Intern Journal: My dentist is going to kill me!

This past Saturday delegates from the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) visited TYO. Humaira, TYO’s Center Director, greeted the MEPI representatives with an enormous platter of kenafah, a local pastry made of Nablusi cheese and drenched in a honey-based syrup.  All fine and well for the MEPI visitors who needed to only have a few bites and move on with their morning tour of the TYO Center.  The same can’t be said for us interns who were left to handle the remains!
Throughout the afternoon, a few kilos of leftover kenafah slowly disappeared from our apartment kitchen as bits and pieces were broken off to be shoveled down guiltily but with the utmost pleasure!

And so goes snacking in Palestine, where no occasion, event or meeting begins without a welcoming tea.  Though the flavor differs, sometimes it’s Lipton traditional, sometimes a fancier sage brew, the special ingredient is always the same.  Sugar.

Served in tiny glasses, usually with ornate patters of metallic leafing, the tea is inevitably pipping hot and lip-pursingly sweet!  I have started to wonder whether taking it without sugar is considered back luck, or just a plain social aberration.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the delectable pick me up.  It’s a great way to kick off Arabic lessons, a tour to the local An-Najah University or a meeting at the Yaffa Cultural Center in Balata Refugee Camp.  It only becomes a problem when you do all three things in one day, one after another.  The sugar shakes aren’t easy to, well, shake!

During out last Arabic lesson, Dr. Fawaz insisted we each enjoy a plateful of small pastries with our tea.  Again, the key ingredient being sugar.  Before leaving, we had a pair of candy bars forced on us too.  A single one simply wouldn’t have sufficed as a parting gift!  And for what?  Showing up to a lesson!? Why thank you!

While grocery shopping last week, Walid insisted that Leila and I try a bite of his halawa, a crumbly treat of sesame-paste and, you guessed it, sugar!  After a half an hour of shopping, we had nibbled so many free samples that we felt compelled to purchase a few slices to bring home to the other interns.  Walid conceded that it is best taken with coffee in the morning.  Who am I to argue with his wisdom?

So, for the past week, I’ve been breaking off sweet halawa chunks as a preface to my morning cereal.  Having quickly grown accustomed to the practices of my all-too-gracious hosts, the coffee I pour myself for breakfast has taken on a sweetness that I would normally have spat at had it been served to me back stateside.  But, now, I have nobody to blame except for myself.  I wouldn’t even be able to say how many scoops make it into each cup, because within only four weeks I’ve resorted to simply pouring straight from the bag!

Just yesterday, our facilities manager, Yasser, insisted that we take the rest of a farewell cake upstairs to snack on.  Thankfully, without too much persistence, he assented to our pleas that the last thing we needed was more sweets!

I am continually amazed at the graciousness of the Palestinians.  Their welcoming hospitality is filled with warmth, generosity and sincerity.  Their kindness is unyielding, their sweetness unabating. And, well, I think I might just have figured out the secret.

But, my dentist is going to kill me!

- Adam

Adam is an intern at TYO Nablus.