August 07, 2005

Arab Hospitality

Today for the first time I was a guest inside a Tunisian home! I had been looking forward to this for days, and it turned out great. My Arabic has gotten much better, and I was able to keep up my end of the conversation for the entire four hours I was there!

Moussa, a waiter in a restaurant I frequent, had invited to visit him and his wife at their home for a late afternoon lunch. He's a very friendly guy with a sweet disposition, about 30, and his wife Leila is 24. I met Moussa at the restaurant in the late afternoon and he brought me to their house, which is in a four-story building close to downtown.

Moussa and Leila live in the ground floor flat, which is built with five rooms, plus the kitchen and bathroom, all opening into a central open-air courtyard. The stories above have balconies circling the courtyard, and are occupied by the families of Moussa’s brothers.

I had brought some little French cookies with me, having asked what sort of thing was appropriate for a guest to bring when they visit someone’s house. Of course, a bottle of wine doesn’t work here, but basically anything sweet is customary. I was made comfortable in the sitting room, and Leila brought me a strong, sweet coffee spiced with saffron, which was wonderful.

Moussa got out the photo album from their wedding, three years ago, as well as a video, so I could see the pictures, and they explained Tunisian marriage customs to me.

Later we had lunch, which was salat mechouia (a blended mixture of peppers, onions, tomatoes, and spices), tajwiin (a baked mixture of eggs, potatoes, and cheese, as pictured) and French bread, and drank orange juice out of fancy wine glasses. As the guest, my plate also included some roast lamb.

After eating, we talked about wedding customs in the United States, about American politics, and about our families. I shared some pictures I had brought with me of my parents, my grandmother and I in front of a Christmas tree, me in the snow by a log cabin, and my dog. We talked about religion for a while, and they explained to me the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and the duties of Islam, and we talked about stories from the Old Testament which are common to both our religions, and I learned that Moussa means Moses.

I stayed several hours, and when I asked Leila what her favorite musicians were, she brought out her CDs and taught me to dance in the oriental style. I told them the story about how Cari and I had tried to go to the hammam, and she offered to take us there next Wednesday and show us how it works! Also before I left, they made a gift to me of some beautiful silver jewelry from Egypt. All in all, I’m definitely impressed by Arab hospitality! Now I’m wondering how I can return the favor of friendship.

The invitation also made me realize how useful the vocabulary that I’m learning in my new class is. If we hadn’t just studied the words for the days of the week, “guest,” and “lunch,” I would never have understood what he was trying to invite me to! But my conversational ability has improved a lot in the last week, and I was able to keep up my end of the conversation as the guest, and we had a very good time.

When I left, Moussa walked me back to the train station, gave me their phone number, and told me that I'm their friend now and if I ever have any problems in Tunis, I should call them. Good people.


Anonymous emina said...

Nice :)
Are you studying literary Arabic, or Tunisian spoken Arabic.. or may be both?

August 12, 2005  
Blogger Olfa Abdelkader said...

Hello, thank you Emmina for your question,

I am of Tunisian origin and I speak my family language which is the Arab and a second language which is the French but now I have to speak that the English language since I have lived into grand-Britagne for five months where I'm still taking english language courses.

September 05, 2005  

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