Friday, May 27, 2011

From Insha'Allah to Afternoon Tea, From Bahrain to Japan

The lone woman, in a room full of Indian accountants and Bahraini administrators to discuss a local hospital's billing practices for the care of U.S. military personnel, frustrated at the double talk and unclear answers, I snapped. The crowded room grew momentarily quiet; it visibly taxed them to work with a woman, uncovered, and very pale, let alone one yelling, "No insha'Allah!" I was young and culturally not as aware as I could have been. As a nurse I tend to speak up- mistakes impact health and can unfold quickly. That day I did get my way as I represented millions of dollars. However, I learned a humbling lesson: if I get to yelling, if I lose my cool, then I have lost my way. The next time and the times after that I always said, "Insha'Allah" after any request and trusted it would go as far as it could. There was only so much change I could wring from them, the rest of the change would have to emerge from within.

Realizing I was working too much, I started asking friends to meet at different hotels for afternoon tea. It was a pleasant way to while away time in Bahrain and it offered a much needed break. The service was impeccable, the atmosphere luxurious and pleasant, sometimes there was music- a harpist or a pianist, and always tea and treats. The British had been in Bahrain long enough to expose the Bahrainis to the merits of English Tea in addition to the Arabic tradition of hospitality. I dearly missed this pastime when we returned to the States. In Bahrain I had been reminded to just sit about in a cafe- the nonchalance of it stoked memories of my teenage years in Spain. Some how as an adult I hat gotten sucked into working and working. Pausing time for a finer moment was a habit I sought to continue.

In Washington, DC, we occasionally went out for afternoon tea at some of the fancy hotels especially in the beginning when we rented an extremely small apartment while we searched for a house to buy. After we bought a house, we started the tradition of making tea on Sundays. Sometimes it was only tea and scones and sometimes we had sherry and sandwiches followed by scones and sweets. It was a lovely tradition albeit a bit fattening.

When we moved to Japan, we discovered a whole new world of tea and sweets- mugicha, matcha, hojicha, yuzucha, and sweets made from rice and beans- marvelously light, healthy, and of tastes and textures I had never had before. I rarely make scones here, but I have learned to make dango or rice flour dumplings. There are also tastes in Japan that I did not know about until I lived here - soba, mochi, onigiri, five kinds of tofu, all kinds of seaweed, etc. The best suggestion I have for those who are curious about Japanese food is to watch "Cooking with Dog" on; it shows you the ingredients, recipes, and how they put together a variety of healthy dishes and desserts commonly eaten. In Japan, the servings are small and the tastes delicate- no overwhelming fat particles or sweeteners to bomb your senses into smithereens. Surprisingly, my Japanese friends mostly want to go out for coffee! I did not expect to encounter so many coffee drinkers. There are several shops that sell pastries and serve coffee or tea; I never say no, but mostly we go out for lunch as that is when most mothers are free. I still like to take time to pause for afternoon tea even at home, but now it often includes a treat purchased from a shop- often individually packaged. We make a pot of black tea, Assam or Darjeeling, and drink cup after cup which is more excessive than the Japanese way. In Japan they call it "mil ku tea." My Aussie friend calls it a "cuppa." Whatever it is called, afternoon tea always revives me, and a day doesn't start properly without one, insha'Allah.

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