Friday, June 16, 2006
Dinner with Friends
Last Saturday, we had the privilege of eating dinner in the home of a local family. Our friend and frequent taxi driver, Mohammed, invited us to eat with him and his wife and two daughters. We had never met his wife (whose name is Shymat) before, partially because we only see Mohammed when he’s working, and partially because she was nervous about meeting us because she doesn’t speak any English.
Getting to their flat reminded me of an old Jeff Foxworthy one-liner about “turning off the paved road”. We walked from a major road down a small alley with lots of little shops of all varieties, then turned again onto an even smaller alley—probably 8 or 10 feet wide. Then we went into a dark stairwell and up four floors worth of really old steep stone stairs.
We followed our host’s lead and left our shoes out by the door, and went into their flat. Their apartment had four rooms, and was a little smaller than our 600 square-foot apartment in Ft. Worth. He took me into the formal living room with the gold-painted furniture while Beth went and met his wife and the girls—one 6 years old, and one 7 months old. After a few minutes, we all got together in the girls’ bedroom, which doubled as the den and dining room (and had the refrigerator in it.)
He sent his six-year-old daughter (well, actually she was a week shy of her 6th birthday) down the street to get a newspaper, then spread it on the floor and told us that was the dining table. We all sat on the floor around the paper while Shymat brought out several platters of food. We had eggplant, fried liver, stuffed doves, fries, stewed tomatoes and squash, and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. The locals don’t always have drinks with their meals, but they provided a glass for each family to share and a bottle of water.
The food was good, but eating was a little different. We were each given a big serving spoon and a small saucer-sized plate. We put the foods on our plate, then tore off a piece of flat bread to pick up the food with to eat it. During the meal, they sent their daughter back to the store for more bread. Are any of you Americans ready to send your kindergartener to the store for bread? We didn’t have napkins, but since we were sitting on the floor, I was able to use the leg of my jeans from time to time. After the meal, he brought out a big hand towel for us to clean up with.
For dessert, they brought out a tray of Coca Cola in fancy wine glasses. That was followed by a plate of fruit—apples, oranges and mangoes—which we had brought as a gift. We hung around and talked for another hour or more, then she made tea. People drink hot tea all the time here. It is served in small glasses with ridiculous amounts of sugar.
The room we were sitting in had double doors that opened to the balcony. They were opened the whole time to let a little wind and light in. Shymat told us they didn’t really need an air conditioner because there was always a good breeze up on the fourth floor. After the sun went down, Mohammed went and got a light bulb from another room and plugged it in so we could see each other. While their apartment was fairly Spartan, their hospitality was as warm and friendly as any home in the Southern US. We stayed for almost four hours and had a delightful evening.