I’m from Michigan. America’s High Five. The Great Lakes State. Sometimes people from Michigan argue about whether we should be called Michiganders or Michiganians. I prefer Michiganders.
If you want to see where I live, take your right hand and make your palm face your face. Now place a finger from your left hand on the bottom right part of your palm, where lines going down from your thumb and pointer finger would intersect. Here’s a picture to make it clearer:
A little bit west of that is a town called Ann Arbor, and it’s where the University of Michigan is. In October of 1960, John F. Kennedy, who was campaigning to be President, stopped by the university and made a speech at 2AM, in front of thousands of students.
In the speech, he asked: How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?
Within weeks, he received thousands of letters from young Americans who said they would.
When he was elected President, one of the first things he did was create the Peace Corps, which allowed citizens of the United States to travel to foreign countries and promote world peace and friendship.
Right before graduating, I decided the Peace Corps was something I wanted to do. So, I applied. I waited four months and heard nothing. Perhaps, I thought, this was their way of saying I didn’t get in…. But one day I got an email. It said I’d been nominated for a country in the Middle East, called Jordan. Google Time.
6,094 miles away! 97% desert! Temperatures up to 125°F! And, craziest of all, a 15-hour flight! I better bring a good book and some shorts, I thought.
When the plane touched down in Jordan, I saw something I didn’t really think about when I was in Michigan: Arabic. It’s the National Language of Jordan, and I had to learn it. The Peace Corps said it was “super-hard”.
At first, it looked like confused squiggles and dots. Thankfully I had a great teacher who helped make sense of them. I learned there were 28 letters, seven vowels, and that your write from right to left (probably the hardest part!).
But it ended up not being as difficult as I thought.
Here, I’ll even teach you some Arabic right now. Two easy letters and one word, that’s all. Promise!
Okay, ready? The first thing that will help with this mini-lesson, is realizing, like cursive writing, the letters connect with each other. The only difference, is that it’s going from right to left instead of left to right. Easy enough. Let’s move to our first letter.
It’s called mim. When you pronounce it, it sounds like “meem.” How it looks, as a letter, depends on how it fits into the word. If it’s by itself, it looks like that rightmost picture below. If it’s connected, it’s one to the right. In the middle of a word? It takes the middle form. And if it finishes a word, it takes that leftmost picture, with the tail hanging from its left side. Check out these diagrams, they’ll help—maybe even try writing out each form of the letter!
Okay, that wasn’t too hard, was it? We’re halfway done with the mini-lesson. Party’s almost over!
The second letter is called alif, similar to our letter a. It has two forms, a connected form and an isolated form. When it connects to a letter, it looks sort of like an L. And when it’s isolated (or alone), it looks like a lower-case l. Try writing them out!
There, two letters down! Not too hard, right? I bet we could even write out a word. In fact, I know a word that uses only those two letters we just learned. Let’s learn it!
First, start with writing out mim, in the beginning form. If you need it, look at the diagram above for help.
With the mim written, we’re going to use the end form of alif, the one that looks like a capital L. So write that out. It should look like the picture below.
Now do it again, so you have two mim-alif combinations, like that leftmost picture.
Want to know what it says?! Well if the mim sounds like the letter m and alif sounds like a, then we have “ma-ma”! Pretty cool!
Now you can go home and show your mom how to write her name in Arabic! Great job!