Scott Bridges

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To forget is to human

I met with Mohanned last night after taking a few weeks off for holidays and other life things that get in the way of lessons. It’s quite sobering after each of these breaks to be reminded of how damaging it is to your learning progress to go so long without engaging with the language. As I opened my books with trembling hands and prepared to respond to Mohanned’s basic questions in Arabic of “how was your day?” and “what did you do on your holiday?”, I felt really anxious and a bit guilty for letting things go for so long.


Mohanned had prepared an activity which involved watching an Al Jazeera Arabic1 news clip and responding to a sheet of questions. One section of the report contained the words nasiya (forget) and insaan (human) which prompted Mohanned to point out that there is one school of thought about the relationship between the two: that the word for human is derived from the root for forget. The argument being that humans were designed to be both forgetful and capable of remembering, and that each trait has a purpose:

Man is undeniably a very forgetful creature! This trait of forgetfulness has two sides to it; there’s a good side and a bad side.

The good side of this attribute has been well-explained to us by Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him), who is narrated to have said: “Even a greater boon than memory is forgetfulness, without which man would not found solace in any affliction, nor would have ever gotten clear of frustration, nor could have gotten rid of malice. He would have failed to relish anything of the world’s goods because of insistent memories of affliction, nor could he ever have entertained any hope of weakening of his sovereign’s attention or the envy of the envious. Don’t you see how the contrary faculties of memory and forgetfulness have been created in man, each ordained with a definite purpose?”

Hence we can see how forgetfulness can be a blessing for us.

The bad side to being forgetful is quite self-explanatory. When was the last time you could not recall an important mathematical or scientific formula for your exam, or when you kept a very precious item of yours in such a safe spot that you yourself could not remember where it was? There are several examples of how our forgetfulness can mess up our day-to-day lives.

However, a higher degree of forgetfulness is the one that can ruin one’s life as well as afterlife (the permanent abode). This is definitely the kind of forgetfulness that one should try to keep away from by all means. It distances one from Allah and His special servants and leaves one in the state of absolute desolation!

But that is just one theory about the etymology of insaan; there is at least one other that I’ve come across:

… religious reformers who see God’s Law as the ultimate path to salvation take as their motto the phrase, “We hear and obey.” It is sometimes said by such reformers in Islam that the root of insan, the Arabic word for “human being,” is nasiya, “to forget.” Because human beings are forgetful, they need to be reminded of God through revelation and redirected toward salvation by Law (Shari’a) that God has mandated.

However, there is another possible root for insan, which is anisa, “to come close.” According to this understanding, human beings are close to God by nature because they are created in God’s image.

Regardless of the true backstory, discovering language stories like these is a fascinating insight into history, people, a region and a religion. I love how they add so much human(!) texture to the task of trying to not forget vocabulary.

1. Mohanned likes to use AJA clips for teaching because of the quality of the fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) its presenters and journalists use, not necessarily because of the content.

The unknown

A few weeks ago I asked Mohanned to run me through the passive voice in Arabic since we were encountering it more and more often in the stuff we were reading. He showed up the next week with a few pages photocopied out of a text book and told me it was easy so I should go home, learn it, and then teach it back to him the next week.

“The passive voice,” begins the text, “is widely used in Arabic without the negative associations regarding style that the passive voice has in English.”

(As a university tutor who has spent far too much time waging war on students’ passive voice sentences, I knew this was going to take some getting used to.)

“In Arabic the doer of the action [in the passive voice] is supposed to go unmentioned,” continues the text. “In fact, the Arabic word for the passive is al-majhool ‘the unknown’.” How fantastic! I keep coming across little examples of poetry like this one built into the language and I find them absolutely delightful.

Anyway, it turns out that Mohanned was right (as always) and it is really easy to turn an active voice sentence into a passive voice one. All you’ve got to do is take the active past tense verb, change the short vowel diacritics, remove the pronoun suffix which serves as the subject, and you’ve got the passive sentence. So, for example: darastu al-kitaab (I studied the book) becomes durisa al-kitaab (the book was studied).

“The only real difference,” says the text, “is that in English we can mention who did the action in the passive, whereas in Arabic we cannot.” Indeed, when I was recounting all of this Mohanned today to prove that I’d learned it, he told me that the object in an Arabic passive sentence takes on a special role, somewhere between subject and object — what’s called the naa’ib faa’il, or “deputy subject”. See what I mean about all these delightful little examples of poetry?

But, of course, as soon as I worked it and started getting cocky I came crashing back down to reality because, as I’ve learned while studying Arabic, nothing is actually that easy. This passive construction becomes a problem in basically all written contexts because the short vowel diacritics are almost never printed which makes it quite tough for us learners. Without the diacritics, a printed word could potentially mean half a dozen things, and the active/passive construction is not immediately obvious without studying the sentence construction. As the text quite sarcastically notes:

students are often uncomfortable with the passive voice when reading Arabic texts because the unvoweled passive conjugations often look exactly like the active voice conjugations. Since many students often are horrified at the thought of reading for meaning and recognizing words in context, and since they are usually very weak in grammar, sentences in the passive voice often are totally misunderstood.

Reading for meaning? Sounds awful.

War, battle, soldiers and elements

On Monday, Mohanned and I were discussing the military operation in Mosul as he prepared to set me a homework task. Mohanned repeatedly referred to it as the Mosul al-harb (war) and I questioned whether there might be a better noun since we’d probably call it a battle in English. He said he’d think about it and then set me a homework task for Thursday: write a report in Arabic on the Mosul campaign.

I kept the report simple (in line with my meagre skills), outlining the various actors and the size of their forces, and chucking in a couple of points raised by Iraqi generals I’d seen in various English-language articles. When I sat down with Mohanned yesterday, we went through the report and he awarded me a solid distinction after only needing to correct about 20% of it.

One of the errors he fixed was my use of janood (soldiers) when referring to people fighting for Daesh (ISIS). Mohanned explained that a lot of people use aanaseer (elements) when speaking of those fighters, in part because the term is somewhat delegitimising. I was initially surprised by this choice of language — why can’t we just call them all soldiers? — until I very quickly realised that we make such distinctions in English all the time. I wonder if my reaction has something to so with language learners having a very limited vocabulary to work with, forcing us to artificially simplify the way we think about things so we can select appropriately from that short list of words we know. Or maybe we’re just so focused on getting the construction of language right that we lose focus on the content of the message.

Anyway, we then watched an Al Jazeera Arabic report on the Mosul campaign which referred to it as al-maarakah (battle) instead of war. Conundrum from Monday solved, and another simple but useful reminder that there is so much depth, texture and nuance in language beyond simply learning words and establishing one-to-one correspondence with their English equivalents.

Belco votes

Driving back home from my run early this morning I passed a lonely figure standing on the side of the road waving a huge yellow sign at essentially nobody. Were it not for the peculiarly Canberra tradition of planting a forest of campaign signage at the sides of roads I’m not sure the 2016 election would’ve been on my radar, but our sign-waving friend reminded me that it was ACT election day. So, after breakfast, I decided to enjoy the sunny spring morning and go for a stroll with my camera to take a highly unscientific reading of the buzz around the 100m exclusion perimeter of the central Belconnen polling booth. I started by heading back up to the guy with the yellow sign to say g’day.


Tom Chen is the campaign manager for Kim Huynh, an independent candidate better known to basically everyone in northern Canberra as “Kimbo” due to his unique and attention-grabbing Go Kimbo campaign. Tom was the only person I could see campaigning away from the Westfield side of the exclusion zone, and the only other corflute sign in sight was for another independent candidate. He said the Go Kimbo campaign decided that being visible was the most important thing and that the team believes voters don’t necessarily respond well to having volunteers rush them with fliers and how-to-votes. After a long day in the sun, the Go Kimbo crew will hit the Belconnen Tennis Club tonight for an election party.


Leaving Tom to untangle his balloons, I walked around to Margaret Timpson Park where anyone wishing to transit for the past couple of weeks has had to dodge dozens of corflutes and volunteers crowded around the edge of the park facing the shopping centre. I couldn’t not grab a photo of a corflute belonging to prominent Belconnon identity and now Labor candidate Tara Cheyne. Over the years, Tara has waged war on the scourge of abandoned shopping trolleys lining the streets of Belconnen and the shallows of Lake Ginninderra. I think she’d appreciate the #belcopride irony.

Tara trolley

I spoke to a couple of volunteers from major parties who were happy to chat but didn’t want their names and photos shared. One lady has been handing out HTVs throughout the pre-polling period and said that she felt it was a way of making her contribution to democracy and to advocate for what she believes best for Canberra. Most punters have been polite, she said, even those who disagree with her party’s positions.


At the corner of the park I ran into two Greens volunteers, Ebony Holland and Sam Hussey-Smith, who were enjoying the morning despite the noticeably slow pace of voters heading into the booth (perhaps due to the fact that over 80,000 Canberrans had pre-poll voted before election day — roughly one-third of enrolled voters).

Sam and Ebony

Asked about the general vibe of this election they said there is an undercurrent of antipathy, perhaps due to this poll’s proximity to the July federal election. However, both said they’d had some great conversations with voters about in-depth issues while handing out and door knocking.

It was time for lunch so I put away my camera, met up with my wife and daughter, and we all walked up to our favourite local pho restaurant. After a typically delicious meal, and as we were paying, I noticed a sign in the front window.

Kim pho

“Do you know him?” I asked the owner, pointing at the sign.

“Yes!” he beamed.

Meetings and conferences

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working through the first unit of Media Arabic which deals with “meetings and conferences”. By concentrating on and drilling down into one theme of news reporting per unit, the textbook aims to introduce vocab and unpack writing styles related to the more common genres of reporting. The first ten pages have presented a series of progressively longer news stories which I’ve been translating with the aid of a table of key terms and then answering questions designed to elicit the key points.

The texts have been quite repetitive — Arab League leaders met and pledged democratic/social reforms, and progress on the issues of Palestine, Syria and Libya — but I guess this repetition serves the purpose of reinforcing my learning at that same time as being a realistic representation of those meetings and the reporting of them.

The other day, Mohanned set me a homework task: translate this real news article about the most recent Arab League meeting into English.

Arabic article

And sure enough, there is a beautiful predictability to the content and the vocab of the article which I’m surprised I’m surprised about given the similar paint-by-numbers nature of such reporting in English. The trickiest part is my ongoing battle with Arabic grammar and sentence structure, like being 15 or 20 words into a sentence and still waiting to encounter the subject, or the baffling lack of comma methodology and infuriating lack of full stops in some Arabic writing. But even so, it’s a really nice feeling finding myself having to flick over to Google Translate less and less, and being able to actually *read* Arabic ever so slightly less haltingly.

Agree to disagree

I recently asked Mohanned to refresh me on the cardinal numbers which I think I learned long, long ago but had since forgotten. This gave him a good excuse to launch a full-scale assault on the grammar of numbers which we’d been toying with here and there over the past few years. As a native English speaker, getting my head around gender has been one thing, but the rules of gender and other grammar when it comes to Arabic numbers is next level. One language website gives a handy overview of the rules:

The numbers 3–10 are nouns and diptote in declension (with the exception of 8). They take inverse agreement with the nouns they are counting. So, if you have a masculine object, you use the feminine form of the number, and viceversa. Yup, doesn’t make much sense, but that’s how it works.

Ok, so far, a bit tricky, but manageable with a good bit of practice. Once you get past 10, though, you start having combinations of tens and ones. The numbers 11 and 12, using the single digits 1 and 2, have normal gender agreement, both with the ones and with the ten. The digits 1 and 2 are in their nominal forms.

The numbers 13 – 19 have normal agreement with the ten, but inverse agreement with the ones digits. These numbers (along with 11) also take the accusative case themselves — the tamyiiz accusative, or “accusative of specification.”

The tens (20, 30, 40, 50, etc.) are sound masculine plural in declension and don’t change. Complexity is over? Nope. If you have 31–39, you have to account for the agreement of the ones digits, and the rules of regular or inverse agreement.

The process continues into the thousands, with each new numeric level taking on a new set of rules. The word hundred is feminine, so to make 300, the “three” must be masculine in form to agree inversely with hundred, which is confusing, because you may have got used to basing the gender of ones digits on the counted noun, not another component of a compound number (here, the “three” is counting the noun “hundreds”).

On top of all this, you have to learn how the nouns themselves are actually paired with the numbers. One object is in the singular, two objects are in the dual, and three to ten objects are counted in the plural. Eleven or more objects actually take the singular of the noun being counted, and the noun is in the accusative case (again the tamyiiz accusative).

This covers the cardinals. Then you have the ordinals to worry about, as well as how numbers are used in dates, phone numbers, mathematical equations, measurements, designations of rulers, etc …


Another online Arabic learning site notes that “the grammar related to the numbers in Arabic is considered to be the most complicated thing about the language”.


I’ve been plugging away at work sheets trying to internalise the rules but I still feel like I’m drowning. There’s so much to think about that I end up freezing while working through the processes and whatever clarity might have been emerging just vanishes. It’s super frustrating and also a huge knock to my confidence.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of The Arabic Language by Kees Versteegh which tracks the historic and linguistic development of the Arabic language. Rather serendipitously, I came across this line at the same time as I was grappling with the Arabic number grammar rules:

The morphology and syntax of Arabic numerals have baffled even the Arabic grammarians.

I found this strangely comforting — if even the experts are baffled, then I don’t feel quite so stupid for feeling the same.

While Mohanned and all the learning resources stress the importance of learning these grammar rules even though they are often ignored in colloquial spoken Arabic, I keep reminding myself that many native Arabic speakers don’t know these rules and I won’t be struck dead by a lightning bolt when I incorrectly pair a masculine number with a feminine noun while having a conversation on the street. So, me and the grammar of numbers will agree to disagree from time to time, and that’s okay.

The Arabic Diaries

After spending so long focused on proper grown-up writing that requires research, synthesis and endless drafts (i.e. a PhD thesis in the form of a book and a clutch of journal articles), I’ve decided to start this little project where I can punch out random, sometimes half-formed thoughts as they occur to me, just like during that golden era of the internet between LiveJournal and Twitter. So, welcome to 2007 and Welcome to My Blog. I’m going to publish these semi-regular Arabic Diaries to reflect in real time on something personal that is becoming a bigger and bigger part of my life.

I’ve been learning Arabic on and off (mostly off) since 2009, although notes and links I can’t remember emailing to myself since 2007 suggest I was thinking about it for a while before that. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure why I decided to learn Arabic. I do know that I’d always wanted to learn a second language because I was (and am) embarrassed that I speak only one, and I’d long been interested in the Arab world which at that time for me was an exotic abstraction. I guess that was enough.

I started as an absolute beginner in 2009 with two back-to-back short courses at the Centre For Adult Education in Melbourne, and by the end of that year I could read and write the Arabic script, and hold a basic conversation (greetings, food and drink, directions etc.). I spent much of 2010 travelling, including to Arabic-speaking countries like Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, although my language skills weren’t yet good enough to do much beyond deciphering signs. I then lived in Qatar for almost a year, although the ubiquity of English in that country combined with my work and social situation meant I wasn’t really immersed in Arabic at all.

After returning to Australia at the end of 2011 I knew I really should get learning again, especially because by then I’d lost essentially all of the vocab I’d learned in 2010. Eventually, in 2012, I did a short course at the ANU, and shortly afterwards I resolved that if I was ever going to make any real progress I needed to find a tutor and take regular classes. In mid-2013 I made contact with Mohanned Qassar, a local Canberra educator and businessman, and barring some breaks for travel, childbirth (my wife, not me) and the like, Mohanned and I have been meeting for 90-minute lessons in a quiet corner of a local community club every week since.

I’ve learned *a lot* in the three years since then, and it’s mostly down to Mohanned’s teaching because I’ve not exactly been a diligent student — it has been hard to find time for homework in between writing the PhD, teaching, working on AMEJE, and home duties. But that’s an excuse. Recently I realised that if I truly want to learn Arabic I need to get serious otherwise I’ll just spend the rest of my life treading water. So, about a month ago I started seeing Mohanned twice a week and (probably more importantly) trying really hard to do at least 30 minutes of Arabic study on most days. I also have ~~~plans~~~ … but more about that later.

Anyway, here is a picture of all the Arabic stuff I could find sitting around in my study.

Arabic books

A pair of articles

As part of my PhD research into Al Jazeera’s expansion I’ve written a couple of journal articles about the network’s presence in Australia. If you’re into that sort of thing …

‘Al Jazeera in Australia’:

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera has expanded at great pace since its inception in 1996, growing from a single Arabic-language news channel serving the Middle East, to a multilingual network of dozens of channels broadcasting around the globe. Al Jazeera’s growth in many parts of the world depended on securing satellite and cable/pay television carriage, but neither of those broadcast channels offered the network significant access to the Australian market. While Al Jazeera has for most of its time in Australia struggled to attract a large television audience, it has experienced success via partnerships with the Australian public broadcasters and through online engagement. Drawing on interviews with key managerial and editorial staff at Al Jazeera and the Australian public broadcasters, this article tracks Al Jazeera’s presence in the Australian media landscape from the network’s launch until the present day and analyses the network’s strategy with respect to Australian expansion.

Bridges, S. (2016). Al Jazeera in Australia. Communication Research and Practice, DOI: 10.1080/22041451.2016.1209273

‘Al Jazeera and the Australian Public Broadcasters’:

The Al Jazeera Media Network had a relatively low profile in the Australian media landscape until its English-language news channel signed reciprocal broadcast agreements with the two Australian public broadcasters in 2010 and 2011. As a result of those agreements, Al Jazeera English programs are now rebroadcast on the ABC and SBS’s terrestrial TV channels, and its content has become an important component of the public broadcasters’ in-house television and radio news bulletins. The agreements are mutually beneficial: through them Al Jazeera has achieved its greatest ever Australian broadcast reach, increased its brand awareness among Australians, and gained credibility through association with the respected ABC and SBS; while the public broadcasters have added breadth and depth to their international news at little-to-no cost in an age of shrinking news budgets. Drawing on content analysis and interviews with key managerial and editorial staff at the ABC and SBS, this article examines exactly what Al Jazeera English material the public broadcasters use, and how, finding that Al Jazeera offers the ABC and SBS’s viewers and listeners an additional perspective on news from around the globe. The article also summarises public and commentator reaction to Al Jazeera’s partnerships with the public broadcasters, demonstrating that the Qatari broadcaster does not face in Australia the kind of opposition it does in countries such as the USA.

Bridges, S. (2016). Al Jazeera and the Australian Public Broadcasters. Journal of Arab & Muslim Media Research, 9(1), 99-118.

Love it or leave

Last Friday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held a long press conference on the broad themes of terror, policing and relations with Australia’s Muslim community. While Turnbull was carefully navigating through his vocabulary to avoid mouthing the slogans so beloved of Tony Abbott, he nonetheless chose to play the “love it or leave” card. Albeit a very Turnbull version of it:

“If you find Australian values unpalatable,” he said, “then there’s a big wide world out there and people have got freedom of movement.”

In re-wrapping the tired Southern Cross bumper sticker meme in his flowery waffle, Turnbull actually helped to highlight one of the core contradictions at the heart of the current political debate around citizenship in this country. Earlier on the same day, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton stood next to Major General Andrew Bottrell to deliver one of his regular briefings on Australia’s militarised ‘Stop The Boats’ program.

“The Prime Minister has made, and I have made [clear] on countless occasions,” said Dutton, warming to a now-familiar theme, “we are not going to allow people to turn up again unannounced on boats.”

The contrast between Turnbull and Dutton’s statements raises an obvious question: why does one group of people (asylum seekers) have extremely limited freedom of movement, and the other group (Australia haters) have an apparent surplus?

The idea that people can simply pick a country of residence, let alone citizenship, as if perusing a restaurant menu, is absurd. Freedom of movement is relative, and largely a privilege enjoyed only by the privileged. Do you have the money, networks, literacy and cultural capital to navigate complicated bureaucracy, along with the “right” passport? Congratulations. Do you have a criminal record or an empty bank account, or did you lose the lottery of birth and get stuck with a passport that has you automatically red-flagged by immigration departments? Bad luck. Even the very privileged likely have a very narrow range of options for residence and possible citizenship outside Australia, so it’s questionable if those being inviting to “leave” could even do so if they wanted. It’s unlikely this troubles Malcolm Turnbull, though.

The “love it or leave” rhetoric long employed by Proud Aussies, and more lately our political (and religious) leaders, is, if taken at face value, simplistic and dumb. What exactly does loving or hating Australia entail? What precisely are “Australian values”? Perhaps a better challenge to those who would channel their grievances through violence is: “hey, look, don’t, it’s against the law and there are consequences.” Citizenship as a legal concept requires adherence to the law, not the love and embrace of a concept as nebulous as “Australia”. But this is a pretty boring message which is difficult to succinctly express on an Aussie flag tank top.

As is pretty obvious, “love it or leave” is not a face value threat issued to Australians who allegedly do not love it. Rather, it’s a dog-whistle slogan targeted at Australians who say they do and are concerned about those who might not. It’s political messaging through and through, and rather than uniting, it further entrenches an “us and them” divide between citizens. But good on Turnbull for for not saying “Team Australia”, hey? What a guy.

Socotra: prologue

I woke quite early and well before my alarm, and lay in bed feeling a bit sad about leaving. I read my book for a little while and when Penina woke up we went for one last swim in the ocean. The water was luxuriously cool and we floated in the pure, blue water enjoying the view back inland. It was very difficult to get out.

Beach shelter


After packing our bags we enjoyed breakfast of eggs, cheese and tea, and Wasa arrived from town wearing a crisp, white shirt. “I have some good news,” he announced, smiling. It turned out that the police had offered to guarantee to Wasa’s tour company the money owed to us by Abdullah, meaning that we needed only to pay the difference. Wasa said that the local police chief wanted to meet us before flew out.

Faisal drove us through Hadibo to the police compound which was busy with people scuttling back and forth across the dusty courtyard. We waited a few minutes in the car before a battered police vehicle pulled into the compound and the chief got out. We followed him into the building, past several machine gun-toting officers, and into his office. Wasa, Penina and I sat around the edge of the room on chairs, with about ten random people standing and watching. The chief began speaking to us, pausing occasionally for Wasa to interpret. He expressed his regret on behalf of the Yemeni people and government that we had been victims of crime, and wanted us to know that the actions of Abdullah weren’t reflective of all Socotrans. He hoped that we’d enjoyed our stay on the island and that we would take good stories home for our family and friends. After the chief had finished, I replied — through Wasa — telling him that we were overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of Socotrans and the Yemeni authorities, and that we were in his debt.

As soon as I’d finished, everyone in the room nodded to each other and the chief came forward to shake our hands. The machine gunners stepped aside to let us out of the room and we walked back to the car. On the way, Wasa received a call from his friend at the airport who reported that our flight was running a couple of hours late.

Back in Hadibo we visited the sole bank to sort out payment for the tour and then dropped into a travel agent to kill some time before going to the airport. Since mains electricity was on, Penina and I were able to use the slow, slow internet to check our email for the first time in a week. Just down the road from the travel agent a large crowd was gathering outside a store and getting quite rowdy. Wasa said a mainland trader was widely assumed to be jacking up prices which was having a knock-on effect along the street, and the crowd of customers had had enough. The police soon got involved and slowly dispersed the crowd.

At the airport we were the last to check in for the flight and the airline staff jokingly told us that we were too late and would be kicked off the flight. While they processed our passports and tickets, we were informed that since our flight had been delayed by a couple of hours we were going to miss our connection in to Sharjah. Luckily, there would be another Sharjah flight later that night but we would have a ten hour stopover at the tiny Mukalla airport.

Penina and I said our goodbyes to Wasa and Faisal, thanking them for such an unforgettable week, and the airport’s smiling tourist policeman held out his phone to me so I could take yet another lovely phone call from his boss, Dr Az-zahri.

The officer at immigration (a desk at the entrance to the single gate lounge) was a bit thrown by our lack of the normal visa paraphernalia and one of the Felix staff had to explain to him our unusual situation. Inside the lounge we were approached by a pair of BBC Arabic journalists who had been visiting Socotra who asked us informally about our experience in Yemen. They seemed surprised that we were positive and enthusiastic about our time in the country, and full of nothing but praise for the people.

Eventually, our flight arrived and we walked out into the hot wind towards the plane.



At Mukalla airport we settled in for a long wait. After surrendering our passports to an official we chose one of the metal benches in the small area between check-in and the flight lounges.



A large pot of rice and fried fish was brought in for the 30 of us waiting, and served on plates to each individual group. It was simple but delicious, and Penina let me sit afterwards with rice in my beard for only ten minutes.


At dusk, we left the air conditioned terminal to sit outside in the fresh air for a while, even though it was very hot and uncomfortably humid. We bought a couple of bags of peanuts and some soft drinks from a little stall — the owner taking my wallet from me, extracting a US$1 note, and returning the wallet — and sat on the kerb listening to the call to prayer echo around the deserted forecourt.

A couple of young men joined us to practise their English. One of them was Socotran and had just started work at the airport as a trainee fireman. He spoke English with a distinct Aussie twang thanks to his Australian English teachers.

After prayers, an airline representative approached, apologised again for the delay, and told us that we could take a free meal at the small restaurant nearby. With the help of a friendly local to translate, we ordered a couple of plates of eggs and bread, and washed them down with tea.

Finally, at close to midnight, and close to falling asleep, we boarded our flight to Sharjah. As we walked past the cockpit door, out popped Captain Aiban from our very first day. He was so excited that we’d made it back to Socotra.


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