A linguistic phenomenon common in many languages is that a word or symbol connotes a deeper meaning than its literal translation. An example is the word “geshmak” in yiddish. While the dictionary translates the word as “tasty/delicious”, its usage can connote an additional meaning, such as in the sentence, “I learned a geshmake piece of torah today”. A similar example in the Arabic language is the term “Shway”. The simple definition of Shway is “a little bit”, and it is repeated “Shway Shway” for additional emphasis. While I am not an Arabic speaker I find myself using this term more and more lately. I learned these words early on in my position as a Pediatric Feeding Therapist at Hadassah hospital, as I need them often with the parents of the babies I treat. “Shway Shway” I say when parents feed their babies too much or too quickly. “Shway Shway“ I say when parents want to know how long it will take to wean their babies off a feeding tube. “Shway Shway ” I say when parents ask for immediate results from a treatment that will take more time than they hoped for. . (to that one I will also add an “Inshallah”).
Lately however, I find myself using these words more and more in situations that are not work related. It is as if I am trying to relay to myself and others a hidden/deeper message when I talk to them
“Shway Shway” I tell the contractor (Jewish or Arab) when he asks me to make an important decision on the spot. “Shway Shway” I tell my 14 year old son when he asks how old he has to be to get married. “Shway Shway” I tell my daughter when she is stressed before exams.
I wonder why I choose to use the Arabic words in these cases. I could much more easily say in Hebrew “L’at L’at” or even easier in my native English, “slowly slowly”. Perhaps it is because I am not fluent in Arabic and when there is no translator available I struggle to communicate. When I say these two words to my patients’ families I am really trying to convey a lot more than just “slowly slowly”. I am trying to let them know that I hear them. I hear their anger that they are in this situation. I hear their frustration that nothing seems to be working. I hear their sadness that their baby’s challenges are not what they anticipated. I hear their desperation that they want things to be better and back to normal already. But I also hear their hope. Hope that their baby will be able to eat, hope that their baby will grow and develop, and hope that someone will hear them and understand.
It is a combination of these different emotions that I am trying to acknowledge with “Shway Shway” “Let’s take a deep breath, Let’s try and take it slow. Yes, I know I am not in your shoes, but I am here to support you while you try to stand in yours.
In day to day life we can all sometimes use reminders, to take it slow, take a deep breath, take the time to understand things better and remain hopeful.
I may speak for myself but I find these days I need more of these reminders…and maybe that is why “Shway Shway” keeps creeping its way into my daily vocabulary.