Certainly are a lot of Syrians in my little neighborhood in Southern California.
     That’s a good thing.
     It’s not good that these people – whom I consider my friends – were driven here by war and oppression.
     But it’s a good thing that they’re here.
     I left my ‘hood 10 years ago, and now I’ve come back. For reasons of security, I will call all of my Syrian “informants” Smith.
     Ten years ago, my friend Smith was the only Syrian who ran a little business here. He bought it from a nice Korean lady who used the money to move back to Korea (South).
     Now there are Smiths all over the place.
     In the month since I’ve returned, I’ve learned to recognize the Arabic accent of these small-business owners and their employees, all of whom, please note, work honestly for a living.
     I’m glad the Smiths could escape from war.
     I consider myself lucky to hear them converse in Arabic with their moms and dads and cousins who visit them in the stores.
     The more languages, the better, as far as I’m concerned.
     I know a little German and French, and have stumbled around those countries, inflicting my language upon people.
     The only language in which I’m fluent besides English is Spanish, and sometimes Spanish expresses what I’m thinking better than English can.
     Not often, because Spanish is so flowery.
     I wish I knew 20 languages. I don’t understand people who feel threatened by other languages, and wish to suppress them, by force of law.
     Take, for example, the Spanish expression hay que.
     Tough one to translate. Literally, it means, “there is that …” But that’s a ridiculous translation. Hay que actually means, “the thing is,” or “we have to,” or “we’d better,” or words to that effect.
     The thing is, I often find myself thinking hay que, then thinking the rest of the sentence in English. I even dream in hay que. My brain uses other Spanglish constructions when it thinks, because sometimes Spanglish is more precise than either language alone.
     Anything that expands the frontiers of the human mind is good. Learning new languages does that as well or better than anything else I know, other than reading, polite conversation and music.
     So. Today I learned marhaba, which means “hello” in Arabic.
     I learned marhaba after saying shukran (“thank you”) to Smith in a store.
     “You know Arabic?” he said, amazed and pleased.
     “No,” I said. “Actually, that’s the only word I know. How do you say ‘hello’?”
     He told me, and we rehearsed it a few times.
     Another friend Smith left Syria long before the war started. His family still lives in a town that’s been devastated by the war. I asked what he thought about the Syrian civil war.
     “Stupid people,” he said. “It’s just stupid people. So many stupid people.”
     Amen to that, my Syrian brothers.

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