Sunday, January 24, 2010

Food, Family, Food

This is where I sleep. The home is really clean and organized, and I keep everything really neat (Dad, if you're lucky, this habit will continue into the summer at home).

This weekend I moved into the home of a Jordanian family, with whom I’ll live over the next four months. My host grandparents are Palestinian Christians – two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Their five children are all older but three of them live with their own families in apartments in the same building (they have the whole building), and they and their little kids come in and out of our apartment all day. It’s cool – there’s so much action. Friday was “family day,” when all 10 of them came over for lunch and to chill for a few hours afterward (Friday and Saturday make up the weekend here). That evening, my host grandfather’s brothers came over. I learned the difference between a Palestinian keffiyeh (black and white) and a Jordanian keffiyeh (red and white) -- kefiyyehs are like scarfs; a lot of people wear them.

This is a major mess by Arab standards.

Frankly, I’m somewhat surprised I made it through the weekend in good shape, considering the sheer quantity of food I ate over the course of two and a half days. Food is a big part of family life in Jordan, and my host grandmother loves to cook for everyone. As a new house guest, I think I’m in a stage where they’re testing out what I like; basically, they make something, put a ton of it on my plate and watch how much I eat. But, according to my study abroad program's staff, I can’t explicitly say no to something, because that’s rude. And I can’t just not eat it, because that’s rude, too. Somehow I have to signal what I like and what I don’t like. It’s complicated. Here are actual excerpts from my journal (edited for length, clarity and bad jokes):

Thursday: “I thought my stomach was going to explode during dinner tonight. In order, here’s what I ate (not including a cup of tea and four pieces of cake beforehand): four slices of pizza, two meat pastry things, an apple, an orange, four or five pieces of this really delicious and rich caramel sweet thing, a piece of some American cake called ‘lazy cake,’ a glass of lemonade, a glass of Pepsi, a glass of water, a cup of tea, a cup of Turkish coffee and I’m sure something else I'm forgetting. All for dinner.”
Friday: “Day two in the fight against gaining 100 lbs. while I’m here: Failure again, except this time it happened for three meals. Ya allah! The only thing that seemed halfway successful was when I left more then just a little food on my plate. If there was one of anything left, like a piece of tomato, that apparently signaled, ‘Give me three more tomatoes, stat!’ But if I left a few pieces, spread them about, kind of maneuvered my silverware to block more food and at the same time stretched like I was done – I might get just one more tomato. Progress!”
Saturday: “I made piecemeal progress today amid generally futile efforts to stave off massive weight gain. Two tricks that appear to have some effectiveness:
  • Only take small amounts for myself – one of each thing, or bite-size servings. Without fail, my host grandmother will put more food on my plate (good rule of thumb: multiply whatever I take by at least four, and that’s the amount of food I’m expected to eat).
  • When they ask if I want more tomatoes, for example, say something like, ‘Yes, please. … The cucumbers are very good.’ Passive aggressiveness rules the day in this country. Arabs don’t say no, according to one of my program’s staff members. They just drop major hints. I guess I just have to figure out how to drop the hint that says, ‘Help! Until this weekend I didn’t think it was physically possible to eat so much foooood! Ahhh!’”
I've had ful for breakfast (beans -- really good), pizza, zucchini stuffed with meat, chicken and broccoli, meat pastry things, really delicious creme/caramel cake, lots of Christmas cookies and candy, lots of rice, lots of fresh fruit (including orange juice from the family's orange tree) and tons and tons of tea. During orientation last week, we ate mansaf at a restaurant; mansaf is the national food of Jordan -- it's basically lamb or chicken cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served over a bed of rice (thanks, Wikipedia!). I had it with chicken. Zaaki ketir (very tasty).

I’ll write more about Amman, Arabic and my classes soon, once I get a better feel for everything. I'll also upload pictures soon (Internet's slow). For now, though, I’m happy, comfortable and extremely well fed. And, if I figure out how to more effectively/artfully/politely hint that I don’t like a certain food or that I don’t want any more food because I’ll vomit everywhere if I have one more bite, I’ll be sure to let everyone know.

Update (1/31/10): Food photos! This was my dinner the other night. It was all for me (not really -- my host family ate some of it the next day, I think). Sooo good. It's called "maqlooba zahara" and had cauliflower, rice, ground beef and potatoes. Really zaaki (tasty). It can also be made with eggplant.

1 comment:

  1. I think that they eat beans for breakfast everywhere but the United States. Here baked beans are an integral part of the Full English Breakfast!