When Soup Tastes Better than Steak

There was a knock on the kitchen door the other day around 4:45 PM.  It was Joe (not his real name) our Egyptian building super.  We exchanged Arab greetings and pleasantries by my front door and then he explained the purpose of his call.  He and his family wanted to bring us supper.  Of course being Americans supper was already cooking on the stove.  He explained that they wanted to bring us chicken and rice and some Egyptian food.  I asked what time and he said after two or two and a half hours. 7:15 – still early by Arab standards, but my wife had a meeting at my son’s school at 7 PM and the kids were already ravenous.  I told him about the meeting.

“No problem Mister.”  I can’t get him to stop calling me Mister. “We will come in one hour.”

How could I refuse?

Supper was halted and we rushed around preparing the house.  It wasn’t exactly clear to us what was about to happen.  Joe had tried to bring us supper before but that day we had guests already coming.  At that time it had sounded like they were planning to share the meal with us. I had said that we could easily go to their place another time, but Joe had protested, “No, no, it will be more comfortable for you here.  Our room is very small.”

This is true.

Joe and his wife and three kids (10, 6, and 2, maybe?) live in a room off from the garage under our apartment building.  Ok, there’s also a closet with a squatty-potty and a shower and one other small room which really serves as Joe’s “workshop” and storage space. Their main room is made of uninsulated cinder block and was an afterthought addition to the building.  Inside are two metal framed cots with thin mattresses, a TV on a wobbly table, A small storage shelf with food items and a two burner hotplate on another shelf.  There’s a pictures of Saint George slaying the dragon, Fr. Zakaria Botros, and Pope Shenouda III on the bare white walls.  (These three are all popular with coptic Christians.)  The paint is flaking away from the cinder block and there are a couple of threadbare carpets on the ground.  When I have visited Joe and his family before they have spread out newspapers as a mat to eat or drink on.

So, yes, I supposed we would be more comfortable eating in our comparatively palatial apartment complete with a dining room table, chairs, new rugs, sofas, and fresh paint.

We didn’t know what to expect as the hour ticked down.  Were they just bringing food to give to us?  Or were they going to eat with us?  We prepared for both outcomes with a clear table in the dining/living room and a tray of dishes ready in the kitchen to be set if they all arrived to eat with us.

About an hour and a half after Joe first stopped by, the doorbell rang.  It was Joe and his 10-year old daughter and 6-year old son (who has become a buddy of my son lately).  They were decked out in some of their best clothes.  They brought with them two small-ish serving bowls. One covered with  good sized piece of khubz (pita bread) and another with a metal lid. The first bowl was filled with rice and a roasted chicken. The second contained a chicken and parsley based Egyptian soup.  With the usual exchange of Arab pleasantries of invoking peace on each other’s lives, hands, hearts, kidneys, livers, and . . .  (ok I’m just just kidding, but sometimes it seems that way)  they put the aromatic food on the table and began to take their leave.

Parsley Soup, Chicken & Rice, Bread

We invited them to stay and eat with us, but they declined insisting that the food was a gift for us.

I can’t say that parsly infused chicken broth is really my thing, but that night it tasted far better than the most expensive steak on the menu of the finest steakhouse in Chicago.  Out of their poverty our neighbors had blessed us with far richer fare than we normally enjoy.

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3 Responses

  1. How awesome is that! Superb…puts us all to shame here in the US.

  2. What a great experience. I’m so glad you were able to let him do this for you. I know itmeant the world. And how cute that they go dressed up purely for the delivery. I’d be more likely to be dressed WAY down if I weren’t staying to eat :).

  3. What an awesome story, man. It’s times like that when you just (well, first you feel a bit bad for not being the initiator on stuff like that more often, but…) you want to reach out and give God himself a hug for people like that.

    Especially in those moments when the world seems to be so evil and so just simply oppressively bleak, moments like that come along and remind you that good exists and that God loves you. Awesome. Thanks for sharing!

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