Saturday, May 30, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
We’ve been in Amman for about two weeks now and recently had our first experience at a traditional Arab family’s home.... and it was quite the experience to say the least!
As part of Andrew’s homework and quest to learn Arabic he is required to speak at least two hours a day outside of class and make Arab friends. On one of our first days here he met his first friend Ahmed. Ahmed is a student at the university (so Andrew is able to practice Arabic with him almost day) but is from a small village just outside of a small town called Salt which is just outside of Amman. Last Saturday we were invited to his home for “mansaf” which is a famous Jordanian dish. Little did we know we were in for a cultural experience of a lifetime.
Our day started by meeting Ahmed and his brother who drives a big van at about 1:00 near the university in Amman. In order for Chana to not be the lone girl we invited one of our married couple friends to come along and another one of Andrew’s friends from the program also came. Although you always risk your life with an Arab at the wheel the drive was beautiful and we eventually made it to his home and instantly became the greatest celebrities the village has ever seen. When we first arrived we met some of the family members and were taken to their front room where we sat around on small mats and pillows that line the walls. The dad and some of his brothers sat with us smoking and drinking their tea. We warned Ahmed ahead of time that we don’t drink tea and coffee so they had water and juice to ready to serve us. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left we were constantly being offered something. Because it was a very traditional Islamic family we didn’t see the women much and as soon as dinner was ready Chana and Gloria (the other American wife) headed off to eat with the women....
Eating with the women: As soon as we left the men we were ushered into a small room with more mats and pillows. Before we could sit down we asked Ahmed’s sisters if we could go see the kitchen and final meal preparations. That’s when the surprise came for us... two huge plates of mansuf with a boiled goat head on each plate sitting on the floor. Ahmed’s mother was finishing pouring the yogurt sauce in the bowls. We then went back to the little room and ate with three of the sisters and their daughters. Two girls showed us how to peel the meat from the bones (the men got both goat heads so we didn’t have to deal with those) and pour the sauce. We were women so we actually got to eat with spoons. Also because the room was only filled with women the girls didn’t wear their hijabs. The girls were so kind and did everything to make us feel comfortable.
Eating with the men: Before I (Andrew) knew it we were brought two huge platters of mansuf. Mansuf is basically rice flavored with sour yogurt sauce and some kind of meat (sounds gross but it’s quite tasty). What was different this time, however, is in the middle of both platters was a goat head. This was one of the most generous families I’ve ever met and we are pretty sure they killed two of their goats just for us. In their culture it’s a big deal to get that much meat, and considered a great honor to eat the head. The traditional way to eat mansaf is to sit on the floor and eat with your hands. You only use your right hand and you basically make rice balls mixed with meat and nuts and pop it into your mouth. After eating for a while the dad came in with a knife and started cutting up the head. He started by cutting off the tongue and dividing it up between the three of us. Then he cut a hole in the head and pulled out the brains. It wasn’t the easiest thing to eat but they didn’t stop serving so we ate until we couldn’t put anything else down.
After dinner they brought the wives back and we sat and talked and were served more drinks (Arabs sit a lot). Then we went outside to see the family’s goats (they had sixteen) and they took us to the roof of their house were you get a good view of the village. Then we went to the brothers house on the second floor and sat some more....and we were served cookies, fruit, drinks, etc. We sat in a room and listened to the Quran being recited on the TV for about an hour.
Then we went outside and they showed us their land where they grow grapes, olive trees, tobacco, etc. We kept walking and they took us to some caves in the foothills. One of the caves had a bunch of holes in the wall that they claim to be former Roman tombs. No kidding we saw human bones. After some time we headed back to the house and everyone told us goodbye. The women were so cute and all wanted pictures with Chana and Gloria. But that wasn’t the end. We told the family goodbye and got in the van with Ahmed and his brother Sayel to head up a mountain to a view that overlooks Palestine (Israel.... but Arabs don’t like to call it Israel). We spent the next 3 hours watching the sunset, sitting around a campfire, drinking more juice and Pepsi, talking, cooking wheat in the fire, watching them smoke tobacco from their massive pipe, and we even had a little dance party. Finally at about 11:30 we told them we should probably get going. They wanted us to just sleep at their house and offered us to take us to school in the morning. That wasn’t going to work out so well so we talked them into taking us back to Amman that night.
It was a long day but truly a priceless cultural experience. We were touched by their generosity and sincerity and hopefully learned something from their example of the importance of the family and what’s most important in life.