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Sara Pezone, an accounting technician for Navy Region Europe, listens to Arabic instructor Abdallah Tawfik during class Wednesday at Naval Support Activity Naples.
Sara Pezone, an accounting technician for Navy Region Europe, listens to Arabic instructor Abdallah Tawfik during class Wednesday at Naval Support Activity Naples. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Sara Pezone, an accounting technician for Navy Region Europe, listens to Arabic instructor Abdallah Tawfik during class Wednesday at Naval Support Activity Naples.
Sara Pezone, an accounting technician for Navy Region Europe, listens to Arabic instructor Abdallah Tawfik during class Wednesday at Naval Support Activity Naples. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Conforti takes a quiz Wednesday during a free "Life-Saving Arabic" class offered to people who live and work at the Navy bases in Naples, Italy.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Conforti takes a quiz Wednesday during a free "Life-Saving Arabic" class offered to people who live and work at the Navy bases in Naples, Italy. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — Troops and civilians living and working at this Navy base in southern Italy are hunkering down for an intense language class, but it isn’t Italian escaping their lips.

They’re learning to read, write and speak Arabic from Abdallah Tawfik, a visiting adjunct professor from the U.S. Naval Academy on loan to Naples for six months.

Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Melody said he signed up for the class with an interest in learning the Arab culture. “There is some cultural aspect in learning about a language,” said the officer assigned with Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet. “Learning about a language can’t hurt. You get to understand both some of the language and understand some of the culture.”

The class is called Life-Saving Arabic. Tawfik chose the title after hearing a story coming from Iraq, in which, painted in Arabic on a billboard in Baghdad, was the word Qumbula. U.S. troops repeatedly, and unwittingly, drove by the billboard daily.

The word means “bomb.”

“It blended in with other writings on the sign, and only the locals knew there was a bomb buried there,” said Tawfik, born and raised in Egypt. “[Troops] didn’t know about it until an Arab linguist/interrogator saw it, and then, it became his job to teach Arabic to the troops.”

Tawfik, a U.S. sailor who is a machinist’s mate by trade, teaches the class twice a week at the Capodichino base during lunch, and at the support site base in Gricignano in the evening. He’s completed one eight-week semester, is in the middle of a second, and has plans for a third before heading back to Annapolis, Md.

Lt. Jamaal Parker recently completed the first semester. A contingency engineer and the humanitarian assistance construction program officer for Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Naples, Parker said he signed up because of a possible deployment to Afghanistan as an individual augmentee.

“I understand they don’t speak Arabic in Afghanistan, but I figured if I learned Arabic now, it would be easier to learn Pashto if the opportunity came up,” Parker said. Pashto is spoken in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan and its writing is a modified version of Arabic.

“For us, this is not like learning French or Spanish or Italian, languages that are close to ours,” Parker said. “We were using muscles in our throats we didn’t even know we had.”

Neapolitan Sara Pezone’s husband is Egyptian — but when they communicate, they do so in English.

“I’m studying Arabic because I’m trying to understand him better,” said the accounting technician for Navy Region Europe.

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