A Very Mumkin Tour: Searching, Singing & Sipping
Thursday, John received a call from an acquaintance who invited us for an outing on Friday. I followed this up with a most common response:
Who is this guy?
Where are we going?
What time are we going?
Who else is going?
Any women there?
How should I dress?
Is he ultra-conservative?
Is it nearby?
And the all important question: Who’s bringing the snacks?!
John smiled and said, “I do not know the answer to most of your questions, but he did say he’d supply the snacks.”
I shook my head. MEN! Don’t they know that the event will determine my outfit? Or the terrain, my shoes? Or the location, the type of material I wear?
In that moment, I realized this had become a Mumkin Tour. It is usually I who initiate these events. For those readers who are new, “Mumkin” is the Arabic word for “maybe” or “perhaps.”
Our Mumkin Tour’s motto is:
“Maybe you’ll be there.
Maybe you won’t.
Maybe you’ll have a good time.
Maybe you won’t.”
Catchy, isn’t it?
So with “all” that information, I started to get ready.
At 4:30 pm we headed out the door. (We received pieces of additional information earlier in the day, but not too much.)
We hired a taxi driver who began driving toward our destination neighborhood. Our host said to let him talk to the taxi driver once we were close. Close? Close to where? We still don’t know where we’re going.
Once we arrived at the pre-determined neighborhood, John called our host and handed the phone to our driver. The Arabic flew back and forth until our driver seemed satisfied. He handed the phone back to John and threw the car into gear. We were off!
I kept craning my neck to see where we could possibly be going? Someone’s house? No. Oh, here’s a nice looking…Nope. Drove right by it. What about the…? Nyet. How will they find my body?! (Reign it in, Pam. Reign it in.)
The driver slowed, pulled to the side of the road and began asking a passing cyclist questions. Gestures, debate and discussion commenced until he returned to the car, cranked a U-y and smiled saying, “NOW I know!” Glad somebody does.
By this time, we had been making false progress to the point that our host called John back. John told him we hadn’t quite made it to the place yet.
All I could hear from the earpiece was, “WHY?”
John assured him we were close. He actually had no idea, but John is a dying optimist.
Our driver once again pulled off, this time at a cafe. He asked again where the mystery location was. More talk. More gestures.
Then our driver began laughing. He said, “THIS IS THE PLACE! They just call it by a different name now!”
Ooooooooooh! (That would be funny if I had known the first name or any name or whatever.)
John thanked him profusely, shook his hand and paid him.
We walked through the entrance of this outdoor cafe and were immediately met by a few sets of eyes turned in our direction. This is nothing new. Staring is not rude in this culture and we’ve become accustomed to it. Still being watched, we began scanning the room for our host. He was not there.
Seeing our obvious discomfort, a waitress smiled and took us to a table. Let me rephrase that…”THE” table. The room was set up with 100 chairs in rows toward a stage. However, right near the stage was a table with a table cloth marked “Reserved.” She told us to sit, so we did.
I sat quietly with my hands in my lap scanning the room. A young couple sat in the corner talking quietly. A few teenage guys were on their phones laughing at videos. Otherwise, the place was empty.
After a few awkward moments of willing our host to walk through the door, the waitress returned with a small clay pot and tiny cups. “This is for you from that woman over there.”
“Jebbana” is a spiced coffee that is thick, sweet and originally from the Bedouins. I got up and walked to the woman to thank her. I tapped her left shoulder and then shook her hand while giving her a kiss on the cheek as is custom. In brilliant English she said, “We wanted to welcome you and for you to try our coffee. We hope you like it.” She told me her name and introduced her fiancé. He smiled shyly and returned to his phone.
For those of you who know my feelings about coffee, well get your laughs out now. John poured each of us a cup, we toasted and then sipped as they watched. We smiled and said it was good. And you know what? It actually was.
Soon after, the waitress returned and gave us bottles of water. She smiled and said, “These are gifts from me.”
I’m telling you, the hospitality here is crazy good. We were so moved by their kindness.
A few more minutes pass before our host came walking in at a clipped gate toward us. “Good! You are seated at the special table!’ (The ONLY table, therefore special.)
Seeing our coffee on the table he chided us, “You already ordered?!” We assured him we had not, but received the coffee as a gift from others. That seemed to calm him. His phone rang and he shot up and walked toward the door again.
“WHAT IS HAPPENING?!” I screamed in my head.
(I might have control issues. Might, Pam?)
He returned just as suddenly and waived the waitress over. We ordered tabaldi (baobab) juice. Our host seemed relieved that the “hard part” of getting us here was over and now encouraged us to enjoy the show. By this time, many other locals had gathered and were anxiously anticipating the once-a-month concert.
After the instruments were tuned, the music began at 7:23. We had been there since 5:15. I had thus far drunk 2 coffees, 1 bottle of water and a full glass of juice. You know where this is going.
The singers sang songs familiar to the crowd and it felt like a Neil Diamond sing-a-long…”Sweet Caroliiiiiiiine…!” If you were in the audience and liked the song, you would walk up to the singer and snap your fingers in rhythm toward them. They would return the gesture as you swayed back to your seat or began snapping toward your friends.
Some old guys were LO.VING. IT. as they sang these traditional folk songs to the top of their lungs and snapped the night away.
Periodically, I’d scan the crowd and simply breath prayers for them. It felt surreal. We were back. We were here again among these dear people. I gave thanks.
In between songs, the emcee would regale us with jokes and stories. I was getting some of the Arabic, but not a lot. I’m still tuning my ear to our local dialect after coming from Egypt. He addressed us, welcomed us and said something to the effect that he wished he could speak more English. Shrugging, he returned to his shtick.
We smiled at the comments. In fact, we smiled a lot. So much my face hurt, but not as much as the voluminous liquids gathering in my body. Did I mention it was an outdoor cafe with no apparent indoor facilities?
At around 8:45, the band took a break and it became a karaoke moment for the audience singing and laughing. Tea, coffee and juice were being passed around and everyone seemed to be enjoying their Friday night. What a privilege to be here!
A sheik motioned for the female singer to come back to the front. She did, but obviously didn’t know what was happening. The sheik and other community leaders along with her family presented her with a plaque to recognize her achievement in completing her Master’s Degree in Engineering. Huzzah! I clapped like a mad woman! She wiped tears from her eyes and thanked everyone for their love. It was a moment!
More karaoke and everyone began to regroup for the second half.
I began giving John a “Bladder Status” update.
80% I whispered. He smiled in sympathy. He had had a lot of beverages, too.
The band returned around 9:15 and were ready to finish strong. More songs were sung and occasionally someone would walk toward us with snapping fingers and we would snap back. Yeah, we’re cool like that.
Our host tried to order more juice for us, but we declined.
The oud (a type of guitar) player had a solo and was tearing it up as part of the big finale. I might just make it!
Finally around 10:30 pm, the emcee thanked everyone for coming and just like that it was over. I wouldn’t explode after all! One short (hopefully short) car ride back…Think dry thoughts, Pam. (Not difficult here…)
Our host drove us back asking John every form of question.
What are women like in America? Are they all loud? (Wait! What?!) Do you know how to get a lottery visa form? How much rent do you pay? Could my wife come if I win the lottery? Are you only allowed one wife?
Believe it or not, these are common questions. John tries to answer each in a kind way that would reflect the heart of Jesus. I am glad I’m in the back seat. I might have said, “LET US PRESS MORE FOR SPEED THAN KNOWLEDGE, KIND SIR.”
I soon began seeing the familiar sites of our neighborhood. Humdillilah! (Praise be to God!)
Our host pulled to the side and began planning our next outing. We thanked him for a lovely evening and watched him drive away.
John and I made a hasty retreat to our flat. The bladder threat level had been lowered to DEFCON 2. Crisis averted.
As we talked about our evening, we couldn’t help but laugh at some things and marvel at others. This truly was a very Mumkin Tour and most likely not the last. In fact, our host just called asking about next Thursday…