Sometimes, you wish you had stayed out of the kitchen so you could eat in blissful ignorance.

I thought this Wednesday. After class, Bea announced that we were all staying for lunch at her place–that would be me, the teacher/driver, Maude and her 4 year old daughter, and Fiona. We were in the car when Bea announced it, and I realized that I had foolishly said “next time” on Monday, when she’d also invited me in.

I don’t know why, but I am always exhausted after class. It takes about an hour to pick up everybody, and then I teach for 2 hours, then everyone chats in the hall for at least half an hour, then another hour of driving. Total: 4 1/2 hours, and that’s not counting extra things that often come up. Not that long. But by that point, I just want to come home and chill for half an hour or so before I get going on something else.

But I had said, “Next time,” not meaning it, meaning “at some vague undetermined time when I have more energy.” And Bea had made dolma, which takes a while…I know because I have helped others make it. You mix rice and ground lamb and parsley and tomato paste and spices, and you roll and stuff grape leaves and onions and zucchini and peppers and tomatoes and put them all in a large pot and boil them for a while. So I looked around the car. Everyone agreed; we would eat at Bea’s. We stopped at a grocery store for her to run in and get a few items (i.e. 3 bags of stuff) and then went to her house. I was pushed onto a couch with Fiona, not allowed in the kitchen to help, which is unfair. Fiona is the oldest so she is supposed to sit and watch, but I am younger than Bea. I think it’s my status as teacher and giver of rides, not to mention American, that relegates me to the couch. Fiona prays; I watch Iraqi satellite TV. They are advertising a sort of American Idol type show that looks delightful! The 3 contestants, all young males, are hilarious to me. One has caterpillar eyebrows that move alarmingly; my favorite is heavy-set and wearing a grey and black suit and wailing away as he contorts his face. They flash the number and I’m tempted to vote, although I resist because I know it would be expensive.

After a while, though, I wander back to the kitchen. This is about 4 steps. Their apartment is small–two bedrooms, 3 adult children, I’m not quite sure how they do it. Bea and Maude are making salads. Maude is making one that I usually love–plain yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic, dried mint. (It’s like that Greek one called something that starts with T, and like the Indian riata or riada or whatever it is). I watch in dismay as she makes the salad using sour cream, full fat, instead of yogurt. Ouch! That is going to be rather hard on the waistline.

Bea is proudly showing off the panini-maker she found for $5 at Goodwill. My Iraqi friends love thrift stores, and are constantly parading before me a collection of candle-holders, figurines, and chunky china they have found. They are avidly looking forward to the start of garage sale season!

Bea has found that the panini-maker means her 17 year-old daughter, her youngest, finally has something she’ll eat after school. She cooks up lamb and parsley and onion and freezes it in small portions. Then she thaws a bit, spreads it on the bread, adds olives and cheese and spicy peppers, and melts it into a sandwich. She makes several for us to try and they are tasty. I mention that Elliot would also like it if I made him sandwiches after school and so later, I leave with a plateful of sandwiches for him to try. (And I am right. He eats the entire plateful after school that day, and still manages a hearty supper about 2 hours later.)

The salad, sadly, is delicious. Who knew straight sour cream could taste so good? I try to not eat too much. I fill up on the other salads, a little bread, and of course dolma and sandwiches. Everything is great. Afterwards, Maude suddenly remembers she has to be home by 2:36, when her kids get off the bus. It’s 2:10. “We need to leave right now then,” I say, but we haven’t had tea yet. We have tea. She and I drink quickly, casting agonizing looks at Fiona, who’s oblivious to the need for hurry and is chatting away, sipping her hot tea. We leave at 2:25 and I drive like the wind, which worries Maude a bit. We get back to her place only about 5 minutes late, and wave happily to her boys, who are waiting outside her apartment. She wants me to run more errands with her at that point, adding her boys to the mix, but I decline without regrets.