Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Part II - A different experience

Back from Bahrain, we headed towards suburban Khobar headed towards the family home of a relative of my travel companion.

Upon arrival at the house, we were pointed to different entrances for men and women. The men entered from the front and the women from the side. At the women's entrance we were greeted by the teenage daughter of the hostess.

As we entered the reception area, we greeted each woman with several pecks on the cheek. With some women it was 3, with some its 4, so I didn't really know how many times it would be considered customary.

We then took off our abayas and sat down. The ladies all kept their shoes on, so obviously this taking-shoes-off in the house thing is a Malay tradition not practiced here.

As I have been warned many times by friends who have been entertained by a S@udi, dinner is a very long drawn affair. I gathered that we were the guests that they have been waiting for as the refreshments were only served after we came.

After about half an hour, we were served with tea or Shay. This was accompanied with mini pizza/sandwiches/pastry type things and assorted nuts.

We ladies did not have to get up to get the goodies. The hostess or her daughter would come round to each and every person, presenting either the tea or the tray in front of each guest.

And so we spent some time with the tea, and the snacks. Talking and chatting, with me mostly listening since most of the conversation was in Arabic.

And then there was the Gahwa (Arabic coffee with lots of cardamom, very bitter as it is not sweetened by sugar but eaten with dates or other sweet pastries). The Gahwa is served in tiny cups (resembles the small Chinese tea cups at wedding ceremonies).

In the meantime the conversation continued. I acquainted myself with some of the Malaysian ladies there, the in laws, whilst the Arab sisters all went out shopping.

I have to mentioned though that I saw a great divide in terms of how the Arab sisters dress and the Malaysian in laws were dressed. The Arab sisters were dressed in their finest, sporting Gucci shoes, LV handbag, French clothes, basically very fashionable. The Malaysian ladies however dressed very simply with their head covered with a scarf, even indoors.

And then there was Keropok and chilli sauce, with sirap Rose merah. (A Malay additional to the ritual I bet.)

In the meantime my cough was getting worse. I tell ya, cough+ nuts + coffee + keropok is a surefire way to lose your voice.

Finally the other sisters came back. It is a transformation indeed as you see them all covered up from top to bottom except for the tiny slit for their eyes, and when all is taken away, they are back in their glamorous selves.

And suddenly there was a flurry of activity. Dinner is ready and we were all invited upstairs where the food is served.

Like a Malay home, dinner was served on the floor. There was a long plastic table-cloth thingy or as the Malays call is Sapra. Everyone rushed to sit down, the very young children sat on a small table and the end while the other women and older children on the floor. Some had plates while others ate directly off the table cloth.

The menu was Kabsah, what we Malays will call Nasi Minyak. Its a cross between Bryani and Nasi minyak as it is not as spicy as the earlier and just as rich as the latter. Lamb kabsah was served with some feta cheese, olives, tomato sambal thingy and some Arab leaves which counts as salad I guess.

As guests we were looked after very well by all. Rice was scooped for us on our plate and the minute it looked like we were finishing, more was scooped onto our plates. Meat was thrown into our plates making sure that we had ample to eat.

After dinner, we washed our hands and headed back downstairs again, where more Shay is served.

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