“You need to be ready and waiting outside at 11:00 on Friday. Bring a jacket. We’re going to a park for a family picnic.” Farouk called me early in May to prepare me for the week’s deviation from established routine.
Oh, this would be fun. By May, it was definitely warming up. When I had arrived in Bait Laim in February, I huddled every day as I quilted with my body wrapped in blanket in a ill-heated apartment. Farouk’s apartment had no central heating. I used his small space heater. But it caused a spike in the elebric bill and I used the heater sparingly. Now it was May and Palestine was warming through spring and toward a long hot summer.
A family picnic–what fun. By this time, the family knew me pretty well. They had become accustomed to the odd notion that I was a good cook and wanted to know how to prepare the dishes we shared on Holy Days. None of the men or boys in the family paid attention. Cooking was a women’s task.
For two months, I had enjoyed meals with familiar and strange dishes. Aha, I thought, it’s my turn to reciprocate and share. I set off on a walk to the bakery and corner grocery store some six blocks from my apartment. By now, the baker recognized me and understood my odd accent when I mispronounced the word for bread, khubz. I always delighted at taking the bags stacked high with still-warm pita breads. On to the grocery, I collected everything I would need to make a large bowl of hummus.
It wouldn’t be a grand show. That might have been pretentious. But I wanted to take this opportunity to contribute something to the family meal. On Friday morning, I was waiting on time near the front gate when Farouk picked me up. I had sweater, hummus and khubz in hand.
We drove a winding road into a park somewhere near Hebron. When we arrived, the family was already gathered. Fahim was busy lighting a portable grill. The women were bustling about setting a long picnic table with an abundant assortment of edibles. When I brought my bowl of hummus from my paper bag, everyone exclaimed surprise and delight.
It was a typical spring day. Gratifyingly warm in the sunshine–a bit chilly in the shade when clouds passed over. We feasted on grilled chicken and a host of side dishes. Everyone helped themselves to a piece of khubz and a spoonful of hummus. I was delighted.
After the meal, the boys, Farouk and I took off on a hike to climb the hillside. In an infrequent event, Amal had joined the family on this day. The eldest son of Fahim and Miriam, twenty-something Amal was in his first year of medical school (in Ramallah, I think?) We engaged in lively discussion as we climbed the hill. Amal was far too handsome for my eyes. I had to exert effort to practice my social manners and not stare at him. Lucky patients who would need his care.
Something vague yet notable impressed me about Amal. He was genuinely and delightfully naive. I marveled that a twenty-year-old Palestinian man could convey attitudes that were so optimistic and youthful. He seemed to possess none of the scars of growing up in a land of oppression and poverty. I had observed these things in the younger boys but I attributed it to their youth. Now witnessing this in a young adult, I admired and respected the faithful parenting of Fahim and Miriam. It could not have been easy to raise a family with such positive attitudes in a country that belied such optimism.
The following morning I opened my frig and pulled out some olives and a tangerine to accompany my khubz and hummus. With my spiking hot Arabic coffee, I sat at a table in the morning sunshine outside my apartment. I broke off a piece of khubz, swiped a generous scoop of hummus and dipped it into some olive oil. Mmmmm. Morning breakfast treats. I popped it into my mouth and was shocked. Strong garlic flavor overpowered the hummus. I had followed my recipe but used at least double the amount needed to flavor the dish.
Now I recollected. Right… No one had taken seconds of my dish. Quite a few plates had been tossed with hummus still uneaten. I had missed! Maybe I needed to learn a lesson and not try to be a Palestinian chef when among Palestinian folks. Yes, they were polite and gracious. But they did have discerning taste buds.