I will never forget the face of my Moroccan teacher when I entered his class and said to him, ‘Ya‘tik al-‘afiya.’ This expression is a key for everyone who visits the Levant, the Arab Gulf, and Egypt — we use it in all contexts for literally everything.
For example, we use it to say hello or goodbye, to express our appreciation and gratitude for someone who has done something for us, or to appreciate someone’s hard work or dedication. Let's say that your mother came back from work, and you felt that she was tired; you can tell her ‘Ya‘tiki al-‘afiya.’ Not only that, but it is also used to thank taxi drivers when they drop us at our specific destination.
In a sarcastic context, like when someone ruins something, we can say: ‘Ya‘tik al-‘afiya.’ By learning the literal translation of this Arabic phrase, you will have shortened so many topics.
In my first week at Middlebury, when I walked into the dining hall and saw my colleagues working very hard, I turned toward them to say ‘Ya‘tikom al-‘afiya.’ Before I could say the words in Arabic, I remembered that I had to find a similar expression in English. I couldn’t do it (maybe due to my humble English skills), but I ended up translating it into “God give you health.” I always found on their faces a similar look to that of my teacher with a slight difference, a beautiful smile always followed their astonished look.
As for my Moroccan teacher, his looks were without any smiles. After days of using the phrase with him, it turned out that the word ‘Afiya’ means fire in the Moroccan dialect. Of course, he thought, “Why is this girl wishing fire upon me whenever she greets me?”
So maybe you know how to use it now, and ‘Ya‘tikom al-‘afiya.’
Maryait Khader is the teaching assistant for the Department of Arabic.