The Picnic


After church on Friday, we went on a picnic lunch with an elderly Syrian man I befriended in a bookstore, Abu Muhammad. He picked us up at about 1:30 and we drove out with his family to the ريف (reef--countryside). Jordanians love picnicking on the weekends, and the park we went to was packed! It actually looked more like a dump than a park--what with scattered, bare trees and trash everywhere . . . I guess the concept of cleaning up after your picnic is foreign here. In any case, it was fun to get outside the city and see Arabs in their element.

Abu Muhammad's wife, sister, nieces, and youngest son, Mustafa, accompanied us. Mustafa is twenty-seven years old and has Down syndrome--he was such a riot to be around! He's a completely uninhibited sweetheart with a smile that never leaves his face. The family picnicking next to us started drumming and singing traditional songs, and he ran over to their group and started shaking his groove thing. Everybody congregated around him and clapped and laughed.

The park we went to (The Park of the King of Bahrain) was really cool. Brock and I were the only foreigners there--it felt like we were crashing some huge Arab party. There were Bedouin minstrel men in kuffiyeh who wandered from group to group offering to play songs on their drums for a small price, and other men who wandered around with horses, donkeys, and--get this--camels offering rides for children! It was a total circus.

Let me tell you, Arabs know how to picnic like it's nobody's bidness. I've never seen so much food in my life! Vegetable salad, baba ghanoush, and traditional Syrian dishes like kubbeh and kufta with roasted tomatoes and potatoes. Not to mention roasted chicken, French fries (Arabs are obsessed with them!), seasoned olives (fresh from the garden), figs, peaches, grapes, cucumbers, fresh pita bread, you name it. People just kept piling and piling stuff on our plates--it was a little overwhelming!

After eating, we all kicked back and the coffee started flowing (not for Brock and me, of course). Abu Muhammad started smoking hookah--or, as the Arabs call it, "hubbly bubbly." I have no idea what type of shisha he put in there, but it smelled freaking good. Abu Muhammad's wife and sister sang traditional songs together as we all munched on nuts, fruit, and sweet bread. Then it started to rain.

Yes, rain. In Jordan! One of the five most water-poor countries in the world. It was the first rain of the year and everybody flipped out like Californians in a snowstorm. We packed everything back into the car and--naturally--the rain stopped right as we finished up. We decided to head home anyway, and continued our powwow on Abu Muhammad's balcony. More hubbly bubbly, more coffee, more tea, more steamed milk with sugar for us Mormon folk (for the record, that actually tastes really good!). Abu Muhammad's brother and niece joined us on the balcony while Brock napped on the couch for a little while.

All of Abu Muhammad's family--his mother, his sons, his sister, brother--live in the same building (each in separate apartments). He used to be a civil engineer, and he spent seven years building this home by hand so that when he retired, everybody would have a place to live. It had been his dream to do that ever since he was a little boy. He's retired now, but he loves being around people so much that he took a part-time job in a bookstore just so he could talk to customers. Every time I go in and speak with him, he has a new life lesson of the day for me :) It's so cute. He speaks pretty good English, but tries not to use it much because he knows how important it is for me to practice Arabic.

We all sat and chit-chatted away until it got dark outside--Brock and I finally left for home at around 8:00pm. Abu Muhammad said it's not uncommon for him and his wife to stay out on the balcony until three or four o'clock in the morning! Arabs love sitting around and talking. And I'm happy to oblige! :)


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