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While living in Saudi Arabia, I described an adventure to some of my friends here in the States, via email. I saved the correspondence, and put it together as a story.
Copyright 1990-1999 by Ed Barnard. All rights reserved.
Last night we had a visit from the Dammam chief of police (crime division as opposed to traffic division).
We had a nice visit for about an hour and a half. The whole affair was quite different (a Minnesotan would say "interesting"), so I thought I'd tell you the story. The arrival was expected but we were not quite sure what we were going to do about it. We guessed this would be a very traditional visit. It was.
My friend Khalid (one of the operators at Aramco) came with Abdul Aziz (the police captain) to show him where we live. Khalid arrived, in the usual white thobe and red checkered ghutra, and introduced Abdul Aziz, who was also wearing the same traditional dress. Staying in the background was a woman in black, completely covered and heavily veiled. She moved, so I was sure there was somebody in there somewhere, but it was pretty hard to tell. They brought with them their daughter Ala. (The daughter's name is spelled quite differently in Arabic from that of God, Allah.) The daughter is two years old and was, of course, quite shy to see us strangers. I don't know the wife's name; I was never introduced to her. We all came inside, the wife remaining heavily veiled. It certainly seemed strange to have a woman sitting on the living room sofa and remaining in the heavy black street veil. I offered the men (Khalid and Abdul Aziz) coffee and tea. Khalid politely suggested that if there were a separate place that the women could visit, they would perhaps be more comfortable. Once the tea, coffee, and a plate of cookies were organized on the coffee table, the ladies were free to take over the kitchen. I was fortunate to have Khalid there to interpret as Abdul Aziz's English is rather limited. Abdul Aziz did leave me with his full name and a contact telephone number. I am welcome to call in case of any problems. I'm keeping that number in my wallet. You never know when such can come in VERY handy...
The point of the visit was for the two families to get acquainted. The wife would like to learn better English. She is college-educated and can communicate well enough with Susan without an interpreter. That's good since nobody else was allowed in the kitchen! She will be meeting with Susan twice a week starting tonight. Susan asked her if she has ever before met an American. The other lady told Susan she was the first. This should be "interesting."
Abdul Aziz invited all of us over for dinner this Thursday. I asked Abdul Aziz if his wife might be willing to show Susan how some of the traditional dishes are prepared. The answer was, in effect, "Of course, of course." I guess it was a rather stupid question: What else would I do with my wife but stick her in the kitchen with the other ladies? What else would my wife do but help prepare the men's food? Susan and I are both curious to see where (and when) she and the children will eat.
..., you said "I don't know why you let the police captain into your home." We did not know at the time he was a police captain. It sure sounded dramatic in my note, though, didn't it? The reason really was that we have been hoping for a chance to become friends with SOME Saudi family. Things seem to be working out very well. It's not their fault, specifically, that they grew up with drastically different customs. It's not my fault either. There are some aspects I don't agree with, and I hold society at large at fault for perpetuating them. Back to the point, though, friendship seems a very good starting point for any good thing.
At a (Christian) men's retreat a year ago, the speaker asked us: What is the ultimate lust for a man? His answer was, Complete, unquestioned power. I have to agree--with such power, all the other lusts may follow. In my opinion, that explains much of societal relationships here: Men have complete power here, and choose to keep it that way. With things just to his liking, why would a man want to change anything? Since a woman's nature (in my opinion) is to nurture, protect, and respond in empathy, it's relatively easy for men to retain control. I am NOT saying it is woman's fault for keeping things the way they are. I'm saying it's more in a woman's nature to accept man's foibles and in a man's nature to keep things to his advantage. Remember that a woman who does not behave is well beaten by her husband, father, or brother. I believe that is still true though I've not been a witness and I've not asked anyone locally. Since the sexes are kept completely separate and women are generally covered in public, there's not much room for progress. Woman's place is strictly enforced by governent officials and society in general. All of the above is backed by scripture (the Quran). And you think YOU got problems...
By the way, not all Saudis agree with the way things are at present. When the family in question travels abroad, the wife wears normal, albeit conservative, clothing with no black cloak (abayeh). She wears a white scarf over her hair (a Muslim requirement). I don't know if they know about holding hands. When I got stopped while shopping with Susan in Dammam last winter-- wait, let me just tell the story: Susan and I were together in the gold souk area (of course); she was wearing her abayeh. Someone came up to me and asked if he could have a moment of my time. He took me aside and politely explained that Susan should have her head covered. This was in accordance with local customs, he explained in minimal English. A policeman was standing in the background. Obviously the official spoke insufficient English; our nationality blazed out by virtue of being the only palefaces in sight; he must have found someone to interpret for him. I made sure I understood and said that was fine. I went back the five steps to explain to Susan. I walked over across the street (sort of, it is a bazaar area crisscrossed and mazed with streets but no cars--it's paved but for people) to an abayeh shop and purchased a black veil. Susan sort of wrapped it around her head and neck and said she felt like a Polish grandmother. I agreed, which did not help much. Then another Saudi came up (we're finally getting to the point) and asked what happened and said (quote) it was total ........, that we are neither Saudi nor Muslim and that that was totally unnecessary. I agreed, but there was nothing to do about it. Susan was feeling conspicuous because she wasn't wearing the veil correctly and it was hot with such a thing wrapped around her head, so we soon headed back to the car. On the way back we passed another couple with the lady wrapped about the same way. She and Susan grinned at each other as they passed on the narrow sidewalk.
I am having my first female student next week in class. I mean, she's the first female in any of my classes here. I've had female students before, of course. In fact, some of my favorite students have been women... When I mentioned that fact (that Sabah is my first female student here), the guy who set up the class was surprised. All the enrollments, etc. are by initials; e.g. Sabah shows as S.B. Sunbel. He took that fact quite seriously and told me how to handle it. I was surprised and not quite sure what he was talking about until he continued. He said that she has every right to be in the class. (This is a "normal" American, though Muslim, speaking). That statement confused me even more. He continued by explaining that if any of the men object to her being in the room, I was to state that Sabah stays in class but that if that causes him a problem, he is welcome to leave. If he does leave (if any problem arises, it is sure to happen on the first day) I am to immediately call [a certain department head] to get a replacement; there is a waiting list. I am not to leave the chair empty. The replacement will be a Saudi; if he has a problem he may leave and I will ask for another; and so on. Dave (the American explaining this to me) agreed I am unlikely to have a problem because of her presence but it is clearly possible. Can you BELIEVE it? Wow!
Sabah, by the way, is Arabic for "morning." Sabah is a young Saudi lady, unmarried, who works as one of the applications programmers. Yes, it's always important here (as there) to include marital status. I met her once or twice to help with getting some things running on the Cray-2. On one of the occasions she kept getting interrupted with phone calls: It was December 31st and people were calling to wish her a happy new year. I asked her if the Saudis followed the same custom for the Muslim new year (1411 starts on July 23, 1990) and she said no, they just celebrated the American new year. On a more recent occasion, she and I both happened to be in the same otherwise empty elevator. We said hello and the usually whatnots. On the next floor the elevator stopped and a couple of Saudi men got on. As the door opened we sort of smiled at each other and looked elsewhere. Not another word was spoken. I laugh whenever I think of such things, but that's how you play the game here. Men, of course, do not publicly interact with Saudi women. For a Saudi woman to be chatting it up with a man in the elevator--ooh, that's looking for a lot of trouble! Next week's class has the potential for being, as a Minnesotan would say, interesting.
Last night I watched a rerun of a TV program called "Quantum Leap." The episode took place in Alabama in 1955. The point was that the Quantum Leaper was a black man who sat at the lunch counter in a white coffee shop. He also drank from the white drinking fountain. He was arrested and jailed for illegal activity: He was in violation of the segregation laws.
I was amazed that the show was allowed to air here. The censors must have been too dense to realize the analogy. Yes, television is highly censored here. All you need do, to describe a real situation as it exists today, is change "Alabama" to "Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia," "1955" to "1990," "segregation laws" to "religious regulations" which are the law, and "black man" to "woman." Women have their own section in the back of the public buses. Certain restaurants have "family section" posted so women know they are allowed to enter and sit in the section closed off for their use.
Last Thursday we visited Abdul Aziz's family for dinner in Dammam. We did not know where the house was so he met us at the doctor's office and then we followed him to his house. Jakob rode in Abdul Aziz's car. We met at 7 pm after sunset prayer time. There's no twilight here; half an hour after sunset it's dark. And, Thursday, still a hundred and three. It turns out they live in an apartment building. We parked below and went up a couple of floors in the elevator. At his door we saw a welcome mat and a couple pairs of sandals. We took off our shoes and then went inside. Inside was a straight corridor with a door at the end (straight ahead) and a door to our immediate right. Abdul Aziz told Susan to go straight ahead through the far door and the rest of us came to the right. To the right was the majlis, or visiting/reception area to be found in every Arab dwelling, whether it be house or tent.
Arab architecture, at least what I have seen, tends to be squarish, brick or cement as opposed to wood, with relatively high ceilings--ceilings are usually a couple of feet out my reach. Colors tend to be white or beige, with [real] marble common (counter tops, front steps at banks, outer walls of more expensive houses, etc.). The majlis is a squarish room the size of a small bedroom. As I entered (I forget if Jakob and Emily first were with me or Susan), there were four chairs along the wall to each side. The far wall was a sliding glass door. The door was made of that rippled/bumpy glass used for bathrooms so light comes through but you can't identify anything on the other side. The chairs were white/yellow, very gaudy (Arabs are heavily into gaudy), with very high backs. They reminded me of some of the things I've seen in European palaces and museums. I think maybe the idea is that everyone is an important and honored guest. The fourth wall (the one containing the door through which I was entering) included a book case and small television. The walls contained various things in Arabic (at least one of which was a Quranic quotation in beautiful calligraphy). Along the right wall (as I was entering) were 4 certificates related to Abdul Aziz's education. Just to their left, that is straight ahead of me to the right of the sliding door was his college diploma--the smallest certificate of all! Everything was in Arabic, of course; I could make out Abdul Aziz's name but that was all. Abdul Aziz explained everything for me later that evening as I asked.
Now that I've given you all this description of the majlis room, I must admit to you that we walked right through it, through the open sliding glass door, into the next room. It too was open, square, with a closed door to the left. This room had low cushions along the walls. Picture a couch, except the bottom part is just the cushion with the cushion resting directly on the floor. So what we had were cushions along the floor and back along the wall, with arm rests at appropriate intervals. The way you sit is cross-legged with your seat on the seat and your legs and ankles on the floor. My friend Khalid was waiting for us (Abdul Aziz and myself) in the inner majlis room. After the usual greetings, they asked me if I would be more comfortable in the outer room (in a chair) or in here; I said in here would be fine. They were pleased with that. As I sat down they noted that sitting this way is easier in a thobe; pants get tight in the middle. So we sat and visited. Kids are free to come in and out; Jakob did plenty of that. Abdul Aziz's son (by his first wife, now divorced) Abdullah (age 14), brought and served us coffee. Have I ever described Arabic coffee? The bean is only partially roasted, which gives it a yellowish color. It has often been rudely compared, by Americans, to other yellowish liquids. It is served in little tiny porcelain cups. As soon as you finish one cup the host (in this case the son) takes it and refills it. One must always drink at least three cups. However, that's not much; the cups would almost qualify for a child's play tea set; after the first cup, Abdullah only filled it half full. I had several cups; I did not count except to be sure I had at least three; I was busy talking and listening. If my cup was empty for more than five seconds (literally) without Abdullah reaching to fill it, Abdul Aziz--who was sitting next to me and conversing with me--stopped briefly with a gesture to call Abdullah's attention to my cup. One thing the Arabs are good at is hospitality. The evening was wonderful even though difficult from the strangeness. During our visiting time, we had coffee, dates, tea, and water. The dates arrived shortly after our first round of coffee. As soon as Abdullah had poured everyone his very first cup of coffee (me first as the honored guest), he left and returned with a plate of dates. They were good. My stomach in the lead (it's after seven and we usually eat by six if not five), I was the first one with a date. Since I had no example to follow, I had to ask what to do with the date pit. He (I forget if I asked Khalid or Aziz) said to just put on the edge of the tray containing the coffee. I did. A little later Abdullah came with a second box of dates (even though the first tray was still mostly full). They were packed in Medina (Saudi Arabia) and he said they were seedless. So I ate some of them too. Hey--I was hungry. I tried to keep reminding myself a lot of food was on the way, but there I was eating, drinking, and enjoying the pleasant company. Jakob was there most of the time. He was very much taken with the "floor couch" and wanted to know where they got it. It was specially made; they took measurements to the furniture place, picked out the coverings, and just made everything out of foam cushion material. Jakob said he wants to take the furniture out of his bedroom and replace it with the Arab-style cushions. Jakob insisted he wanted his mom to see the room with all the neat couches. (He's seven.) Abdul Aziz said that would be fine as I was trying to explain to Jakob why she couldn't. He dragged Susan in. Susan wasn't sure she was supposed to be there either; she knew quite well that Jakob has some creative interpretations to the answer "no." But he said that was fine, so Jakob showed her the cushions and she left.
Last time Aziz was at our house Jakob had shown him a sand rose (a type of rock formation) that had been given to him earlier that day. This evening, at Aziz's house, Aziz gave Jakob (part of a geode?) a rock with beautiful purple crystals on it as a present.
Eventually, they suggested we might want to move back to the other room. I assumed that meant maybe I was getting uncomfortable sitting on the floor. I said No, I was just fine in here. Then they (I say they when I don't remember whether it was Aziz speaking, or Khalid, or Aziz speaking and Khalid clarifying in English) explained that maybe the women would want to use the room. That, of course, was different. It surprised me, though: I had thought the majlis area was just for the men. I assumed I was just ignorant. I soon discovered that I was more naive than ignorant.
We moved into the outer majlis room. The inner room had an air conditioning unit but the outer room was closed off and had an electric fan mounted high on one wall. They insisted I sit on the other side of the room where I would have the fan's benefit. I was not sure if that meant I was an honored guest or a wimpy American without benefit of a loose, flowing thobe. Nevertheless, I accepted the hospitality.
I soon discovered the extent of my naivete. The sliding glass door was not quite shut (kids kept going through and especially Abdullah with a tray of coffee, tea, or water) and I caught a glimpse of Susan helping lay out the dinner. It was now obvious that "the women might want to use the room" meant that we should vacate the area so the women would be free to lay out dinner for us. Jakob eventually came to tell us that dinner was ready. This was in English and pretty well ignored except by me. Eventually the point was made (no big deal; we were busy talking) and we went back in to the inner room.
Dinner was laid out beautifully. A table cloth was laid out on the floor. (Do you call it a table cloth when it's to be used on the floor?) On the cloth were two place settings along each side and one on each end. The silverware was gold plated. I sat nearest to where we had just come in, thus at the left one of the two side settings. We sat cross legged on the floor just in front of the couch cushions. In other words, this time was without benefit of cushions, just American Indian style. Abdul Aziz sat directly across from me and invited Jakob to sit next to him. Jakob wanted to sit next to me; he insisted, so he sat at the single setting to my left (between myself and Aziz). Khalid sat to my right and Abdullah, the son, sat across from Jakob. That left an empty space next to Aziz. I was curious about the extra place--I did not know if there was a social significance, or what.
Right in front of me was an oblong plate heaped with "waraq ainab," stuffed grape leaves. They are stuffed with meat and rice and rolled up to look sort of like a green cigar. They are soft; after biting in to one I could tell a major component is olive oil. I'm not sure if they're soaked or what. A second plate of stuffed grape leaves was at the diagonally opposite corner. Plates of fruit (apples, oranges, grapes, tiny peaches and nectarines, topped with a big bunch of grapes) were at the other two corners. A huge tabouli salad was there. I think you know this, but it's made of chopped fresh parsley and soaked/squeezed bulgar (arabic burghoul) wheat, with chopped tomatoes and other stuff. Susan told me later that this particular version includes a kind of lemon salt--adds a very nice tang. There was also something more closely resembling a tossed salad. It had something different; Susan and I aren't sure if it was a type of cheese, a mushroom, or maybe chicken. We don't think it was chicken, though. It was a very good salad. In the middle was a huge fish (more than 2 feet long, as best I can recall), head and all, surrounded with little breaded shrimps. The fish is called "hamour," indigenous to the Arabian Gulf here, and is a mild whitefish similar to cod. It's very good.
I don't know if this is the intent, but it seems to me that walking into a beautiful layout like this is quite dramatic and esthetically pleasing. Everything was arranged beautifully. Strangely enough, at least to my preconceptions, there was no rice--except the slight amounts in the stuffed grape leaves. We had arabic (pita) bread, but no hummous. In other words, it was a delicious dinner a bit different from my preconceived notions of what it would consist. As my host pointed out a bit later, it was also healthy, being mostly vegetables.
Just about the time I was getting ready to dig in and fill up my plate, Abdullah asked me to pass it so he could serve me. He piled it on. And on. And on. And that was just from the plate of grape leaves. Next he piled on great scoops of tabouli, leaving little room for the other kind of salad and none for the fish. He passed the plate to his father who found room for the other kind of salad. Once I got my plate back I was served some fish. And some fish. And some fish. Jakob was also served bunches of stuff but I cut them off before getting too far out of hand. Nobody else got--or served himself, as the case may be--nearly as much food. Of couse, there was still plenty for seconds and thirds.
Jakob was trying with knife and fork to cut a bite of grape leaf but Abdul Aziz showed him to just spear it with a fork and bite the end off. Khalid said to me, I bet you've never had this before (referring to the grape leaves). To be sure I understood, I asked, You mean, waraq ainab? He said Yes. I laughed and said, They are at my special request. Maha made them just for me! That was quite true--When Aziz and family had last been at our house and had already invited us to dinner Thursday, they asked what we would like for dinner. We discussed and settled on fish, and I asked if they knew what waraq ainab was. They did, of course, and I explained that I had had it at the Oberoi Hotel's restaurant in Dammam and thought it was delicious. They poo-poohed and said that restaurant food is nothing. I agreed with that. We continued discussing things and I got out one of Susan's cook book that has a fair number of line drawings and gives the name of each item in both English and Arabic. After they had left it occurred to me that it was probably a lot of work to roll up all those grape leaves and I sort of asked for that. Oh, well. Nothing to do about it by then. Thus it came as no surprise to see two, count 'em, two, plates heaped with dark green rolled grape leaves. Abdul Aziz laughed as I explained to Khalid that I had asked specially for the grape leaves. Abdul Aziz told me that these particular leaves had come from the United States, from California. I amused myself thinking how much wine had undoubtedly been made from the grapes attached to those leaves--but said nothing about my reflections.
At one point during dinner my ankles had had enough of the floor. I stretched my legs out behind Khalid with some deprecating comment about American ankles. Abdul Aziz said something to Abdullah; Abdullah got up. He went over around behind me, picked up an arm rest cushion, and placed it so I could lean on it as I ate rather than on my left arm or elbow. So I got to literally recline at the table.
The fruit, as it turned out, is treated as sort of a dessert. It stays untouched until the rest of the food is finished. I was also curious about whether the women would eat after us, or if they were eating at the same time, or what. It eventually became clear that there would not be enough for a second eating shift from this layout, so I felt better and assumed they were already eating somewhere else. A bit later Emily (almost 4 years old) came in. It was obvious from her dress that she had had dinner. I enquired; Yes, she had eaten. She had spilled orange on her dress right here. I could tell. Yes, Mom had eaten too. Well, I thought to myself, that answered the "when" if not the "where."
As I mentioned, the inner room where we were eating had a side door which is where people kept coming in and out. After we were done Aziz invited us that direction inviting me (washing hand motion) for a chance to wash up. There were no napkins at the dinner. It was my first chance in a real live hammam: There was the usual sink for washing hands and such and the far side of the room included a porcelain hole in the floor. Sort of like a toilet except the top is at ground level. It's actually raised about half an inch. Both sides are sort of rippled like the bottom of a soap dish for traction for your feet. The little water hose isn't like a garden hose: I'm suddenly at a loss to describe it. It's segmented metal, like some varieties of armored coaxial cable. It's a shiny chrome color. Anyway, one uses the hose in lieu of paper. The floor was covered with water puddles. As I tried to step in without getting my socks wet, Abdul Aziz pointed out a pair of green-and-white rubber sandals and said I could just wear those. That worked fine. I left the door open and washed my hands and repaired to the outer room with the chairs.
I neglected to mention, while we were eating, Maha's brother (Maha is Abdul Aziz's wife) came. That explained the empty plate. A younger boy I'd guess about 9 years old, came also. I think he was also one of Maha's brothers. An extra setting was obtained and put next to where Jakob had been sitting. By then Jakob was off bouncing on the cushions.
Once we were all in the outer room, we shut the glass door. Actually, that was a constant problem. Abdul Aziz wanted it to stay open to let in cool air from the wall air conditioner unit, but it of course had to be closed so that the women could come in to clean up the room after dinner. So, anyway, there were kids in and out and the men (four of us) visited in the outer room and the inner room got cleaned and vaccuumed. Jakob and Abdullah ran out to the local store twice for this or that. He was the only American there, he told us on the way home, and everyone was driving him nuts with, in English, Good Morning! Hello! How are you! and so on. That was fine; Jakob tends to be quite a hit wherever he goes in the Arab world. Around 10 pm I started to make noises about it being time to put the kids in bed but did not make much of an impression. The kids were bouncing around (both had sampled tea, coffee, and Pepsi) and obviously still doing fine. They were a bit wild, but Abdul Aziz said, They are happy so I am happy. Susan sent messages by Jakob a couple of times asking if I was ready to go. I sent several messages back saying I'm trying but it's not working very well. We both knew it would likely be a late night anyway so I was not too concerned. After all, I was still visiting with the men...
After dinner, at various times, we had tea, coffee, and cold water, brought and served by Abdullah. I asked Abdul Aziz if Abdullah was his son. He said Yes, from his first wife. His former wife was his first cousin. He confirmed that marrying the first cousin is very common. He also noted (and this became an involved discussion with Khalid helping with translation, lots of discussion in Arabic, and elaboration) that the Prophet Muhammad stated it is good to marry outside one's family. That helps change the facial features, etc., etc. (we eventually agreed the term Aziz was looking for was "chromosomes"), and avoids the problems of blood sugar. I agreed; I have no problem agreeing to marrying outside one's own family. If I understand the discussion, there is now some problem--since the divorce--with that side of the family. That's another good reason--if I understood him correctly-- for not marrying one's cousin. His current wife, he confirmed, is from a different family.
After dinner, we talked about this and that, and various things. A majority of the conversation was in Arabic which kind of left me out of it. That was okay with me, for I had run out of things to talk about that are easily discussed and I was tired anyway. I've been left out of conversations before, in France and Germany and Eagan. I also got to meet and hold Aziz's son of 9 months. His name is one of the Arabic words for "lion." I saw Khalid's daughter for the second time but she did not come up to me. When last I saw her (January) she was just starting to walk. This time, she saw something in the other room and ZOOM!
Eventually Abdullah came in with a package wrapped up like a present and put it on a shelf below the television. Abdul Aziz explained that it was a present from Abdullah to Jakob and Emily. So we got both of my children in here and I explained. They opened it and it was a framed picture under glass. The picture was of a sailboat under the sun, made entirely of wooden matches laid side by side and glued to the background paper.
I forgot to mention another detail: We had brought a flower arrangement with us for Susan to give to Maha. Shortly after we arrived Susan brought the arrangement out in a vase (we were in the inner majlis room eating dates) and put it on one of the two small round tables in the outer majlis room. The other time we saw her was when Jakob brought her to see the majlis cushions.
Around eleven pm Khalid and the visiting brother started holding their car keys. I told Jakob, on his next pass through, that we'd be leaving soon. We left sometime between quarter and half past eleven. The door from the outer majlis room, where we were sitting, to the entrance hall was open and I saw a few ladies in black leave. We all (meaning Susan too) left, put our shoes back on, collected Jakob's rock (the purple crystals), the picture, and the kids, told everyone good-bye (i.e. Abdul Aziz and Abdullah), and drove home.
As you might expect, we all compared notes on the way home. I have no doubt everyone else compared notes too. I'm quite sure none of them had had an American family for dinner before. Here are a few of the details Susan filled in for me.
Never in her life has she seen a house with so many doors. Do you remember the door I went through from the inner majlis room to get to the hammam (bathroom)? She said that is a small room with nothing but four doors. One door goes to the majlis room, one goes to the hammam, one is for the kitchen, and one is for the women's area.
Maha showed her the whole house. There are bathrooms in every corner of the place. I noted that it's really an apartment; she said it's quite large. They have a large bedroom with a huge bed and a crib, implying that the baby sleeps with them. There were two nannies there, probably Indian; one probably came with Khalid's family. I gather the nannies, rather than the moms, change the diapers. Maha's bathroom has a western-style toilet along with the traditional fixtures.
Maha has 14 brothers and sisters. I noted two brothers were there; a sister was also, about 21 and unmarried. Susan says she was quite pretty. Susan's sure the brothers and sisters were there just to see an American woman. In fact, Susan was even left in the kitchen once so that the older brother (I forget his name) could meet her. With Khalid's wife in the women's area, of course, he couldn't go into the women's area.
When the ladies ate, Susan's plate was also heaped. They gave her half of the fish! And then Maha came out with this little tiny plate for herself, explaining that she's trying to cut down. Susan didn't dare not eat it, not knowing what's reasonable and what's insulting. They heaped on lots of everything else too. She also had tea and coffee and such.
By the way, the Arab coffee pot is called "dallah" and is the traditional symbol of hospitality.
On the way home, I asked Susan if she'd had enough culture for the weekend. She had. Nevertheless, that's partly why we moved here; we know lots of American families living here that have never been to a traditional Arab meal. Susan also told me that Maha gave her a pair of gold earrings for Emily.
Nobody slept much that night--everybody was too full of caffeine. That made for an upside-down Friday, and it was tough getting people out of bed this morning (Saturday).
Today's minor adventure: Susan was to come back to the doctor this morning for a recheck. The doctor's office is actually Abdulla Fouad Hospital, which also acts as an outpatient clinic. Susan arranged for the principal to cover her class and went to the hospital this morning. The driver took her, of course. Women do not drive. (We have one Pakistani driver assigned part- time to the four Cray families.) After getting the appointment slip (nothing happens without paperwork) she waited for over an hour. The doctor never showed up. She left and went back to school. Yes, she is still sick. Yes, there are other doctors in the same area. I called up the clinic and, after shuttling around a few people, was informed that the doctor was out sick today. They could make an appointment for this afternoon. Actually, they have no reservation system; you just show up and get assigned a number (you're no. 3 to see Dr. Panda, etc.). It seems to me they could have told Susan that this morning, but I guess that's not relevant. They invited her to come back at 9 tomorrow morning and take a number. We're already booked for this afternoon; Abdul Aziz, Maha, and Ala are coming at 5.
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