Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gastrodiplomacy Rosetta

My host brother Yassine departed this morning back to New York. His aunt, whom lived with us fifteen years ago is here now for a few days before she heads back to their village in Beni Melal.

She doesn't speak English or French, but some Fusha (modern standard Arabic), Dereja Maghrebia (Moroccan Arabic) and Berber (not the few words I know of Berber from Algeria). We have been communicating in Fusha and a smattering of Dereja to make sense of our shared space.

Of course, it is fascinating. My Arabic is okay, but comes covered in a layer of rust. Many things I can express or talk around, but often I am lost, left picking for words in a manner that feels like I casting line into the lexicon abyss. But we seem to understand each other for the most part.

Tonight, I was cooking spaghetti and a veggie tomato sauce. She looked on while I sauteed the garlic, onions, peppers and zucchini; stewed the tomatoes; simmered the sauce. When it was done, we sat down for dinner.

She had a tajine plate that I believe a neighbor had prepared for her; I had my plate of spaghetti and vegetable sauce. I made a small plate for her to try the spaghetti. She picked out the tomato chunks and onions, and explained that she didn't really like those veggies. I laughed at the hilarity since that was what the sauce basically consisted of.

She bid me eat some of the tajine, and I took a bite of potato with my bread. That was when it got interesting.

She indicated that I should take the tajine, and that she would eat the small plate of spaghetti I had made her. I protested, trying to explain that the tajine was her dinner, and that I had my plate of spaghetti.

But Moroccan hospitality is profound, and we argued because she wanted me to eat the meat and potatoes as I was the guest. There was honor involved.

But I wanted her to eat the tajine she had since I knew she couldn't have liked the spaghetti that much, and I had my own plate of veggie spaghetti that I had cooked, which I wanted to eat—not the tajine.

We literally had a moroxican stand-off of protestations in Arabic. I told her: eat, and that I wanted her to eat the tajine; I had my own food.

She protested and tried to generously give me the tajine. We reached a point where my Arabic wasn't strong enough for me to explain that I really just wanted to eat my veggie spaghetti and wanted her to eat the tajine.

Then I had a Rosetta idea.

I ran and grabbed my ipad, and switched on googletranslate.

أنا أحب لطهي ولكني لست قادرا دائما لأنني السفر. أنا أحب اللحوم، وأحب أيضا الخضروات. أنا أحب الخضار في المغرب.

Basically it says that I love to cook but I am not always able to because I travel. I like meat, but I also like vegetables. I love the vegetables in Morocco.

I had the googletranslate speak the message in its computorial lilt and she got it. Thanks to googletranslate, she understood that I was happy to eat my plate of veggie spaghetti, and that she should eat her plate of meat, and we would both be happy.

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