Today I attended a family get together with my husband’s side of the family. My husband being an Arab Muslim, this event was slightly different than the reunion we had just recently attended from my side of the family, me with a white, Catholic background. To start with, I have to mention the sheer volume of people on my husband’s side of the family. To give you an idea – there are 4 uncles and 6 aunts. Each of them has had (on average) about 6 kids each. Each of those kids also now have families of their own. So you can do the math.
Next difference: location, location, location. Most Arab families, no matter how big or small, tend to congregate in each others’ homes. The size of the house in which they congregate does not matter; they will fit, occupying every inch of available space from the kitchen to the living room to the basement to the porch. The size of the yard doesn’t matter, they will spill over into the sidewalk, the road, the neighbor’s yard; there are no bounds. In my family, usually an over-sized space of land is formally reserved, usually in an unrelated area not tied to any kind of familiar place – a pavilion at a city park, a meeting hall built specifically for family events, the parking lot of the church. Comfortableness overrides convenience and a quick clean-up.
While I notice the difference in numbers and location, the most glaring difference has to be the presentation of foods. Take my family, for instance. For my white family get-togethers, potlucks are the way to go. (I recognize this may not be the case for all white families; I’m merely speaking for myself here and my own observations of my tiny part of the world.) They are the simplest, easiest, no-hassle way to go when it comes to entertaining the masses. Here is an example of the spread at the recent Family Reunion: fried chicken in tupperware container, baked potatoes still wrapped in foil, cheesy potatoes dish, crockpot of warmed canned meatballs, bowl of cut-up watermelon, macaroni salad in plastic container (Kroger label attached to the side), cheesy potatoes dish #2, container of cold KFC chicken, and cheesy potatoes dish #3. Everyone is expected to orderly follow a line beginning with paper plates and plastic silverware and ending at dessert table.
All this in comparison to the Arab side of the family, in which ONE gi-normous pot of food sat cooking on the top of the stove for 6 hours prior to the accumulation of people (which, by the way, is never given any formal time, but tends to just formulate as more family members drive by, receive phone calls, or in some other way become aware that the members of the family are mysteriously uniting). Food poured from gi-normous pot onto gi-normous metal platter, usually a mixture of rice, meat, and spices, alongside huge bowl of salad in which everyone takes their fill on real dishes with real silverware. Food is eaten fast and without much conversation, dinner is over and through and then it is back on with the card-playing or smoking of cigarettes or generally catching up on what has been happening with all the members of the family who most recently arrived.
But there is one thing I find comforting in both of these scenarios. Each of these differences matters very little when it comes to the emotions and feelings families experience when they see each other again, whether they’ve just seen one another the day before, or whether it has been years. Great, big bear hugs are uniform on both sides, kisses and happy greetings are expected, and smiles and laughter fill the air, no matter how many people, what kind of food, or where they meet.
Despite the differences, both my husband and I felt welcomed on either side of the family – both of us felt the excitement from knowing that soon we’d be introducing another member into this warm, welcoming, generational mix. Feeling the warmth from both sides of our families, my husband and I went to slept soundly those nights, feeling as though we were part of something larger than just he and I and our little one on the way.