What gathers family, friends and mere acquaintances is food. In food there is a mix of spices, some of them are familiar to our taste and some are hidden in our taste buds and the just excite our inquisition and we simply eat more and more to discover what it is inside it until all food is gone. Spices ma sha Allah come with culture and are distinct of its origin. Different flavors and texture of food that reflect on its makers and that make food more interesting and so with the culture. Why do I say this? I say this because this of what I experienced last Saturday, April 12, 2014 in an istiraha here in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
It was my first time to attend a cultural fair. In school, we did participate in this type of fairs but we were all Filipinos and we just research and represent countries assigned to us or what we choose. But last Saturday was the ACTUAL thing I must say. And it was everything and more than what I expected.
It was hard getting to the istiraha(private resort) since it was off road and my husband was traveling then and he couldn’t bring me there so I took a taxi because I really didn’t want to miss out on this. We went pass the turn and went all the way down the motorway and so I just had to put the google map on on my phone, Allhamdullilah for google maps we found our way back to the main road and more praises to Allah for the family in a private car who guided the taxi driver to the istiraha. It was quite a haul but as soon as I stepped my foot inside, with a sigh of relief I said to myself “Allhamdullilah! In sha Allah, it will be all worth it!” And I knew that for sure.
The greetings and exchanges of salams overwhelmed me. The smiles and excitement of the children just melted my heart. It was truly a blessing to be part of this.
It was a gathering of muslim women and children of different nationalities; a time for family and friends; a time to meet old ones and make new ones. It was also a time to put faces on the people you just know through on line and make the cyber connection to a personal one. More importantly it is a gathering for the sake of Allah. It was an act ibadah (worship) to give our children a good time, an act of ibadah to share the food that we make, an act of ibadah to remind and appreciate the creation of Allah through beauty and culture.
Since I am a self- proclaimed Foodie, I looooved every bit of it. Quietly, I went from table to table and just had a taste of the wonderful food.
FIrst stop was the Green and yellow table, the table of Jamaica. The Jamaican Food was scrumptious and truly a friendly table, the sisters ma sha Allah were very generous not only to share the food but also information about their food and culture. What I can never forget is how proud they were about their Plantains. A sister was like saying, “Come and taste this, these are plantains.” the other sister said, “oh bananas!” the sister responded,” No! they are not bananas these are plantains from our country, look look here is a sample and now you know when you go to Carrefour what they are!”, pointing at the plantains on display. So I looked at them as she pointed at them and so did the other sisters, we exchanged looks at each other and our facial expressions were the same, I was pretty sure we’d say the same thing “looks like a banana to mebut we both didn’t say this aloud, we just smiled munched in and showed our appreciation to the Jamaican sisters ma sha Allah. plantains or bananas—-Jamaican food is ma sha Allah tasty!
Next stop was the table closest to my heart, table of ASIA. If Jamaica had a nationalistic theme for their display. Asian brought about the culture through clothing and artistry. There was a display of clothing, shoes, cook ware etc. The mix of bright colors with gold and different patterns, only with these one would know the diversity and variety that Asian culture has. The Asian table was also fascinatingly interactive, they had a guessing contest for their visitors using the staple food like chickpeas and rice. The visitors have to guess how many chickpeas were in the jar and how much does the bag filled with rice weighed. But what caught my heart was seeing the Philippine flag in a child’s drawing, and it made me proud of my roots as I always have been.
After participating in the game, tasting the food was next. And I just felt like I was home especially when I saw a Filipino dish on the table but unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet the sister who made it. Chinese food was beautiful. Since I reverted 5 years ago, I wasn’t too keen on eating Chinese back home because of the ingredients so as soon as I see Chinese food here in Saudi I just take on it as it is one of my favorite dishes. Of course Biryani is one of the all time favorite comfort food since I moved in here…with rice and chicken you can never go wrong.
From East I head West, I went to London to visit the Queen! I had to taste the Shepperd’s Pie made by someone really from the UK. It is one of my favorite food. After this I hopped to America, they had food I am familiar with and satisfying my tastebuds as always. Next was the table of Tunisia, a variety of couscous and chickpea dishes were ma shaa Allah lovely!
Style was everywhere too. Marvelous fabrics and accessories just unravelled on the grounds. I felt as if I was watching a fashion show in different directions. I was just in awe with the beauty of clothes of different cultures. Jamaica’s nationalism reflected their fashion that day. Asian had a variety of silk, chiffon and satin and gold. Western sisters, had their modern taste to fashion. Somalian clothes were bold, clothes that came with beautiful hairdresses. Ma sha Allah…I love clothes….tummy satisfied so were my eyes with beauty and color.
The food and fashion brought everyone together as well as sharing laughters and stories. Sisters taking turns to take care of each other’s children. Children running around, jumping up and down and their faces filled with joy and I’m sure their hearts are filled with joy as well. Sisters praying when it’s time for salah. It is just a perfect way to spend the day.
I was one of the last ones who left the place. From mid day until the sun has set and the skies were dark and filled with stars…resonance of happiness and blessing in the place were felt and never left. With experiences like these, you carry these memories in your heart and you hope to have another.
As I closed the gate behind me, with a grateful heart to Allah…I said to myself this is truly, truly an a-FAIR to remember.