THE DELICIOUS MEAL: Mother and Aunt Samia carried out large trays of food into the sitting room where the cloths and plates had been laid. The food smelled delicious! Although the children wanted to hear Uncle Hasan's story, they were now only interested in the food before them.
"What a feast! Uncle Hasan will be very pleased with our hospitality," Amina thought to herself. "My father will be proud that he can offer his guest such a fine meal. He will be very proud of my mother."
The meal was, indeed, a feast. There was a bowl of salunah, a tasty, thick gravy made with meat and spices; a large bowl of salatah made of tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce, and another plate piled high with crisp sambusak (See glossary page 27). In the middle of it all was a large tray of roasted lamb on top of a mound of rice. Muhammad's favorite dish - chicken kabsah - was placed among the other dishes of mahshi kusah and other delicious foods. At each corner were piles of the warm, flat bread that Amina liked so much. Umm! Everything looked so good!
After the food was put out, Mother called the children into the kitchen for a moment. "Children," she said, "Please remember your manners. Let me see if you know them. Which hand do you use to eat with?"
"Only the right!" Muhammad shouted, hoping he had pleased his mother by his quick response.
"Very good!" said Mother. "And how do you sit on the rug?"
"We sit so that the bottoms of our feet face no one," answered Amina.
"Correct. What else must you remember?"
"We must remember that it isn't polite to stare at someone while they eat. We should look down at our own food."
"Fine," said Mother. "Now go to the sitting room to your places."
Mother went to the door of the majlis to tell Uncle Hasan and Father that dinner was ready.
"Please sit down, Uncle Hasan," Father said. He indicated to Uncle Hasan that he should sit in the place of honor beside Father on his right side. "Bismillah, in the name of God," Father said quietly, before the family began to eat.
The meal was as delicious as everyone knew it would be. Amina and Muhammad ate so much they thought they might burst!
The two large trays of fruit - the oranges and apples, the dates and figs, that Father had brought - were the last things to be eaten. Then, after everyone had finished the meal, Father said with thankfulness, "al-Hamdu lillah!" which means "Thanks be to God!"
Uncle Hasan leaned back against the pillows and said, "What a fine meal that was! I thank you for your hospitality and generosity. I am so full, I don't know if I can move!"
Muhammad laughed. "I'll help you, Uncle Hasan!" he said. Then Father, Uncle Hasan, and Muhammad went to wash their hands before going into the majlis to sit on the couches there.
Amina helped her mother, Aunt Samia, and Grandmother clear the food away and prepare tea and coffee.
Grandmother carefully took the tiny coffee cups out of the cupboard. Amina loved to hold them and look at the pretty blue flowers that decorated them. She put the coffee cups on a tray and then put the small tea glasses on another. When the coffee was ready, Mother carried the tray with the coffee cups into the majlis.
Mother poured the hot, fragrant coffee into the little china cups and offered it to all the adults. Muhammad and Amina liked the smell of the cardamom spice that was in the coffee. Mother poured second cupfuls for everyone. But, when she offered a third, each person tilted his cup from side-to-side to show that he had had enough.
Later the grown-ups had sweet, mint tea. The teapot was left on the table so the adults could continue to sip tea as long as they wanted. Since mint tea is such a soothing, refreshing drink, the children were sure the sipping would continue for some time.
Diane Turnage Burgoyne has degrees in political science and inter-disciplinary social science, and lives in the Eastern Province of Saudia Arabia.