Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ramadan Day 11: Cooking up cucumber salad and Billy Holiday

Here's what I am cooking as the calls for prayer issue out from hundreds of mosques all over up and down and above the hilly streets of Oran:
Cucumber salad and Billy Holiday, onions red and so juicy I tear and tear, garlic still red mud caked to it, dried in violet-tinged sleeves. 8 zucchini, must be almost a kilo/

Leg of lamb I marinate and cook this way: cut slits into its side. ignore that there might still be a hoof on the leg. push slivers of garlic into slits. rub all over with local olive oil, ras el-hanout spice mix, sqeeze lemons bought from algerian farmer all over. made a bed of grated onion and more garlic, always more garlic, in the pan that can go on the stovetop first then in over with the light i can press on and off after.
into the bed i put cilantro with flowers blooming on it's tips set gently over (i do not slice the flowers, it might bring about my ruin if i do), i put a few stalks of mint. I find two fresh figs that have been smashed in the sky blue bag that my husband brings everything home from the market in. i set the lamb into the bed of onions and so on. i cut just 3 slivers of butter that still has the tinge of buttermilk that came from the 'lait cooperative algerien.' this goes on top of the meat then dribbles of honey stolen from starbucks to give to my brother-in-law who loves that honey the best and then taken back from him for cooking. then the figs that have been smashed go on top. then thin slices of lemon. just the ghosty bits of tomato i have parted from the whole.
cover with tin foil. cook first stovetop then oven that i love love because it gives back to me meat that falls off the bone in easy cuts until we finish it all.

It's the aloneness.

He moves away from me in this month. I am still in his life but here, though he is with us more than in NY where he is always working always and every day, but here he moves closer into the community of Muslims of which I am not part. It's not just ALgeria. We are all here. It's that he is in a rhythm that I don't take part in; more so than in NY, more than here in other, normal days of summer in years before when Ramadan fell outside the summer.

He stays up all night with his brother, his nephews- those who are fasting and leaves me alone.

We lose intimacy.
We lose connection.
It makes me cry.

How do I explain this, right?

Ramadan is so much in the sharing: sharing in the ache for food, the longing for cool icy water they go to the mountail spring to bring home to me to cook with. The meal I eat with them. But I have been eating bits and pieces all day. Leftover harira soup, fresh coffee, apples and white peaches, perfect in their crisp sugar. So, when I eat with him, I am not having the same meal.

It cannot be the same meal that he eats, when he has had nothing in his stomach all day, nothing in his throat to clear away the heat and dust that Algeria drives down your throat each day.

Of course, it's my choice not to fast. I tried, years ago. A panic set in and I broke it mid-day. For a woman who is almost never without a spare apple and water bottle in her purse, for a woman who seldom goes without food for more than 2 hours, it scared me. Primally scared. In my bones I wondered if that was it, if I'd never eat again, no matter if my head told me different. If I had gotten through one day, I might have been able to do it. But, no.

L doesn't encourage me to fast. God won't love you more if you do, he tells me.
In other words, convert first. Fasting is a requirement for Muslims and since I am not, why bother. It does not earn me grace and baraka. I would still be outside the flock even if I fasted.

But it takes him away from me. Not just because he sleeps late while I wake early. Not just that he goes to the mosque each night as they work through the Quran, bit by bit each night, and I am home with the dishes. He is more tired, focused on getting through the day without killing himself fasting, not on chatting with me about what I have on my mind.

And then it's sunset and we eat, all together with his brother who is always with us, like L's shadow. Then off the mosque and I set to washing the piles of dishes and the kids leave with their older cousin to do the insane bumper cars that spark and snap above ther kids heads' and set a deep panic in me every time I see them. They pay 20 cents a ride and stay for hours with their older cousin who has come to stay with us from Sig, crashing into each other and jarring their car off the metal net it is hooked to above their heads. A man always with a cigarette hanging from his lips jumps into the ring to set the hook back up into the mesh above and they are back on again. I prefer not to see this and have stopped going with. I can only have so many jumps of my heart before I am ready to dive in amongst the cars and pull my kids bodily out. Like I have said before, I am trying to let my children have space to live a life full of childhood, not just a mother's protection but joy and spitting fun, as well.

I can't ever love Ramadan. Not unless I become Muslim, I guess. But is love enough a reason to convert? To be closer to your love, to further join his rhythm, to weave your life closer within his?


Diana said...

Hey MC,
Thanks for sharing, you write so eloquently (in all your posts/blog). I can envision the lamb and all the freshness of all the ingredients, even though I've never been to where you are. And you write with such emotion and candidness, it's uber refreshing to know that you question things, just like every normal person but sometimes people don't just say what they think. Thanks again for an eye opener!

Aimee said...

This is so beautiful, MC. Thanks for sharing your life. I'm really enjoying getting to know you better.

mc said...

thank you, diana. i love that you are reading it. thanks, aimee. it eases the pressure of being here to write.

jane said...

Hugs! I love the way you write, it brings your life in Algeria to life for me.