Today I went to visit my friend W with a pan of cinnamon rolls. I had made Pioneer Woman’s recipe for the twins’ birthday (only modified. She seems like a nice woman but I believe she wants to kill us all, with her “use whole milk or better yet, full cream” and “pour the melted butter on…use a whole cup.” Yeah. I use skim milk and about 1/3 cup of butter and they are still wickedly indulgent and everyone loves them. Also I don’t like her icing…waay to sweet. But I digress, rather long-windedly. Let’s start this post over.)
Today I went to visit my friend W with a pan of still-warm cinnamon rolls. “No! You have made yourself tired; why?” she scolded me. I ignore this, recognizing it as polite protestation, and kiss her in greeting as she takes my coat, sits me down on the couch, and embarks on a long explanation of why she has to go somewhere. It’s a wild journey into the perils of pronoun abuse; I’m told about my husband’s car and how my husband is too busy and my friends will come. No, his friends. She means her friends and her husband. It gets really confusing when she introduces a third party to the conversation, but I hang in there, mentally substituting the pronoun I think she means for the one she says. I manage to work out that her husband is going for his driver’s test today and that her friend is coming to pick her up and take her to meet him there. “How is my family?” she asks me. “Fine, fine,” I tell her. I know what she means. I do help her with English, but this is a social visit and ends up being very short, and I also try not to overwhelm, working on a few things at once.
I sometimes love pronoun trouble because it’s so cute. Donn helped another Iraqi man get his driver’s license a couple of months ago, and afterwards he sat and drank tea in his home. His wife was curious about me. “Is my wife American? Is my wife at home?” she asked Donn.
I have written before of Arab hospitality, and how hard it is, as a fairly hospitable American, to keep up. Several weeks ago, we invited W and her husband and 3 kids for dinner. I tried to go all out; I made tagine and zaalouk and samosas and salad; I served good bread and put out fruit and cookies. We started with a sweet orange drink, and afterwards made tea.
They responded well. “Yummy!” their 9 year old kept announcing! (He is very proud of his English and shows it off whenever possible) W stuck her fork in the salad. “Spanish?” she asked, and it took me a moment but then I nodded. It was a spinach salad. She gave her daughter a bite and then stuck her fork in again to spear an egg slice for herself. They were a relaxed combination of single-serving plates and communal eating, not hesitating to stick their forks in the serving bowls, but mostly eating individually. They ate heartily and seemed to enjoy everything.
Then they had us over. We had olives and leban (yogurt) and biryani (rice and vegetable dish)and kefta (spiced ground beef) and salad and samosas (hers were much prettier than mine) and chicken and pickled cauliflower and grilled vegetables and 2 kinds of bread; homemade Middle Eastern flat bread, and whole wheat pita bread. The table practically groaned under the weight of it all. Then we had home-made baklava, called baklowi in the Iraqi dialect, with pistachios and a hint of rose water, sooo good. I used to not like it too much because it’s too sweet, but the home-made Iraqi version has changed my mind and it’s become something I can’t resist. Plus tea, made with cardamom and schwaia min sucre, a small amount of sugar, and freshly-squeezed orange juice, and other things I’m forgetting. I’m sure it took them all day to prepare it. When we were leaving, they pressed gifts upon us—we came home with baklowi (yeah like I needed that temptation round the place) and other foods.
I should have sent them home with gifts.
I should have shrieked in protest at their hard work, instead of smiling and saying things like, “Wow!”
I should have cooked more.
But I think it’s okay. When the woman I’m teaching English to (the artist’s wife) presses a brand-new package of Najjar coffee into my hand, after I’ve admired the coffee she makes me, it’s a way of paying me for class. I might feel awkward that I’ve brought her nothing but I forget—yes, I have. I have brought my expertise, my teaching experience, my lesson prep.
I do still worry a bit though. Do you think that, behind our backs, they talk about how stingy and ungenerous the Americans are?