There she was. Standing in the hallway, a lady of around 60 all veiled in black. “Don’t shake hands, just say marhaba, smile and be very respectful”. Oh my God, how is this going to work out, a very religious Saudi lady and five guys in their early or mid-twenties in one apartment… But Bilal said she is only staying for a week or so, we will manage it somehow. And what else did he say, wait a minute, “We are Arabs, dude, we respect women more than anything, OK…” So her son introduced us to her and that was it, that day we didn’t talk to each other. I remember how careful I was not to do something which is not in according to Arab custom. It seemed so strange to me when I saw her from the end of the hallway how she was sitting on a couch and smoking so that the smoke was coming out from the only not covered part of her body. What’s more I always thought she is arguing with two Iraqi flatmates because she was speaking so loudly and dramatically. But as days passed, we all got used to each other and therefore also relaxed. She stopped wearing the niqab (only hijab), I realized she is just so passionate in explaining everything and we could laugh on not understanding a word each of us would say – those conversations usually ended with her saying “Lazim Arabi, Kritšof!” (You have to learn Arabic, Kritšof – yes, I got a new Arabic nickname). Not to mention I didn’t think on Arab customs any more.
Mom’s leaving with us brought some advantages as well as some disadvantages. I will start with the latter. Sometimes it’s just not so comfortable to live with somebody’s mom in the house. It’s just a feeling that is different I think you know what I mean. It is for example a bit strange to invite some friends to come over and tell them: “Yes, but we are living with a mom here, you know, but of course, no problem, everyone can visit.” Of course, she doesn’t mind if somebody is coming, but I don’t feel like inviting people that much. Another thing is that the kitchen is her territory, so to say. I would put the garbage bag on the other place, I wouldn’t leave food on the stove, I would buy less food at once etc. And in the morning I would sometimes rather sit in the kitchen on my own.
But this kitchen thing is also a part when the positive side starts. You can’t resist to power of her food. It may sound like I am spoiled but eating her home-made Arabic food is as I say: “A wooow!” Imagine mensaf, magluba, lasagna, pasta, rice with vegetables, sauces… It’s amazing. Besides that I learned some words like kursy, lazim, ma fee mai, awlad, mushkele etc. from here, which both together means she might make my evs experience slightly more Arabic. Intercultural learning as we say.
And as it comes to intercultural learning, I think I learned the most when she came back again for the second time. A European reader would probably (I admit I did) find this unimaginable – a mother of a 19-years old university student comes to the flat in which he is leaving with young flatmates, stays for almost a month and after few weeks she is back again – whaaat!? Who is that guy? Not that in Slovenia you wouldn’t find people leaving with their families up to the age of 30 but it is different when mother comes to your place. Interestingly I got three completely opposite answers when asking locals about this issue: “Well that is cultural, she may stay there for a year!” “She came to cook and to clean? Yes, that is normal, until you get married.” “Yes it is OK for us, my relatives are also coming for a month next week.” The people who told me that of course didn’t mean that I should stay in the apartment at any price and I admit I was also considering moving out when the Estonians (Keku and Niki, the volunteers who in December replaced Iraqi guys in our flat) decided to do so. But I decided to stay. There were many arguments and contra arguments for this decision, but at the end I decided as I did and I don’t feel sorry. I needed few days to adjust to her presence again but it doesn’t bother me anymore. Gregor and I call her “mama” (mother in Slovene) and she really is our Arabic mother in a way. We shared some nice moment and even celebrated her 56th birthday together. I like it when we are on our own, but it’s also nice, when she is here.
At the moment “mom” just returned with Bilal, Doriane and Kamila. She and Dodo became like old friends, they are talking, laughing and pat each other on the shoulders. I’m laughing quietly to myself as I am thinking: “Wow, this is just perfect scene for the end of my article.”