others. She agreed.

As Zuzu and I both scooch over each week to make room for each other, we hold on to the thrill of hope. My prayer is that all of us would experience a little of the impossible in our daily lives; that we would together find a hope that is bigger than the determination of any one human being—a collective and contagious courage. My prayer is for many more to get out of harm’s way and be welcomed into a safer place where hope can be nurtured, and that they can experience the good news of great joy that is for all people.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, 

Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

The thrill of hope, The weary world rejoices…

~O Holy Night~

Scooching Over

(Published in the Yemeni American News, November, 2016)

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Emma Lazarus

The Preferred Aisle Seat

I have never been known for my punctuality. In fact, I characteristically run late. Often times it’s because I get lost trying to find places, or maybe it’s because I tend to be on Greek time, which means I’m not technically late; it just allows me a half-hour margin for arrival. At my church there are rows of seats for people to choose from as they enter the place of worship. I’m always grateful when people scoot in towards the middle seats, so that us late arrivers can slip into the aisle seats, unnoticed. I prefer to avoid the awkward attention of navigating my way through a maze of knees and handbags after the service has begun to settle into the middle. Sometimes at abundantly populated special events, the pastor up front will ask everyone to scoot in a little to make room for more people to slip into the aisle seats. I know how it feels to be scooted in for.

Lately, though, I have been on a fairly long stretch of timely arrivals, which means I have my pick of seats at church. Admittedly, I tend to choose a preferred aisle seat.  I like having a bit of space on one end between me and other people that I don’t know so well. I like my space, my preferences, and my little comforts.

Joining the Response to New Americans

Last month I attended a free community event sponsored by Sabeel Media at the local library, discussing the response and the responsibility of the media to share the experiences and needs of refugees. One of the special presenters, Shane Lakatos of the Social Services for the Arab Community (SSFAC) in Toledo, challenged everyone at the event to think about the fear in our own hearts. We fear people we don’t know. And in fear, we tend to think the worst of them. Peter Twele, another special presenter and author of the book, Rubbing Shoulders in Yemen, emphasized that refugee families relocating simply need a friend if they are to successfully assimilate in a new culture. Not only have they left homes, families and jobs, they’ve lost neighborhoods, communities and connections. They need to build a new community of relationships.

So as I stood in the back of the Sabeel Media event, having arrived a little late, I started to think of my own response to the refugees joining my community.

sabeel-g-in-backSo as I stood in the back of the Sabeel Media event, having arrived a little late, I started to think of my own response to the refugees joining my community. I can donate to the cause. I can pray for those who suffer. I can speak out for the needs of these new Americans. I can even volunteer for an event of handing out free backpacks to refugee kids starting school in a new country. As I was pondering my action points, I scanned the room of attendees and my eyes fell on a beautiful young woman dressed in a bright pink sweater with a coordinated floral scarf covering her head. I was surprised to realize that I knew her, and not only that, but that I had been thinking about her. I knew her by name. I had given backpacks to her kids at a volunteer event in September.

Scooching Over, My Point of Decision

I greeted her with quiet kisses so not as to disrupt the program, and continued to listen to the needs amidst the crisis. The needs are dire. The search for hope is essential for new Americans coming into our country. The presenters’ words rang in my ears, of our own fears, and of the refugees’ need for friendship and connection with such limited resources… What was I going to do about it? But what about my crazy American schedule? Do I have room in my life for a needy new friend? Not really. There’s work, prior commitments, grad school, kids, family.

This is a crisis we are all facing. It doesn’t just belong to some people and not others.  We all need to scooch over and make room for one more in our lives.

But this is a crisis we are all facing. It doesn’t just belong to some people and not others. We all need to scoot in, scooch over, squeeze closer together, and make room for one more in our lives. My little bit of comfort in my “preferred aisle seat” isn’t a lot to give up, considering the woman I’m inviting to sit next to me really wants to settle her young family after fleeing devastation and living in temporary housing for over a year. She has her dignity. She doesn’t just want to be helped. She wants to go to school, get a job, help her kids learn English and assimilate into her new community. She’s ready to work hard; she just needs some help doing it. She’s one person, one name, one face. She is just one of the tired and the poor in the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. She’s one woman I could call a friend. Who knows, I might end up being the needy one in our relationship and discover that my scooting over to fit one more into my life was actually to my benefit. I’ve had that happen before.

Version 2

When I think about all the potential things we perceive a refugee to be: a foreigner among us, a neighbor, an enemy to fear, a widow or an orphan, or someone lost and needy…I can’t help but think of what Jesus the Messiah has to say about all of them. He says to love them. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy. Look after the widow, the orphan, the lost, the foreigner among you. Jesus the Messiah chose to love me without condition and with a love so compelling that I can’t help but be changed by it. Calling one young woman this week to make time to help her find a preschool for her son, sip some tea, and help her learn English is something I can do. I can be inconvenienced in that way. I can scoot over and make a little room in my world for one more.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.   St. James

The Inspiration Case

DSC_0186For her 9th birthday, Ella received an incredible Inspiration Case. It has every color in various forms to create unlimited possibilities.  It’s where the tools meet the paper to draw out anything her imagination can fathom. Language is my inspiration case. I get giddy over the possibilities of punctuation or the playing on of words.  It’s the place where form and meaning come together to express profundity.

Should vs. Could: A Tale to two Modals

A few weeks ago, as my husband Steve and I sauntered down the wedding reception buffet line I surveyed the dinner potentials. Should I get the Caesar or Raspberry Spinach salad? Should I try the chicken or beef?  I ultimately chose chicken and spinach and sat down at table 18. As Steve joined me, he commented that I should have tried the beef, and shared a tasty bite with me.  The great thing about being in a buffet line is that nothing had to be either/or. Both/and was also possible. I could have both the beef and the chicken if I wanted to.   I could go back for more salad.

Should and could. Both are auxiliary verbs. Phonetically, they are different by one minimal sound—the /sh/ vs. the /k/. Both are useful tools in just the right context. Everyone needs the color of mud in their Inspiration Case, but indigo is so much more fun to use. Should gets a lot more use in my inner dialogue and feels like a slow drain of phantom energy. Could  on the other hand invites the possibility of joy and adventure. Should is a modal verb of doing the correct thing. Could is a modal expressing possibility or potential. Should and could function similarly in a sentence, but their use in the buffet line takes me down such different paths.

 The Game of Possibility

Last week a job offer that I wasn’t even looking for fell into my lap. I came home in a panic trying to figure out the right thing to do. Should I say yes? Should I turn it down? After my beef vs. chicken experiment, I decided to change my inner line of questioning—the game of possibility. I could take this job. Then again, I could say no. Possibility and potential. I was freeing myself up to be inspired by the prospect of a new path, but not tied down to the obligation of what lay before me.

I love how my longtime, kindred spirit friend Kate sums it up in her blog post, Don’t should on me!: We all know the suffocating weight of living under “should”.  Whether in eating or exercise, friendship or family, “should” robs us of joy and marches us forward with a dutiful sense of obligation…“Could” opens up our imagination and stirs up excitement about things to come.

She goes on to warn us, though, not to let an obligatory should insidiously sneak into our inspiration…it’s important not to “should” ourselves into positive thinking.  Even reading this, we could conclude, “From now on I will say “could” instead of “should”.  That would be nice, but I’m afraid it’s just a set up for another “should”.  Instead, we can gain awareness about how our thoughts are coming to us.  There are obligations in life.  Having a sense of duty is not always bad, but we can still frame it in the excitement of “could” rather than the drudgery of “should”.

Sometimes Ella does use her inspiration case for required homework purposes, but having the right set of tools even for the obligatory stuff makes it more inspiring. Even then, she could choose the color of mud, but she could also choose the color of chocolate, or both/and. The possibilities are endless!

My Wayne State Moment of Fame

This short article about my epic academic year was submitted by my advisor and published in the Wayne State newsletter for the Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (CMLLC), 7-13-2016:

Masters in Language Learning (MALL) student Georgia Coats ends a successful year by leading group to Spain

Georgia Coats, a student in the MALL (Masters of Arts in Language Learning) program, hadIMG_0378 an amazingly successfully 2015-2106 academic year. She was awarded a Graduate Professional Scholarship to complete all but one course toward her degree. She developed a project that resulted in conference presentations at the Michigan World Languages Association and the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL). Coats received funding for her conference travel through a WSU Humanities Center travel grant. And in an exciting culmination to that work, she published her first article titled Analyzing Song Lyrics as an Authentic Language Learning Opportunity in the CSCTFL conference proceedings.
To round out this impressive year, in May 2016 Coats led seven adults from her church to Málaga, Spain, where they worked on improvement projects at a retreat center. In a first-class example of the training provided in the MALL program, she prepared the group for their trip with information about Spanish and Arab cultures and with exposure to the language to enable the group to enjoy their time in Spain as well as make the most of their efforts at the retreat center.