I got a henna a few days before we left Morocco. The woman who did it got a small smudge of orange goo on the bottom of the nail on my ring finger while swirling arabesques and paisleys and diamond shapes onto the back of my hands. The henna, one of the prettiest I have had, was woefully short lived—by the time we were in Portland, it was already fading. But the nail smudge remained, and I have watched it slowly growing out along with the nail. It’s nearly gone now, entirely on the white tip.
In the time it takes to grow a nail, my whole life has changed. Now where I live, it’s getting dark by 4 p.m. The world wears colours of rust and grey and, always, the indifferent green of the pines and firs in the background. Christmas things have been for sale since September and now, mid-November, a lot of places are already decorated.
Aside: everyone I know complains about this. “Shocking!” we agree. And yet, someone must be buying this stuff or they wouldn’t put it out. They’re not stupid, these multi-million-dollar corporations. They know how to make money. I’m bitter though. They have stolen Thanksgiving, relegated fall decorations to cut-price racks by early November. It has been swallowed in the rush to Christmas. This means, of course, that Christmas will finish early—people will be sick of their dead trees and incessant carols by mid-December, and then what?
We have missed both major eids—the end of Ramadan and the Eid Adha. No one is grilling sheeps’ heads on street corners, filling the air with the scent of charred flesh. No one is sending up plates of liver (which is good) or inviting us for steaming platters of grilled meat.
But last Thursday, I sat in an overheated apartment while Arabic women shouted at each other. “Is it getting too much?” one asked me. “Are you getting a headache? Are you ready for some advil?” I grinned at her and shook my head. I felt quite at home.
The women, all of whom had arrived from Iraq sometime within the past couple of years, were welcoming and friendly. I had given one of them a ride home from an event, and she’d invited me in. It was 9:15 when we arrived at the overheated apartment and shed our coats and shoes, settling into chairs, being proffered bowls of candy. Anyone who said ‘no’ was still firmly handed several pieces. “It’s still the feast,” they explained to me. “We have to eat and celebrate.”
When tea was going round, I noticed that several women said “no sugar” so I did too. Hooray! I didn’t realize that was an option. Iraqi tea is black tea with cardamom, and without an inch of sugar in the tiny glass it is delightful. I resigned myself to my fate and accepted several small cookies and a slice of chocolate marble cake. Soon, we’d moved on to the inky black coffee served Turkish style in doll-sized cups. This coffee is perfection, a glimpse of paradise on earth, worth any amount of sleepless nights. Zeineb smiled at my praise and promised she’d teach me how to make it. And it didn’t keep me up, proving my theory that if you have a little caffeine, it will keep you up, but if you seriously overindulge, it won’t. Either that or Arab coffee/tea is practically decaffeinated, as it doesn’t keep me up but American tea/coffee will.
Ilsa having her henna done
It snowed last night. The kids and I went out at 10 p.m. to throw snowballs and shriek and generally annoy the neighbours. Ilsa stomped an enormous heart around the word SNOW all over the street. Then we stayed up drinking hot chocolate (Trader Joe’s peppermint hot chocolate with actual chunks of bittersweet chocolate in it…soo good) and being silly. Good thing school was cancelled today.
This week is our feast, here in America. I’m planning on making some sort of pumpkin dessert that can be eaten by hand (i.e. not pie) and handing it round to my new friends. I suspect we’re all in the same boat; thinking of faraway places, listening to echoes from past feasts, enjoying celebrations both new and familiar.