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generosity

July 1, 2011

Or, why I’m coming home having gone up a full clothing size…or two.

Something I’m definitely looking forward to at home: full control over my diet. It’s something I’ve slowly but steadily lost over the course of my time here. Of course, this correlated perfectly with my gradual integration into my community, and I wouldn’t trade everything that entailed for the world, let alone to fit into the jeans I originally brought with me. But I do miss wearing them.

See, my people here are incredibly generous. Possibly the most generous people I’ve ever met. I am always walking away from my friends/students’ houses with some small gift in hand, especially now that I’m in the process of goodbye visits. Weird little ornament dolls, handfuls of candy, clothes, jewelry, mugs…I’ve been given it all.

They’re equally generous with their food, and there’s no easy way to say no when it’s offered without risking serious offense. The only foreigners I know who have ever successfully done so are viewed as permanent outsiders, and this trait is discussed amongst the locals with open disapproval. So most of my memories from this year will be colored by the food I was fed. The countless cups of sugary tea and Turkish coffee. The many, many times I was held hostage for a meal. The cold wintry day where I was somehow forced to eat three pieces of birthday cake at three different houses (unlucky me). The arrival of spring, which meant being slipped strange little snacks as I tutored–unripe almonds eaten whole, green cherries, watermelon with soft white cheese.

It’s more than just the normal hospitality thing, too–I think I attract pity because I’m a single foreigner, living on my own. And since being a good cook is a source of immense pride for traditionally-minded women, some of them would love nothing more than to be able to boast that their cooking was the cause of all my weight gain. That would just make their lives. And unfortunately for me, I started out “too skinny” by their standards anyway (if I’d started overweight, then they might’ve let me off with an “I can’t, I’m on a diet!” But that wasn’t really an option for me).

There’s also the fact that, for some of these women, food is the best thing they have to offer me. All of my students come from very modest homes–after all, my classes were free. My adult students included Iraqi refugees living on savings and handouts (work is technically illegal) and a woman who walked 20 minutes uphill to get to class because she can’t afford the 30 qirsh (like 40 cents) serveece fare on a twice-a-week basis. Of the kids I tutor, one couldn’t even afford to buy the $4 dictionary required by her school curriculum (so I bought one for her as an end-of-year present). Of course, not everyone I know is struggling to that degree, but for those that are, I know they see feeding me as their only means to thank me for my time. And in those cases, there is something fragile about their offering–something dignity-stripping about refusing to eat what they put before me. So I don’t.

Of course, there are times when I can be stealthier about avoiding it. If I eat slowly, I can ensure I only receive one extra helping instead of two. If the food is offered shortly after I arrive, I can claim to be full from eating earlier. If I am handed packaged food, I can drop it into my bag to eat “later.” But if it’s a full meal…or if a child was secretly sent out to buy me an ice cream bar while I was chatting with his mom…game over.

This is probably why, although I ate well when I was on my own, went to the gym and did yoga weekly, and walked up and down hills everyday…I still gained weight. Because as soon as I left my house, there was no predicting what my diet would look like. And that’s okay with me. Because it’s also why the dilemma I currently face is when to eat the kusa ma7shi (stuffed zucchini) my landlady dropped off for me earlier today, seeing as how every single meal until I leave is booked at someone else’s house. I could definitely have worse problems.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not eagerly anticipating a schedule where I can eat whenever and whatever I want. Just a few more days…

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2011 6:38 am

    You’re wrong. When you’re home we have to hang out and that will invariably involve food!

    • July 2, 2011 9:40 am

      yeah BUT i will be able to decide how much and what to eat. and if i’m not hungry, no one will force me. huuuge diff.

  2. Elliott permalink
    July 2, 2011 12:55 am

    There are never excuses for weight gain, but I know how you feel. When I was in Mexico, people would often give us food when we had just eaten, or would offer us meals and you go and you eat, and then you have to keep eating. That’s when it’s useful to have other people with you, so you can hide and pretend to eat, so that by the time you finish, it’s too late for them to realize or care because they already took care of everybody else.

    You better be ready for the p90x smackdown, it’s gonna hit you like an anvil!

    • July 2, 2011 9:37 am

      first of all, i am not doing p90x with you. second of all, “there are never excuses for weight gain”?!? what about PREGNANCY. don’t be a jerk smelly.

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