Written 20 Ramadan 1433/8 August 2012
Dedication: To spacing out while cooking
I sometimes space out when I cook. I’m pretty sure I do it much more when I’m fasting.
Like, after I make sure I have all that I need in front of me and after I read bismillah and Surah Quraysh over everything, I go into the zone.
A few days ago, my brother-in-law invited twelve of his friends over to break their fast with us. In between cooking and Facebook, my mind wandered to the summer of 2006.
I took a trip with a friend to the beautiful city of Aleppo–the beautiful Halab. Her city, she called it. We stayed with her family, and they took me in as their own. I’ll never forget it.
We were roommates that summer in Jordan studying Arabic at the University of Yarmouk. She convinced me that we should spend our midsummer break in Syria, so I applied for a visa before we left the U.S. We shared a cab with another family from Irbid to Damascus and then got on a bus from Damascus to Aleppo.
The night we arrived at her aunt’s home, someone quickly took my suitcase from my hands and carried it to the room in which I would be staying. Suddenly, I was surrounded by her little cousins who ran up to me and kissed my hands. After dinner, the kids walked me to my bed and brought me water. I couldn’t speak much Arabic at the time, but they kept me entertained and I imagined they told me about their amazing lives. In exchange, I imagine I did something amusing. Since I was still limping from a sea urchin encounter in the Red Sea, I may have dramatized my snorkeling adventure to explain myself. I can’t be so sure. What I am sure about is that they were called away by the adults and reprimanded for keeping me awake.
…but I didn’t mind.
One night, we went to visit another aunt. She was a doctor and as soon as she found out about my feet, she told me she knew just the thing to make it all better–which is when I realized she began to sanitize a few needles to pull out the urchin spines in my feet. I managed to escape.
Another night, another aunt set up a massive feast for us on her patio. They had asked me previously what I wanted to do during our short visit in Aleppo. I said I wanted “to try Halabi food.” I think she heard, “I want to eat Halab”–because by the end of that night, I felt I had all of delicious Halab in my belly.
And another evening, one of the older cousins asked me about the history of Bangla as a language. He was very smart, and I was the first Bangali he ever met. (I’m pretty sure I made stuff up. I hope I said something about Sanskrit and Persian. Miskin.)
I learned that he loved his beautiful city. He loved it so much that he never left it and the longest he had ever been away was for a day.
Another day, his brother took some time from work to show us around the city. From a rooftop–was it at the top of Salahuddin’s citadel or another rooftop?–we could see the green domes of saints’ tombs. I remember asking him about his favorite holiday. Without hesitation, he said, “The Prophet’s birthday!”
Another day, his gentle mother took us to the old marketplace–the largest covered historic market in the world–to go shopping. And shopping we did. I still wear the scarves and jackets I bought there. (Have I revealed too much?) Before we returned home after maghrib, she took me to visit the tomb of Zachary, father of John the Baptist. “Go ahead and take your time,” she motioned. “I will wait for you.”
And every day, I enjoyed the most elegant food and generous hospitality. Beautiful juicy fresh figs, more kinds of kibbeh than I ever could imagine…stuffed cucumbers and mulukhiya…gorgeous salads…a local brand of peach iced tea…some enormous amazing sloppy joe-like burger with lots of fried onions…raw green pistachios…white string cheese peppered with black seeds…
When I looked at the pots on the stove, I realized the chicken curry was done, and it was time to move on to the dim bhuna and khichuri. I called mom. I told her how much I wished I could invite my friend’s family today. They were so good to me. I wished they were coming over. I wished I was cooking for them. I would make every dish I knew. I wouldn’t make it too spicy. I would place water near their bedside if they decided to stay. I would speak with them even if they couldn’t understand.
I told Mom, My friend wrote yesterday. These days, her family is just grateful for the bread they can get. Many of them have had to leave their homes and neighborhoods.
Mom said a prayer. I couldn’t speak after that. Mostly because it broke my heart. So I got off the phone and went back to the eggs.
Guests are from your rizq. Guests come with their own rizq. We plan, He plans.
As our guests ate that night, I prayed that my Syrian family are safe; that the gunfire they can smell and hear never touches them; that freedom is near; and that the bread they can get tastes better and is more fulfilling and nourishing than roasted lamb, honey, milk, dates and fresh juicy figs…
And now, I’m not even sure what I’m writing. My husband has already begun calculating our zakat for this year. There are a lot of options…
And now, so many of you are posting about another mass shooting in the U.S. Last time in a cinema hall by a young white male who dyed his hair like the joker; this time in a Sikh temple in Missouri by a neo-Nazi discharged from the army. On the same day, eight people were shot across Chicago between 12:30 and 7 a.m and a mosque in Joplin was burned down for the second time this summer. A few days before, many white friends posted about Chick fil A and homophobia, and a few days before that many anti-racism activist friends posted former Florida Republican Party chairman’s confession that the party had meetings “to suppress the black votes.”
You would think there was a war out there, only I’m not really sure what we’re fighting for…
In other news, NASA’s Curiosity has landed on Mars; FoxSports.com said Baghdad is in Iran; Clifton Truman Daniel, former President Harry Truman’s grandson, attended the 67th memorial of the world’s first atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki carried out by the U.S.; and Texas has just executed a man with an IQ of 61.
Last night, I made khosa. Before Ramadan began, I emailed Baby Auntie for her recipe. Although Auntie grew up in Chittagong, her mother is a Burmese Muslim. Auntie learned from her mom how to make dishes like this coconut curry beauty.
As soon as it was the perfect moment to space out about how much I love Baby Auntie and Burmese-Bangalis, the fire alarm went off.
…but that khosa sure was delicious…