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A letter to my mother tongue, Arabic

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Dear Arabic,

Chère langue Arabe,

عزيزتي لغتي العربيّة،

I’m not sure you know how much you mean to me, so I thought I'd write you a letter to let you know.

I know it's strange, but it took me a migration to a European country, a revolution and transformative crisis in Lebanon, and around 50 non-native-speaking students to understand the power you have in my life.

I like how we call you: “mother tongue”. As if we can taste our mother country when we speak through you. To me, you taste like lemon, parsley and tomatoes, like my grandma's ورق عريش (wara2 3arish), like my mom's مغلي (meghli) and the midnight snacks I stole from the cupboard and ate in bed at 2 am on a school night.

You feel like a 6th sense through which I can experience my culture, desires and memories in a home that I am tirelessly working on making it mine. In a home where I can’t access my mother’s hug, or my grandma's Sunday lunch, or my grandpa's strong and safety-inspiring cologne. You are the doorway to them and for that I am very grateful.

You're what links me to 436 million people in the world, whose mother tongue triggers home for me as well.

Through you I have time and space machines everywhere in the world now. It's enough to hear a fragment of a sentence in Arabic and I'm back in Dora on grandma's balcony watching the hustle and bustle of the city from above. And somehow I feel I'm not alone in this, I might equally be someone else's time and space machine, and I feel very empowered by this. Who knew my mother tongue could be my tool of empowerment in a non-arabic-speaking continent?

I learned how to express myself in my mother tongue for so long, when I meet someone who can speak it, I feel I can be myself in a place that I feel is asking me to constantly adapt. Adapt to new food, a new language, new traditions, ways of expressing love, ways of relating to others and to one's community. And while I carry my traditions proudly and am always open to learning new ones, new foods and ways of being in this world, it is very comforting when I meet someone whose love language is the same as mine. Someone who immediately asks me how I am after I ask them how they are, who invites me over for a generous lunch after barely even knowing me and who laughs so loud in the public transport that I can't help but laugh with them as well.

When that happens, I feel that the new place is adapting, for once, to me.

And then there are those beautiful people, citizens of the new place, who actually go out of their way to study you, our mother tongue, Arabic. I feel lucky to know them and proud to teach them. When they learn you, dear Arabic, I feel they are meeting me halfway, learning about the ways and traditions of my home country the way I am learning about theirs.

Who knew Arabic would help me make non-native speaking friends from all over the world! And being part of that learning process has been very precious and special for me.

To feel I am actively a part of what makes me feel at home here, I am an active part in building bridges for myself between my host country and my first home, helps me feel like I am in a belonging process here.

So I thank you, mother tongue, and I also thank you; every person with Arabic roots who had a random conversation with me in the train and gave me a taste of home, every person at the AZC who shared their Arabic meals with me because they knew I missed my grandma's cooking, to Nayla for trusting me with a very big and important task and welcoming me in her own school and project, and to you, non-native Arabic learner, who walks those steps with us and trusts us with our efforts and commitment to the language, and to you.

Thank you all for empowering me,



Christie Bitar

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