The vastness of Kurdish hospitality floors me. If you go to someone’s house they give you the best food, the best seat, and make you eat everything until you don’t think you’ll be able to move. They aren’t satisfied with you being at their house for an hour, you should be there for three… minimum. Language can be a barrier, but it rarely feels like it because they are just so happy that you are there. I grew up in the South and was not unfamiliar with extravagant hospitality; but never have I felt as welcome as I did every time I entered a Kurdish home.
So when it came time for me to entertain my students in my home I was a little nervous. I knew I couldn’t meet the Kurdish standard of hosting. I would have to be sure that they clearly understood that they were going to have an American experience. They were excited, and maybe a little nervous too. To go to an American teacher’s house would be a new and interesting experience. I think we had shared concerns. What if they didn’t like the food I had prepared? What if it was boring? What if they were the only ones to show up?
The first time I had students over was for a girl’s only study group, there was structure and purpose, which my American personality liked. We had something to do; our time would be valuable. The kids brought snacks and I made fancy coffee with sugar cookies. It went well, and I asked what they’d like to have for snack the next week. Chocolate chip cookies. They were a hit. The three dozen I had made were gone at the end of the hour. Then around Christmas time I made them eggnog. I had to persuade them to try it because, admittedly, drinking cold milk mixed with eggs sounds like a really awful idea. Most of them liked it and the ones that didn’t politely kept it to themselves.
At this point the food experiences started to be discussed at school with their male counterparts. The boys were jealous and wanted to know why I didn’t invite them over too. I used cultural taboos to my advantage. I wasn’t allowed to have men (even pseudo teenage men) in my apartment. But we struck a compromise and I brought peanut butter cookies to class. They didn’t like them, so I was off the hook. Then they heard about waffles and I was back on the hook again. Who doesn’t like waffles?
The adventure continued with the girls though. Sweets were always a big hit, but one day they requested Mexican food. I made black bean dip, it took two days to make from dried beans, and I had to be careful not to make it too spicy. My housemate made Pico de Gallo and we made a special trip to the international food store to get plain tortilla chips. There was guacamole for sale there too, but I didn’t think I should spend $8 for a tiny jar that might feed two people. The girls LOVED all of it. So much so that we didn’t get any studying done, we just ate chips and salsa and talked about the things teenage girls talk about. It was fantastic. I had finally achieved a Kurdish level of hosting. They were at my house for at least 3 hours and we ended our time dancing around my dining room table to loud Kurdish music. It’s one of my favorite memories.
Food can be such a connector of people and culture. I can’t count the number of times that students, parents, friends, or neighbors have brought me food for no reason at all. An entire frozen chicken, homemade jam, green onions from their garden, sweets their grandmother made, giant pots of dolma or muklubah or biriyani rice. I always appreciated the time and love and sacrifice that was put into those gifts. Even a glass of tea given to me by the man from whom I bought my furniture was a sign of welcome. I was glad to have the chance to give back a little bit of that hospitality, to reflect that I too welcomed them into my life and my heart.