The Mini-Bus of Babel

Posted by Abdel Kadz on Saturday, March 13, 2010 with 98 comments
If you have been to the Middle East, you probably have noticed that expatriates make a considerable amount of the population. If the hospital I work for is made as a point of reference, you'll likely have a glimpse of a multiracial facility, a cornucopia of different nationalities housed under one roof: the Saudis, the non-native Arabs (Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, Sudanese, Lebanese), Filipinos, Indians, Nepalis and Burmese. Imagine being cramped into a mini-bus where English is spoken only when talking to a person of a different nationality. Imagine that most of the conversation in a 30-minute, one-way ride to the accommodation or to the hospital (which makes about two hours daily) takes place among people of the same tongue. Now imagine everybody yackety yacking all at the same time. If you don't have your ears bleeding from all that parseltongue-ing (read: alien language), you probably have a build-up of cerumen inundating your ear canals, which is good now that I think about it. Going to work and back home is an experience a polyglot would die for; I'll give him my shoes any day. That experience is nothing short of a modern-day Tower of Babel, only on wheels.

I haven't really gotten so butchered by a splitting migraine over somebody else's national language until going home this morning. Haven't because I always have my earbuds plugged in, with the volume max, to the dumbfoundment of those seated near me (lol, nobody even wants to take the seat immediately next to me). For a year now, it's been like this to and fro work and I've had no complaints. But leaving the hospital this morning, I forgot to bring my mp3 player; it was left charging on our office's USB computer slot. Having slept only three hours and my ears being bombarded by parseltongue for what I believed the whole 30-minute ride to our accommodation, I could barely hold my consternation. To save this blog from racist remarks and myself from possibly being the receiving end of flak, I opted not to mention the involved persons' nationalities that had my ears tintinnabulating from a language like a tuning fork gone awry.

There were two groups of expatriates, and each made up of three persons. Both were discussing a different topic, judging that the first group was not exchanging retorts to the other. It was all good for me if only they were not talking as if they were the only ones around. Before I found listening to them speak their native language amusing, like the ones I see on American TV where characters from their home country speak English but in an accent entirely theirs. But earlier, it was all over the place. It was pitchy, more like noise never faltering to end. The Egyptian seated to the back of me probably shared the same sentiment. I so wanted to plug my ears with something just to save me from this auricular torture.

Our hospital provides accommodation for people with position, about a 10-minute distance from where the other accommodation, those for the hospital's male hoi polloi, is situated. Before we get to our destination, we pass by this other villa where most of the expatriates mentioned in the preceding paragraph are living. I had a tinge of hope that all this would end since they were all alighting around the corner, finally giving me the peace, tranquility, and calm (all synonyms to stress the point) I have been clamoring since I got on the mini-bus. I imagined the remaining five, 10 minutes or so to be uneventful as far as ET phoning home was concerned. I imagined that everybody shut the F up to calm down the throbbing blood vessels that crisscrossed my forehead like tree roots sucking the bejesus out of my cranial juices. I imagined the Mini-Bus of Babel to finally cave in, metaphorically, like its Biblical counterpart, with people of the same Mother tongue moving to an exodus of their own, saving them from the throes of otorrhea from listening to somebody they don't even understand. I imagined, concentrated, inhaled and exhaled and felt relief as the four corners of the bus were finally filled with silence. It was indeed peace, tranquility, and calm... not until another group of expats began yackety yacking from way back.