It’s legendary and dependable. Palestinian hospitality is truly remarkable. It is not dependent on how much they have or don’t have ~ whether the cisterns are full or empty. It matters not how many of you arrive at their home unannounced. They may be in the midst of work, but it is unimportant. You are their guest! And you are always warmly welcomed ~ ahlan wa-sahlan ~ and served tea with sage ~ mariamiya ~ in small glass cups with 2-3 heaping teaspoons of sugar per cup! As soon as your cup is empty, it is refilled ~ 1, 2, 3 cups and counting. We learn to drink slowly.
We also learn that it is possible to ask for tea without sugar if one acts quickly. However, if one waits too long the teapot arrives filled with tea made in the traditional manner. To ensure sugarless tea, we learn to ask for it immediately after the initial greeting ~ Assalamu ‘Alaykum! Mumken shay biddun sukkar, min fadlek? It seems rude. It is based on the assumption that tea will be served ~ but it will be ~ it’s the Palestinian way. And why someone would want tea without sugar is a bit of a mystery to our hosts, so our request generally results in smiles and provides a topic for conversation. Using our limited Arabic and our phrase books, we ask questions about their families, the village, and whether or not there have been recent problems with the settlers or the military ~ The children gather around. They are interested in who we are and where we are from ~ The family expresses gratitude for our presence in Palestine.
Soon tea arrives and the traditional taboon bread ~ khubez taboon ~ is not far behind. It is often accompanied by soft sheep cheese ~ labane ~ or occasionally the special Bedouin hard cheese ~ jameed. If we linger long enough over numerous cups of tea, coffee follows ~ tiny cups of the strong, dark brew ~ qahwe. The whole experience is punctuated by “Eat, Eat!” “Koli, Koli” ~ We know that many families are sharing their meager supplies. And yet we can’t refuse. It’s not the Palestinian way. We can only say thank you ~ shukran ~ We are grateful and humbled.
Time is unimportant. It ceases to exist. Whenever we rise to leave, we are encouraged to sit for another cup of tea ~ it matters not if it has been 30 minutes or 2 hours ~ I reflect on this experience of hospitality and realize that our hosts have much to teach us ~ How often are we caught up in “doing” rather than just “being”? ~ We are so often in a rush ~ to go where or do what? ~ I wonder how often we miss what is truly important ~ As we gather for our new year’s eve celebrations, perhaps we might linger over 3 cups of tea ~ and ponder…