Halal Meat & Custurd-Filled Pastries
I sit quietly beside my sister. I become an airport for the flies. We hear the women In the background preparing things for the guests. Dad and his friend’s relative keep telling us to join the conversation but we know better than to actually do so. The biscuits and qolo arrive. Snacks first.
I take one (just one) biscuit, a handful of qolo and thank the pretty young lady who served me. The platter goes around. Unfortunately, they leave it at the far end of the table. Seconds are out of question for me now.
It was one of those family/relatives’ visit where one simply has to tag along as long as they’re alive. Luckily, I don’t mind those. I don’t mind spending time with my dad’s friend’s aunt or my aunt’s older sister’s mother or my cousin’s friend’s grandmother. Surely better than some annoying parties. Besides, in the former, decent food is almost always guaranteed
To come there, we took a road I’d never seen before. Not that I remember, at least. The highway we took looked impressive. Clean, almost flat. Once we entered their premises, it was like we were suddenly transported some place much more familiar.
The living room looked like it was lifted straight off one of the Saudi Arabian homes we visited growing up and dropped here, somewhere in the outskirts of Addis. Pastel–colored wall, elegant little Oriential carpets, couches with different shades of brown. The only missing thing from the set was the scent of imported oud. But it was still early, well before sunset, and one does not expect incense to be used until way after dark arrives. That’s also the time people expected guests to arrive back in Saudi Arabia.
The conversation is relaxed and saturated with long, relaxed pauses. Nobody minds, I think.
I don’t know if the cake was a good idea because it seems about everybody here is diabetic. They were talking about diabetes several times. It was all said in Amharic so I understood only about three quarters of the whole thing.
Drinks arrived next.
Coca-cola or water?
Coca-cola, gemash bicha. Yes, half.
Then lunch came. I already ate lunch at home. And honestly, I’m only waiting for dessert. There were those little dessert plates some distance from where I sat. But there is o saying no to this lovely grandmother. When we said we don’t eat meat she tries to reassure us saying this was not Halal (Muslim) meat (and we are Christians). But it’s not Halal meat we have issues eating, it’s just meat meat that we mind. But I eat anyway. Vinegary salad, an egg with delicious wet, some fresh injera.
It was the kind of food that makes you not mind a second lunch.
Yes, please. Two.
One for Baba, one for me. Baba did not want me to be alone in ordering the tea.
I washed the grease off of my right hand on this little baby blue tray that the maid (another one!) held for us while she slowly poured water from a bucket.
By the way, I tried to speak a little Amharic. My effort was pretty decent. I was like a child who was proud to show off a new word she learned in the presence of the grown-ups. Then, I had a slip. And they all erupted in a roar of laughter. Nothing else made them laugh like that throughout our stay. I grin. My sister somehow manages to speak without a slip. This is what learning a new language does to people, huh? It turns adults like me into children again.
It was not a cake inside that Kaldi’s Coffee box after-all but instead, a bunch of those cute little custard-filled pasties. They were delightful. And boy, were the folk generous. Four pasties each. The first one exploded a little when I bit into it. Custard splashed on my palm. I bet the grown-ups saw the mess and pretended not to notice (I mean, one of the ladies got us tissues a little while later). My sister eats only three out of her pasties and leaves her plate on the table.
Now that the women had joined, the conversation is livelier. They keep asking if we had gotten used to the city and about how the language-learning is going. Baba keeps saying that we love the city. We add little things like how whether here is much better.
And the trail of praises about Addis Ababa continue.
There is freedom here. There is nothing over there that does not exist here now. There’s everything here now.
One of the maids is preparing to roast coffee the traditional way. Baba seems pretty comfortable. My sister, I bet, is resisting the urge to use her phone here. Sunset is looming.
I steal away my sister’s last pasty. Those Viners were right. Someone else’s food does always taste better than one’s own.