A fistful of Fata (and it’s not goat cheese)

Sitting in the dark, gravel-floor lean-to at my old Bedouin neighbours house, sipping on a glass of hot, sweet black tea, two little girls came in and said something to me in Arabic. I didn’t quite get everything they said, since my Arabic is not that great (yet!), and also since they speak another dialect, but I did understand that I was being invited somewhere. These two girls are always inviting me for tea, so I said “Bokra” – tomorrow – my standard answer to fob them off. They looked peeved and said something and walked off. Then one of the Bedouin ladies explained to me that our neighbour, Nadia, had made a huge pot of Feta, a traditional Bedouin dish, and was sharing it with everyone. Just an impromptu Bedouin gathering that sometimes happens here. OK, I was up for that!

So little 4 year old Khadija escorted me over to Nadia’s house. Inside the bare, concrete, cell-like room, the walls were lined with colourful Bedouin ladies sitting on mats. Wearing bright gallibeyas and scarves, they decorated the room nicely while they waited for the Feta to come. In the corner two ladies were taking care of a pot of tea and a pot of coffee sitting on a hot bed of coals on the mangad (mobile fireplace where tea is made), and the little girls were handing out tiny cups of tea and coffee to the guests.  The room was filled with raucous chatter.

The ladies welcomed me in and pointed at a gap in the wall where I could sit, and I was given a cup of coffee. One of the little girls came in with a bowl of Feta for me with a spoon in it – me being foreign, they expect I want to eat like a foreigner, with utensils. Then Nadia came in with a huge pot of the stuff and started handing out large balls of it. The ladies each took a ball and ate it from their right hand. I scooped my feta out of the bowl, moulded it into a big ball like everyone else’s, and ate it. The warm ball, the soft texture and the faint taste of the afiiq (dried cheese made from goats milk, similar to parmesan) made it a tasty winter’s day treat.

Feta is made from torn up pieces of Farishia (Bedouin pita-like bread), hot water, semn (clarified butter) and afiig all mixed together into a big doughy mixture. Our hands were left greasy after eating it. One of the ladies rubbed her hands together to coat her hands in the grease, like it was a good hand cream. The ladies all laughed.

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Now and again a man (someone’s male relative) appeared at the door to be handed a ball of Feta.  I wished i could understand their dialect to be able to take part in the socialising, not chatting with them puts me in a separate little world in the room. But it was nice to have been invited, and being the only foreigner there, I know they accept me as one of their good neighbours, and not just a stranger amongst them.

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