because people speak English
An unexpected guest in a mata’am.
Having terminated my toilsome day, I embarked pensively like a weary itinerant peon on my quotidian peregrination to my domicile for the noontide repast. [ if anyone got cracked up by the wordings in my prelude, please put the whole blame on ulti, mate – he requested me to use “hard English” in my next blog. LOL ]
I took my bearings home without having actually to think about it for I had covered that distance five times a week for the past month, always going the same track. The sun had already travelled far down the horizon so that the old city was set in dark shadows, therefore the narrow streets resembled tunnels rather than normal streets and the sun did not mercilessly procure to boil one’s brain. I walked engulfed in my own thoughts, paying little attention to what was going on around me.
Half way across a small square, I felt the smell of fried liver which made me stop dead on my track. Man, I thought to myself, how I would love to have some liver. The smell was coming from a small restaurant squeezed in between a butcher’s shop and the baker’s.
I stood there , in the middle of the square not able to take up any substantial decision. My stomach told me to go to the mata’am, yet I had some objections of personal nature. Being a stranger there, I was not sure what reception I would get should I suddenly appear, possibly annoying the consumers. Then I convinced myself that I would not find out if I did not try – the smell was really tempting- so I directed my footsteps towards that mata’am but at the doorway uncertainty gripped my heart again.
Standing in the doorway, I looked around with unhidden doubt. Most of the consumers were in while long dishdashas, some had gray ones. All present there diners sat in their typical head covers, the majority wore white ones but a few wore red-white checked ones. The animated talk stopped abruptly as if slashed dead with a sword and all eyes turned me, standing there like a scarecrow, a complete misfit – to tell the truth, I felt much like a clumsy alien.
An elderly man with something that looked like an apron around his waist approached me and said – Nam – and took an awaiting position. I lifted my nose up as if to catch the smell and said in English that I would like to have a portion of liver. The man seemed not to understand me but repeated my head movement and nodded his head saying – Kibda – and ushered me to a free seat beside an elegant young man in a white dishdasha.
To my surprise the young Kuwaiti informed me in perfect English that I would get my order in a short while and asked me whether I would like to have some tea to which I gladly agreed. The handsome young Kuwaiti held out his slender, well kept hand and said – I’m Saleh, and u, young man? - That “young man” irked me a little – Saleh could have had no more than 23 years whereas I was almost 19!! Keeping a poker face, I squeezed the hand as hard as I could and smiling back genially, I gave my name. Saleh raised his hand and called out – Chay – A boy around 14 in gray dishdasha appeared out of nowhere carrying a tray with two small glasses of very strong and aromatic tea and dexterously took the glasses from the tray and placed them in front of us and disappeared the way he had appeared, like a jinn.
There again I was in a tight spot not knowing if I should wait for my host to start drinking first or should I, as the guest, start first. Saleh must have sensed my troubled hesitation, with a lordly gesture of his hand and a charming smile splashed across his face, encouraged me to taste the tea.
Gosh, he did not have to say that twice, I was all set like a hunting dog ready to pounce on the prey. The tea was indeed very strong and aromatic, and sweet like syrup …ok with me.. I like sweet tea and coffee. In the meantime I heard the “kibda” sizzling on the frying pan and again that captivating smell prepossessed my senses.
Before any of us could take up any talk, the elderly man brought my order. He placed a plate with the kibda cut into short strips surrounded by some sort of beige paste, the other plate had the Arabic flat bread called khobez- which I had already eaten at home. There were no cutlery with which I could consume my dish.
I looked at Saleh who attentively watched my doings, calmly sipping his chay. Feeling a bit awkward… I looked furtively around and noticed that the diners had no cutlery either, only used the khobez rolled up in a cone to scoop up the food from the plate. So I followed suit, took the khobez from the plate, tore out a piece and scooped up some kibda and dipped it in the beige paste and landed it in my mouth. Wow – don’t remember when last I had tasted anything that good.
Before Saleh finished his tea, my plate was wiped clean. I asked Saleh what that beige paste was – Hummus – he said. Before I could ask what that hummus was made of, Saleh asked me if I had ever tried “white” meat. From the impish gleam in his eyes I easily deducted that there was a catch in it. I tried to figure out what that white meat could be….fish…..chicken..hmm…what else had white meat…. lobster … shrimp … oh hell…whatever…
I knew that the Arabs paid great attention to the quality of their food and for sure did not eat insects….this way I come to the conclusion based on the savory kibda, that it was worth trying that suspicious, yet tempting white meat. According to the truth, I told Saleh that I had never tried “white” meat. A slight, devilish smile appeared at the corners of Saleh’s mouth and he asked me whether I would like to try some.
Boy, oh boy – I thought to myself – if u think u gonna take me on, be sure you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of your hitting stick – So I told him candidly that I’d love to try it.
My frankness only deepened the sardonic downturn of his lips, which in turn provoked a hidden, perverse chortle on my part. Saleh called the waiter and told him something in Arabic, the diners nearest to us looked up in apparent interest. The waiter took the order and turning away from our table threw a glance at me as if to say – poor kid, you don’t know what you are in for.
Saleh asked me where I was from and what was I doing in Kuwait. I started telling him about myself, trying to keep the tale short as possible, but before I could get well started with my tale, the waiter appeared with the order. This time on the plate there were small cubes of fried white meat with a whitish paste around them and a new portion of khobez. The smell was inviting….yet something told me that I already had encountered that smell but couldn’t pin point the moment….nor could I tag any negative feelings to it.
I looked at Saleh who whished me good appetite and set myself down to enjoy the food. The first scoop that landed in my mouth cleared my head and I remembered where I had eaten it.
After finishing the white meat, I sat back in full satisfaction and looked at Saleh, who was openly surprised that I downed the whole dish. Having retieved his senses, Saleh asked me if I knew what I had eaten. Here I took a deep breath and said –Uhu – setting the fingers of my both hand in a sign readable in almost all languages I said – Sheep balls!! And flashed all my teeth in a wide smile.
The impish gleam disappeared from his eyes and he pulled a long face, clearly disappointed that his trap had misfired. When I made the sign with my fingers, the diners around us laughed whole-heartedly putting up their thumbs for me and said something to Saleh that really make him go red faced.
When I summoned the waiter and asked Saleh to call for the bill, Saleh said that I was his guest and wishing me a good day, left the mata’am followed by some jokes and laughter from the diners.
Seeing Saleh leave the restaurant, I stood up and thanked the waiter for the delicious food, in English of course, and went for the door when I heard somebody say – Good job mr. Richard, you are welcome here, anytime –
I turned around and to my utter surprise it was the waiter, who did not understand English, that had said those words to me.
I thanked him most cordially as I could and left that fantastic, little mata’am feeling fully satisfied, not only gastronomically, but personally as well.
Add a Comment