Becoming literate again in Poland

After the best part of a month in the Middle East we find ourselves in Poland and we’ve just become literate again.

Callum learning to write in Arabic in Aswan.

It is amazing how difficult it is to make your way in the world when you are functionally illiterate, as we are in Arabic and Hebrew. We only have a few words of Polish but, oh, what a difference it makes when you can sound out the words. Even if you have no idea what a word means, starting by sounding it out sometimes leads to a good guess. And if you can’t guess the meaning from context, being able to recognise repetition of the word will often give you a clue. So, for example, I know the word for “street” simply because it’s in front of so may street names. Being unable to read Arabic or Hebrew meant I didn’t get that far in weeks in the Middle East.

The other thing that has hit me like a linguistic locomotive is how much English there is here. Advertisements and business names in particular are often in English. I’m wracking my brains to try to remember if there was as much in Germany; or, in other words, whether this is a Polish phenomenon or just having been away is making it leap out. For all I know there were as many English words in Jordan or Jerusalem – but I’ll never know because I couldn’t read them. In any case, there are English words all over the place here and that makes working out what’s going on so, so much easier.

To put ‘easy’ in some perspective I haven’t slept in over 36 hours as I write this, and while I’m stumbling and slurring my spoken words I could still do the grocery shopping with consummate ease.

Regardless of linguistics, the words I’m happiest about today were those telling the boys how proud I was of them. Last night was officially Not A Lot Of Fun. We finally embarked through Israeli security at 3am. The adorable Marta had given us a parting gift of some chocolates. After wrestling with both our conscience and our pragmatism, we admitted this to the security inquisitor. That meant we had been “given something by someone” and so we had to go through special security screening. From what I could see this balanced out the fast tracking we otherwise got for dragging two tired kids around with us and so not hitting any danger buttons on the Israeli security profiling. We were very amused when the security people defeated our expectations and did not raise an eyebrow at the ridiculous amount of technology and associated wiring we’re carrying about with us.

We did, I can now reveal, have a cunning fall-back plan if security became too difficult. If the situation required it the boys were going to put all their theatre skills to use and feign hysteria. Done properly, that would ensure us being ushered out of everyone’s earshot.

We never had to activate our cunning plan and the boys dealt with an extraordinarily tiring night without a single murmur of complaint in any language.

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