Two and a half years.
When I was this age, I would receive strawberries if I said “hungry”, affection if I shouted “pacifier” and would be effusively greeted if, just in time, I exclaimed “pee”.
Thirty-seven years later, I am two and a half years old again. Only this time, I need to talk about hormones with the endocrinologist, about internet plans with the salesperson and understand the three-page letter about the school’s educational concept. Gluten, digital marketing and rental contract are my new abc. Or alefbetguimel.
Two and a half years ago, I arrived in the Middle East with two degrees to discover that it is always time to go back to being illiterate.
— … And so, mom… wait, how do you say leashpil in Portuguese?
— I don’t know what leashpil is.
— It’s like when ata noten tshuva she haacher lo aia iechol ledamien.
Of course, over time, we earn skills and learn to communicate without having to cry. My tip is to choose a wild word, like mamash, which means something like “a lot” or “absolutely”, depending on the context. And what is context in a language that is written with another alphabet and without vowels, right?
— Do you think the exhibition is worth visiting?
— And off we go to the third round of elections in one year.
Is it enough? No, of course it isn’t. Being almost 40 years old, having an extensive past and two children for whom you are responsible without being able to communicate gives you tachycardia, shortness of breath, anxiety. Speaking your mother tongue flawlessly and needing to gesture “wa-ter-cress” in the greengrocer over here is kind of humiliating. And having a nice resume but suffering when trying to explain to the doctor’s secretary the exam you need to take, makes you feel like a two and a half years child.
When I start first grade here, I will be forty-four years old. When I come of age, fifty-five and, when I finally reach forty – which I (almost) have in Portuguese today – I will be seventy-seven. In Hebrew, I will always lang behind and, who knows, by the age of eighty I will be able to share gluten-free recipes while paying for watercress before attending to hormonal tests.
For now, I know I need to take a deep breath and hope to look interesting in some conversation or to understand the title of any book suitable for a kindergarten child.
One day it will be much easier and mamash will be no more than an adverb for a sentence with subject and predicate. I have time. After all, what are tens of years for those who chose to be born again?