My first week at IUCN ROWA passed quickly. in Jordan, offices are generally open Sunday through Thursday, with Friday and Saturday as weekends. However, last Saturday was was Jordan’s Independence Day, so IUCN was closed on Sunday. I began on Monday, when I my colleagues for the summer, including my office-mates Amer, and Haifaa, the UNESCO World Heritage Regional Focal Point for Arab States and West Asia. Haifaa is acting as my direct supervisor for the summer, and she graciously agreed to speak with me only in Arabic so that I may continue to improve my language skills. I have consequently dived right in to an exclusively Arabic-speaking work environment – a challenging and sometimes exhausting (and of course, occasionally confusing) experience.
I have studied Arabic in the U.S. intermittently since 2007, and I am considered to be an “advanced” student. However, even beyond the fact that Arabic is a challenging language in general, there exists another factor that complicates matters. Of the 27 country where Arabic is spoken, not one uses the language primarily studied by speakers of other languages. This is known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) – it is the formal language, a modern version of Qur’anic Arabic, and used only in writing and formal discussions such as news and conferences. Instead of using MSA, each country has its own colloquial version which can range from quite similar to MSA (Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to an extent) to almost impossible to understand even for other native speakers (Moroccan). Thankfully, MSA is understood by almost all native Arabic speakers. Additionally, the Jordanian dialect is relatively close to MSA. Still, this has provided an additional challenge to my work at IUCN ROWA; one that I am excited to take on. I already feel that I have progressed significantly in my understanding of Jordanian Arabic, and I have a basic ability to reproduce it. Beyond this, it has been a great opportunity in my first week with ROWA to begin learning the technical terms relevant to environmental policy, conservation, and my project on invasive species (al-anwa3 al-gaazia).
And speaking of diving in, I am currently in Bahrain attending a small workshop, conducted entirely in Arabic, on implementing the IUCN Red List. An independent consultant from Jordan and a representative of Nature Iraq are providing the training for members of Iraq’s Ministry of the Environment so that they may return to Iraq and classify various species located in the Iraqi Marshlands (vast freshwater wetlands) according to IUCN criteria (e.g. endangered, vulnerable, etc). More on that next time!