Afaak, Don’t Disturb the Birds


“Shnoo?” I ask.

More words dart over my head. Syllables sounding like humming birds; quick, efficient, and beautiful.

“Shnoo?” I plead. I want to be involved in the conversation but I only know a handful of words and phrases in Darija (some of which are swear words so I don’t think they count). More words flit around my ears. They hover near my eardrums, threatening to be understood, but flying away before I can catch each individual phrase.

“SHNOO????” Danielle and I are all but freaking out at this point. We sit side by side in the taxi/across at the table in the cafe/walk parallel down the street.

“Shnoo? Shnoo? Why do you always ask ‘what’ when we are speaking Darija? We don’t yell ‘shnoo’ at you when you speak English to each other,” Yahya says. “I promise we are not talking anything bad, we are just talking Darija because it is easier for us to make plans and tell stories that way. We will translate after.”

My cheeks heat up as I take in his words. He was right. Even though we just wanted to be included in the conversation, we were acting like greedy children. Every time the birds came out, we would reach out our chubby little palms and try to snatch them out of the air to get a better look. It would be far easier to practice patience and wait for the birds to land before attempting to get close to them. Our new friends understood that we were curious and only wanted to feel included, but there is more to inclusion than just understanding someone’s mother tongue. We were so completely reliant on them for everything. They deserved a few moments to give their brains time to recover in Darija. Weren’t they already including us in everything they did? Weren’t they taking us into their homes and feeding us? Didn’t they help us scrub in the hamam, plan henna and tea parties, and take us on late night excursions to the tallest building in the city? Didn’t they guide us, joke with us, and protect us from getting hit by speeding taxis? It was a full-time job, babysitting us. The language barrier was frustrating, yes. It felt like there was a wall a couple meters high between us at all times, but it grew shorter every day as we learned more and more.

I thought about his words all night. The next time they spoke in Darija, I chose to observe
so I wouldn’t break up the birds with my “shnoo”s.


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