Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Memories of Bahrain

Bubbling away on the stove is something more than dinner. It is a reminder of family, tradition and acceptance. I prepared a spicy meat curry and armed with flaky roti bread, G and I will dig in with our hands, in true Arab tradition. I remember my first trip to the Middle East- how strange I thought it was to sit on the floor for a meal, and to dine without any cutlery. All 14 of us, my husband's uncles, aunts, cousins and grandmother were crouched around a beautiful rug which was covered with plastic for protection. The maids brought out the food Sito had been preparing all morning- fried fish, steamed rice, curry, salad, and pita bread. The conversation was riotous, only topped by the occasional squawk from one of the many colorful birds hopping and flying around the room. I sat uncomfortably on the floor, unsure of where to put my legs, and embarrassed at the mess I was making while trying to eat as gracefully as possible. I was a new bride, meeting the family for the first time, and I was desperate for their approval. We ate, then sat back from the rug, leaning against piles of pillows as our plates were whisked away to the maid's kitchen. A mountain of pomegranates and prickly pears appeared. The fruit was passed to the men, who cut it into pieces and carefully removed the seeds for their daughters. After the fruit and chai, uncles and aunts stretched their legs and many fell asleep there in the lunch room, their heads resting against red and orange embroidered pillows. The children ran outside to play in the courtyard, and Sito covered each of her children with a light blanket.
It didn't take long, or many lunches around the rug, before I was comfortable both with my new family and their customs. I would sit neatly with my legs tucked underneath, gingerly scooping rice from my plate and relishing how it seemed to taste differently than it does when eaten with a fork. I picked up some Arabic words and surprised everyone by arriving for lunch one day wearing a hijab, a traditional Muslim headscarf. I savor these memories of family unity and the food that brought them all together. I hope the family G and I create will be as close, loving and accepting.

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