When I walk past construction workers near my street, or buy my loaf from the neighborhood bakery, or watch teachers lead children into their schools in the mornings, or knock on the doors of administration employees, I find myself, now living in Europe, digging deep into English idioms searching for words of apperception. Words that would be comparable to the meaning of the Arabic term ya’tiki-l-‘afi to express my gratitude, appreciation, and respect to those who work tirelessly every day.
Instead, I only say thanks with a big smile. But thanks is not even close to the meaning of ya’tiki-l-‘afi! The closest translation would be »May God give you health and wellness.« Yet the word connotes much more than mere health. Rather, it is a wish for prolonging perseverance and the physical ability to work and produce. It stems from the strength and determination of the body and soul to give and work. (Arabic has its own terms for wishing health to someone ill, but there’s no room for that here.)
While it is a wish addressing God, ya’tiki-l-‘afi is a social idiom that everyone uses, regardless of religion, age, or gender. Whether it is ya’tiki-l-‘afi (feminine) or ya’tike-l-‘afi (masculine), all work, domestic or otherwise, deserves to be regarded. The phrase also abolishes classes and makes the concept of work and production of various kinds a collective social activity, in which everyone’s efforts and work are equally appreciated.
In fact, the beauty of ya’tiki-l-’afi lies in its intimacy, which immediately dissipates the alienation that exists between strangers. Saying it means appreciating the efforts of someone who helps, builds, creates, and produces the conditions that allow us to be, together, in this public space. It also extends to the private space, as saying it draws us closer to those with whom we share our domesticity – partners or parents; siblings or roommates. We would also say ya’tiki-l-’afi to those with whom we collegially and reciprocally work.
Ya’tiki-l-’afi is also used as a salute to greet someone when entering a shop or approaching someone during her work. It replaces hello, hi, and other greetings; it becomes both a greeting and an appreciation. Ironically, that appreciation may be turned upside-down if ya’tiki-l-’afi is said in anger or sarcasm. It then becomes a phrase to reprimand someone for a mistake or a bad product, for example cutting a piece of wood to the wrong measurements or adding sugar instead of salt to a soup.
In all its conditions, ya’tiki-l-’afi keeps reminding me of the meaning of home, bestowal, and hard work, when other languages fail to do so. This meaning travels beyond the geographies and imageries of the Arabic language, rendering ya’tiki-l-’afi universal as much as communal.