Yemen: A Swede learns Arabic

Hella Hultin is a surgeon from Sweden. She is currently on assignment with MSF in Khameer, Yemen. Here she blogs about the moments of happiness the team share, even when the work is tough.

Twice a week we read Arabic.

A teacher comes home to our house and teach. It is difficult, especially learning letters of the alphabet that are completely different from ours.

The pronunciation is not easy, and many of the sounds are completely different from those in English and Swedish. But being a Swede I have a little advantage since we actually have both the R and H sound (French women do much worse).

Today it was time to learn the names of the various parts of the body - important when you're talking with patients and need to ask where it hurts.

That funny thing with Arabic is that there is always a special word for two of something, not just the singular and plural. For example, it’s not just the words for “the eye” and “the eyes”, there is a special word for “two eyes”.

Learning Arabic while on assignment. Photo: Hella Hultin/MSF

Arabic is incredibly useful, even for my work back home in Sweden. It is one of the five major languages in the world and is spoken by 340 million people: so it's not so bad to know a few words!

The best thing about working on an MSF assignment is the connection you forge with those you work with. You work closely together even when things are difficult and tedious. 

In principle, everything is different from what you are used to, and there may be things you really don't like. But despite this, you bond strongly, with many laughs in between.

Today we even laughed at the hospital when I mixed up all the body parts, asking a man who'd broken his ankle if he had a headache.