Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: December, 2013

The White Guest

My husband in Amman, Jordan (with his niece and nephew)

Last weekend I was unable to get a hold of my husband. He was in Amman, Jordan, visiting his parents whom he had not seen for over 13 years. Finally when he answered his phone, he explained, “The electricity was out. The whole city was shut down because of the snow storm.” Or what his niece and nephew called “The White Guest!”

“What snowstorm?” I asked, clueless that the Middle East, accustomed to oppressive heat, experienced a snow storm that most locations had not seen in over 100 years.

The roads were blocked, residents were confined to their homes, and when King Abdullah II toured the capital to check on the progress of snow-removal efforts, he ended up pulling up his sleeves and helping other men push a car stuck in the snow.

After learning about the storm, my heart sank at the thought of the millions of displaced Syrians living in makeshift shelters, many of their children enduring the cold with as little as T-shirts and sandals for protection.

Visiting the Holy Land

The Holy Land

My husband recently had the chance to visit the Holy Land, arriving to the Church of Holy Sepulcher just in time to begin the procession, with a candle in his hand. The daily procession passes through the places of the passion-death-resurrection of Christ, in a way of recalling to pilgrims the need to constantly meditate on the humanity of Jesus.

I visited this church many years ago. It’s an indescribable experience that leaves you in tears, regardless of whether you are a man or woman. One thing I did not get to do which my husband did is visit the famous Al Aqsa mosque and the Jewish temple that neighbor the church. Israel is a place of great diversity; Christians, Jews, and Muslims all consider it to be one of the holiest places in the world. To the Christians, this is where Jesus and His followers walked and where the great Biblical events were enacted. To Muslims, the Prophet Mohammad entered heaven from where the Dome of the Rock now stands in Jerusalem. For Jews, Jerusalem has always been a sacred city, gateway to the land of their ancestors.

Here’s my question: If these religions live so close together, where for centuries a Muslim family has held the key to the Church of Sepulcher, shouldn’t they act like family rather than rivals?

A Romantic Way of Breaking a Wishbone

Ayad and Ahlam

I paid my cousin a visit yesterday to discuss a family drama that we’re trying to resolve. Because the drama is Arab style – you know, where people can get louder and louder and louder and then hardly anyone is hearing anyone else – it needed one’s full presence and concentration, along with tea and food to make it all the more spicy, not that it needed any spices.

I brought a pizza for the kids’ lunch and told my cousin, “I can’t stay more than an hour!” Three hours later, my daughter came up to me and said, “Mom, when are we going home?”

“Not before we eat!” I said, smelling the aroma of turkey, roasted almonds and raisins, saffron rice, and having gotten a peek at the pumpkin pie in the kitchen.

Although I’d already enjoyed two thanksgiving dinners earlier in the week, I couldn’t resist yet another one. Plus my cousin insisted which made it easier to pull my sleeves up and dig in.

The most amusing part of the evening (aside from the drama, which has now really become routine) was when my cousin and her husband tried to break the turkey wishbone. Although her husband cheated, using his teeth to break the bone, she won. She was proud of herself, and rightfully so. We all had a good laugh and during dinner, I noticed the couple was on more romantic terms. Well, more specifically, my cousin paid him an unexpected compliment and he was flattered!

The tradition of breaking the wishbone comes from Europe, and is thousands of years older. As far as historians and archaeologists can tell, this custom can be traced as far back as the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization. It was brought to North America by the English who got it from the Romans. But it was spread to other parts of the world as my family and I engaged in the breaking of the wishbone even in Iraq.

The Etruscans were really into their chicken, and believed that the bird could predict the future. I predict my cousin and her husband will be together for life, as long as they continue to be playful at heart.

Happy Belated Thanksgiving

I tried so hard to write a post on Thanksgiving Day, but after marinating and roasting the turkey, cooking a pot of biryani, chicken with fresh dill leaves, making four kinds of salads, and cleaning the house before the company arrived, while they were here and after they left, I was tired. Then the next day, because I had a lot of extra food and some of my sisters were not able to show up on Thanksgiving Day, I had yet another gathering.

Although it was work, it was also wonderful. My children helped bathe our turkey in butter – well, my son started to help but soon after he raised his sleeves up and rubbed the turkey’s belly, he said, ‘Oooh, this is gross!’ and took off. The work was left to me and my daughter and I think we did a pretty darn good job.

Other than cooking a nice meal for my family, I enjoyed seeing and reading about people that really made Thanksgiving what it’s meant to be. For instance, Ram’s Horn in Rochester provided free meals for those in need. Scott Macaulay hosted Thanksgiving for people who have no other place to go. He started this tradition 28 years ago when he put an ad that anyone who did not have someone to spend Thanksgiving with, to come to his house. Well, over the years, the number of people has expanded to nearly 70, and so he had to start holding the gather at a Baptist Church in Melrose. Macaulay pays for the whole thing. Now that’s a spirit of Thanksgiving that is hard to beat.

Thanksgiving 2013(2)