As one would say “welcome” in Arabic, salamo alaykom!  My Syrian origins from my dad’s side of the family are reflected in different aspects of my life. I have eaten Syrian food, listened to my parents and other relatives speak Arabic, and used Arabic expressions my whole life. My family’s Syrian culture ties all of us together in a way that would be impossible with any other culture.

The one way we can always relate to each other is through our shared Syrian culture; even my grandmother, who is native German, fluently speaks Arabic, cooks Syrian food for my family, and joins us in our goal—to keep our Syrian culture alive.

Throughout my childhood, many of my snacks consisted of pita bread and different traditional Syrian dips. One of my favorite snacks was and still is pita bread with zeit o za’atar which you make by dipping the bread into some olive oil, then a mix of different spices.  It does not look like anything more than a pile of greenish herbs, but it tastes amazing; my non-Syrian family members and friends have fallen in love with zeit o za’atar, as well. Even now, my dad frequently makes me zeit o za’atar for breakfast. Another favorite of my entire family is labneh, a yogurt dip topped with olive oil and a little bit of herbs. When the different sides of my family get together, we almost always eat labneh and pita bread as well as an assortment of other traditional foods for breakfast. Labneh is influential in my family; one of my cousin’s e-mails has “labneh” in it! Lastly, my family and I love shankleesh, an aged cheese with sesame (the seedy part of zait o za’atar) on top. One can eat shankleesh on bagels, toast, or bread, and even make a salad out of it by mixing it with chopped up tomatoes. Not only do my Syrian family members love shankleesh, but my American cousins in Ohio love it too!  Whether I am visiting my grandparents in Florida or my cousins in Ohio, I almost always have shankleesh. Syrian food has been a huge influence over my family and I, and our favorite foods.

Interestingly, my parents constantly speak Arabic around my brother and I when they want to say something that they do not want us to hear. My dad did try to teach me Arabic when I was younger, but he did not make it a big deal, and he could not find a decent teacher in our area. As a result, I only know a few words. However, I am happy with listening to my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins speak Arabic. It amazes me to watch them because they know so much compared to me. The only words I can recognize in a conversation are “yes”, “no”, and “sorry” and some phrases. The Arabic language is a huge part of my Syrians culture because it directly connects to how we speak. For instance, my family comes from Salamiyah, Syria, so their dialect is different from those from other Syrian cities like Aleppo where they later lived. My cousin’s father, however, came from Egypt, so my cousin kind of mixes Salamiyah Arabic and Egyptian Arabic. Arabic is like my family’s secret code; if they want to avoid letting people hear something, they automatically speak in Arabic. Eventually, though, it may become difficult for my family to use Arabic as their secret code because over 600,000 people in the US speak Arabic and over 200 million people in the world speak Arabic.

Even though I have not been very successful in learning Arabic, it is important for young people to speak multiple languages because it opens them up to other cultures and opens up opportunities. The first step to learning about a culture is learning the language, even if one learns just one word. A language can teach people about the food, clothing, architecture, and jobs in the culture that speaks it. For example, I learned a lot about French culture in my French class because it helps to be able to apply a language to a culture. Lastly, it was a good feeling for me when I traveled to France with my French class and had to speak French. Applying my French skills to an actual culture was amazing because it made me feel so useful. I think if other teenagers learn multiple languages, they will feel the same way.

I use Arabic expressions that my father, grandparents, aunts, and uncles grew up using almost on a daily basis at home. I do not know enough Arabic to make my own expressions, but my dad and I have always used certain ones with each other. For example, we often say tusbih ‘ala khayr, meaning “good night” in Arabic, instead of simply saying “good night.” In addition, we say mabrouk, “congratulations” in Arabic. Whenever I get something kind of big, like a haircut, a present, or even when I just buy something I have been wanting, my dad says “mabrouk.” Last, but not least, my dad and I say yinam alayk to each other; I am not sure of the exact meaning, but we often say it to each other as a response to a congratulations after one of us takes a shower or gets our haircut. Furthermore, perhaps it is a thank you for being clean. Yet another Arabic expression my family uses all the time is kifak, meaning “how are you?” When my family meets up during a vacation, all one can hear within the flurry of hugs is “kifak” being repeated at least twenty times. Arabic expressions are a great way to make up for the fact that I do not speak Arabic. Even though I cannot make expressions up on my own, using the ones I have listed makes me feel like I can speak Arabic, and like I am keeping my Syrian culture alive; even if it is by simply saying “tubish ’ala khayr” instead of “good night.” Staying connected to my family’s native language is important because communication is one of the best ways that one can stay connected to one’s culture. If my Syrian ancestors did not speak Arabic with each other in the first place, they would not have been able to come together and make a colorful culture.

My Syrian origins from my dad’s side have heavily influenced how I have lived since I was little. From Syrian food, to listening to Arabic, and using Arabic expressions, my origins are constantly showing themselves in my life. Hopefully, I will keep on eating zeit o za’atar, labneh, and shankleesh for breakfast. I am confident that I will eventually learn Arabic and will expand my knowledge of expressions to use around the house. I am convinced that even if I chose to ignore my Syrian culture at some point, my family would make a point to put it back into my life regardless of the situation. Staying connected to my family’s native language is important because communication is one of the best ways that one can stay connected to one’s culture. If my Syrian ancestors did not speak Arabic with each other in the first place, they would not have been able to come together and make a colorful culture. My family’s goal is going to keep our Syrian culture alive.  So, as one would say “good bye” in Arabic, Ma’assalama!

Written By:

Liyana Ido

Grade 9

School Without Walls