Yesterday Nahel celebrated the girls who had high marks in Trimester 1. Three girls from each class were honored. It was exciting for me because since being switched to 12th grade I now know both the 11th grade girls and the 12th grade girls so I was doubly excited for this ceremony. The stage was decorated for the girls and they received plaques, flowers, and certificates to honor their academic achievement. Afterwards I found my students to congratulate them (in Arabic “Mabrook!”) and give them each a big hug. As I was getting ready to leave four of my students from 11th and 12th grade came up to me and gave me their flowers!! I was so touched. They thanked me for being their teacher I couldn’t have been more touched. Some of the girls I have only been teaching for the past month and a half!
With the ceremony ended, Jennifer was invited to go to have a meal at one of her 5th grade student’s. Since Jennifer and I carpool she asked if I could come too. The girls said yes and so we headed off to her house. Now, if you recall from my previous posts there is not such thing as an address here so we of course ended up at the wrong house. Luckily, it was the house of one of the student’s relatives so they took us to the right house. Once there we were invited inside to their majlis (gathering room) and given coffee, tea, and dates from their date palms. Then all of the sisters in the family came in, including the mother and set down tray after tray of food in front of us – good thing we didn’t have lunch! A huge plate with mounds of food – rice, meat, fatoush, and macaroni was placed before us – there was no way that I was going to finish that huge plate even if I hadn’t eaten in three days!! We talked, drank fresh juice, more tea, and ate more food – but the more we ate the more the plate was replenished with more food! Finally I couldn’t take one more bite and, after profoundly thanking the mother and sisters for the delicious food, sat back with my stomach bulging through my dress! They look at me said “but you have not eaten much at all” to which I could do only one thing – laugh – and they laughed too. The mother asked something in Arabic and translated she asked “did you like the meat” – Jennifer and I both said yes, it was so delicious – to which she said – “do you know what kind of meat that was?” – well Jennifer and I just looked at each other and I quickly got flash backs of all the crazy things I ate in Africa. I thought it was maybe goat, but Jennifer’s eyes got big as she looked at the mother and said, “was it camel?” and yes, yes it was camel. We just ate a camel. It was really tasty and seasoned really well. We found out that only one girl in the family liked camel, the rest don’t eat it because, as the eldest said, “it makes you live in the bathroom” – hahaha – great I thought, that’s just what I need hahaha.
Once the plates were cleared a tray of fruit and nuts was placed before us. Jennifer and I were offered more coffee and tea and Jennifer politely accepted. I said “la, shukran” (no thank you) but the mother just look at me and the sister said, “No it is tradition to drink coffee and tea after eating, it is good for the food, so you will have tea” – and so I had another cup of tea! Couldn’t refuse that! We continued to talk, stare awkwardly at each other, and laugh. They are such a fun, sweet, and kind family! As they were cleaning up the fruit and tea a bunch of orange peels fell on the ground. I picked them up to help them clean up and Latifa, one of the sisters, said “No! What are you doing?! Never do this. Do not pick that up!” I felt so bad my face turned red and I just sat back as everyone else cleaned up. I have heard much of Arab hospitality and I certainly saw it all – we were truly treated as guests and they did everything to make us feel honored. Of course I was silly to think that the food was over until a tray of cake came out made by Latifa and a huge piece was cut for each of us! Thankfully I can always pack in dessert so, with the help of another cup of tea, I finished that piece of cake and somehow talked my way out of a second piece! Again plates, trays, and glasses were cleared from the room and we found ourselves talking and laughing and awkwardly staring again. I really wish I knew more Arabic. As we were sitting the mother told Alia, the 5th grade girl, to go get something. When she came back she had gifts for each of us – a bag full of a burqa (pronounced berga), and material for making a kandora (traditional dress for women) – she also had a bunch of kandoras (traditional dresses for women) in her hand. We found kandoras that fit us and put them on. The mother then showed us how to wear them. The burqa is a traditional face covering. In the past it was worn by all women, but today it is worn mostly by older women and is a sign of their tradition and heritage. If you want I found a short video about the burqa you can watch it here. Anyways, we of course had to get pictures of this . . .
After pictures we were told that we could keep the Kandoras we were wearing (they are the dresses you seein the last two pictures. With the shayla (head covering) on you cannot tell but the cuffs of the sleeves and the neckline of the dress are beautifully embroidered. We were again really touched. Well since we were all dressed up the girls decided to show us how they dance in the Emirates and we then had a mini dance party! After the mini dance party we got a tour of Alia’s brother’s house. He built his house on the same plot of land as his parents and the house is beautiful. We were then asked if we wanted to drive and see their farm. Since Jennifer had to pick up her son from school we decided that we would have to come back later and get a tour of the farm. Before leaving, however, we were given a huge container full of eggs from their chickens, and two bags full of dates from their trees. We then said goodbye a couple more times and were escorted to Jennifer’s car to leave. As we rounded the corner we saw Alia’s mother by the date palms and rolled down the window to say goodbye one more time. Nothing like being brought into someone’s family to make you feel loved and accepted.