-sharing reflections on what I've heard and am hearing, learned and am learning,
from voices in the Holy Land, the USA, and Rwanda-

Monday, September 13, 2010

an 11 hour lesson for life

Food. Family. Friends. This is the perfect combination for any social gathering, especially in Palestine. Every function I have been to has included these main components, and the joy and laughter that proceeds lasts for hours.

Just this past Sunday, there was food spread before me for approximately 11 hours straight. From the brunch celebration of the installation of Pastor Fred Strickert as the Pastor to Redeemer's English speaking congregation in Jerusalem, on to a family gathering taking place at our landlady's (Shadia's) home, and finally sharing in a small gathering over in Beit Jala with one of the English teachers, I enjoyed a day of non-stop visiting, eating, and chatting.

Now, there are a few things that I must note about such a food-filled day. Here is a sneakpeak (and possibly the only peak...) into "Eating for 11 hours?: Tips by Janelle."

Before we begin, it is imperative that you do not know that you may possibly... hmm, no... will be eating for such a period of time. If you have any inkling about the liklihood of such a smorgasbord, then just pretend you aren't aware of this possibility and proceed as directed.

1) Take small portions of everything. While normally this is in order to ensure that you don't take too much of something you won't like, I find it is beneficial just so you can make sure to fit some of everything on your plate. Now, eat slowly and savor each bite. Need something salty? Go for an olive--just make sure not to chomp down on the pit! Need something to mellow out the flavors and give a little sour zip? Yogurt is your answer--it is almost the ketchup of my Palestinian diet. You can put it on just about anything! For a sweet kick, check out the fresh fruits--especially pomegranate. D to the E to the Licious.

2) Most of the time you don't even have time to think about getting seconds before someone asks you if you'd like some more. Everyone is so giving and generous--take what you can eat if food is offered for you to grab, but it is also okay to politely mention that you might wait a little bit before diving in for more. You will eventually find yourself chomping away again soon enough! (Though I must make sure to say that no one is overbearing or pushy when they offer more food--the hospitality is simply such that people want to ensure you are feeling at home enough to grab more should you still happen to be hungry. They are looking out for each other (including you) all the time.)

3) Be trusting and bold--your hosts may chuckle and say, "Eat it first, then we'll tell you what it is," when bringing you a sample of food off of the grill, giving you and uneasy feeling of, "Oh my, what am I about to eat?" But of course they would never harm you! You can palate one bite (and maybe more!) of anything that at least looks like something you'd normally eat.

4) Wary of using your hands? Don't be. Make sure to follow suit with the people around of course, but normally picking away with your fingers is a-okay. The process of eating the food should be just as enjoyable as the process of tasting the food, and who wants to wrestle a chicken-wing with a fork before eating it? Save the forks for the salads. Dig in!

5) Know that you will almost always be offered tea and/or coffee whenever you visit with someone, no matter whether it's a quick visit or a long gathering. I cannot tell you the number of cups of tea or coffee you will drink in such an epic day. Just know that when enjoying a number of gatherings, you should be prepared to enjoy a caffeine surge, and a delicoius one at that!

6) Most important of all, know that as much as the food is a part of the day, it is simply a medium by which people come together. My biggest tip--make sure to enjoy and join in on conversations (especially when your rudimentary Arabic allows). It is the people that make the 11 hours great. The food, while delicious, is truly just icing on the cake. The jokes, stories, games, traditions, experiences, conversations, celebrations... these are the things that make a day "lived" rather than "survived." Food sustains the body, human relationships sustain the soul. (And, boy is a soul sustained after 11 hours). Make sure you hop into bed thankful for what you experienced because the truth of the matter is that, at the fundamental core, you experienced 11 solid hours of being loved and cared for. Now here's the trick--share that same spirit of love and care with the world for... I don't know... for forever? Yeah? Yeah.

Man, my guidebook makes that sound so easy, right? Well, a day like that definitely made me think about how I can share that same unending hospitality with others around me. Having been given so much, where and how am I now called to give? And the reflecting continues...

Before wrapping up this post (which only touches on a few experiences and reflections of the past week... no worries, more posts to come) I want to share a quick observation about the family bbq I attended with Shadia's family. Back home, it is usual that either my dad or my brother will man the grill on such an occasion. The pleasure (or burden?) of cooking all of the food is on their shoulders for the most part. Now, in the five hours that I spent sitting outside and enjoying the company of Shadia's extended family, I think I saw almost every member of the family mosey on over to the grill at one point or another to make sure things were running smoothly. Flip a kebab here, put some chicken on a plate there, sear a little fat for Janelle and Sarah to try... everyone took turns preparing parts of the meal. Though I couldn't understand most of what was being said, it didn't seem like people were being told to go and check on the grub. It just seemed so natural for the family to share in that task. Neato!

I'm sure there's something more to be said about what that means, or why I even happened to notice that dynamic, but I'll leave room for reflection...

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