I could not have landed a better host stay than with Lamia and her family.
The kitchen of the house acts as the central meeting place for the family. Lamia, the head of the household, loves to cook with the assistants of their housekeeper, Ruma. There is always food around. On this day stuffed zucchini in a tomato sauce with hobiz [bread] and leban [plain yogurt]. I am accompanied in the kitchen by the women of the home. My very own Arab version of Steel Magnolias.
When I first arrived Lamia, a large breasted Tunisian woman with shoulder-length hair, was talking to her sister on Skype from Austria. Before she greets me she bids her sister goodbye habibi [love], and says—in English—“my sister is my best friend.” Ruma, the 20-year-old housekeeper from Bangladesh, is scurrying around the kitchen tidying things up. For someone who is so young she bears the responsibility of all the women in the house.
In comes Shayma, Lamia’s 18-year-old daughter, she is a beautiful, tall girl, or as I like to call her, the Arab- version of Beyoncé. She wears her light brown hair with blonde highlights pin straight, painted pink lips, and only the most fashionable clothes. She wears simple make-up as she prepares to go out driving—with the licenses she recently got—with her friends. She asks Lamia’s friend Fetemah to safety pin her black blouse closed.
Fetemah, a pixie cut blonde hair woman, is a close friend of Lamia. She lives alone in an apartment in another section of Amman, but prefers to stay in the guest room at Lamia’s house. She pins Shayma’s blouse with a cigarette in her mouth, asking Shayma to squat down because she is too tall. Once the safety pin is well hidden in Shayma’s blouse Fetemah asks Shayma why she is so thin and gorgeous. Then Lamia’s other friend—or auntie to Shayma—Fouzia, chimes in and says she needs to lose weight. They lift their shirts and compare how much they need to lose weight. Shayma laughs saying the women look fine, and I smile in agreement.
The man of the house, Lamia’s husband, who I have yet to meet is nowhere in sight. He travels often for work and is not home currently. But it seems that the presence of a male is not needed and Lamia with the assistance of Ruma run the house independently and with food—always.
They are beautiful characters. They are different from the stereotype of traditional Arab women. They are secular, no hijabs, and they talk about everything from their weight to world affairs. But more importantly, they are a family. They gather in the kitchen drinking strong Turkish coffee, smoking cigarettes, and every other word is habibti [love].
I feel welcome in this environment and hope to spend more time with these women.