Tuesday, January 11, 2011

in which I eat lunch with an Egyptian, a Syrian, and a Tunisian

Okay, so I'm using the word "lunch" about as loosely as one can. As most schoolfolk around the world do, we eat basically whenever we can, which sometimes means 8ish or 9ish AM. At my current school, it's even more sporadic because we don't necessarily have the same lunch hour everyday. So there's not a table that I go to with the same teachers everyday. At first it was kind of annoying, but I've grown to really enjoy eating with whoever is around. It has led me to some pretty interesting conversations and gastronomical adventures.

Things I have learned/observed/discovered while eating lunch with my co-workers:

1.) Fool: While the images of fool I could find on Google made it appear far too much like cat food, it is one of the most delicious things I've had in the Middle East. It is, as one of my co-workers told me, kind of like hummus for breakfast. It's basically fava beans that has been mashed up, spiced up, heated up, and then doused in olive oil (as is everything here, and yes, I'll get to that) and served with bread for dipping. There are different styles, primarily Jordanian and Egyptian, but one thing is for sure: It. Is. Awesome. The only problem with fool is that you immediately want to take an hour long nap after you eat it. But I literally cannot help myself.

2.) Bread and cheese combinations: Oh man, do they love this one. Now, when I say bread and cheese, I mean any kind of bread, and any kind of cheese. I have seen everything from sliced white bread with american cheese (plain, ew) to hand-baked bread with a kind of delicious goat cheese melted in the middle. Most of the teachers that bring their lunch have some fruit (usually an apple) and two what I can only describe as hoagie rolls filled with either a crumbly cheese or the laughing cow stuff (or as it's called here and I think everywhere else, "la vache qui rit"). The two reasons that I have observed for this are: 1.) it's cheap and 2.) it's tasty. Khalass. (finished)

3.) I have never seen so many grown men drinking juice boxes. (I think that one is self-explanatory)

One can only assume it's their love of soccer that explains the juice boxes and orange slices.

4.) The absolute BEST olive oil in the WORLD comes from Jordan and Palestine: Just so you know. I was eating some hummus and pita from our "canteen" (catered cafeteria booth) and enjoying it with the normal oil that's on it when one of my Jordanian co-workers (who actually went to TSU...which is an odd coincidence) told me this fact. I told him that I had never had it. Suddenly, I grew a set of antlers...or I must have for the way that he looked at me. He then shot up to his little cubby and proceded to drown my hummus in his secret stash of Jordanian olive oil. All nationalist pride aside...the olive oil from Jordan is pretty much amazing. I even asked a colleague who was travelling to Jordan to bring me back some...it's real good.

5.) Arabs love to share food: My favorite thing to tease my colleagues about is the way they care so much about gaining weight. "You have to only eat vegetables..." "I used to run 12 kilometers a day..." "These pants used to fit..." Southern women got nothing on Arab men. The number one thing I heard when I got here was "You'll gain weight here...maybe...10 kilos..." The main culprit for them is kabse (a rice and grilled chicken dish that sounds deceptively healthy). However, I think it's because they offer whatever they have to anyone who is around. And they INSIST that you eat it. And EVERYONE does it. So you might have 3 half lunches...that's a lot of food! I was chatting with an Egyptian colleague when he bought some fool from the canteen and extra bread for us to share. Then a Syrian co-worker came up and started to dig in after it was offered to him. Then HE bought an order of fool and expected us to eat his as well. So by the time we were done, I had eaten about 1.5 containers of fool. I was in the food coma danger zone...at like 9:45 AM. I have been offered a half of a cucumber, cookies, tons (literally) of bread, all of the tea in China...it got to the point where I felt that I needed to avoid the teacher workroom so that I didn't become the world's fattest man. People never realize from the news or movies how giving and gracious Arabs are. It is one of the things that makes them the most hospitable people on the planet. The greatest thing about this though is that it's made me more generous with my stuff. Always a good thing to develop.

6.) An understanding of the Arab world that I could never get from a newspaper or book: I'm sure that this elicits a forehead smacking "duh!" from most of you, but I had no idea about some of the stuff going on in these countries. Like the unemployment riots in Tunisia that are going on now...I work with several Tunisians who explained why they live and work in KSA and it has a lot to do with the employment situation there. In Egypt, President Mubarak just got "re-elected"...again. It's a similar political situation in Tunisia. Seeing the pain in someone's eyes as they talk about how things are in their home countries makes what I read about in the news resonate with me. It's become something that I want to know about...I have news feeds on Google News for Jordan, KSA, Tunisia, and Egypt. But the most amazing thing is the way these guys are so resilient. A lot of them live here while their wives and kids are back in their home countries. They're all committed to working with these kids and making them great students while still having to juggle their long distance marriages and fatherhoods. Amazing.

And to think I got all this over fool and a juice box...

Vicariously yours,

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