Arabic Lesson # 4: Turkish Coffee

My first trip to the Middle East was Christmastime 1996.  We had spent a couple of days in Amman, Jordan and were headed for Beirut, Lebanon where my husband’s mother, sister, and a multitude of cousins lived.  When we arrived at my mother-in-law’s home, my husband, Bishara, and I were greeted warmly with hugs and kisses, along with pots of stuffed lamb intestines and grape leaves, kibbie (burgle with raw meat), malfoof (stuffed cabbage), and homemade hommous.  We were told there was more where that came from, including kusa (stuffed squash), falafel, shakreiha (lamb with rice, pine nuts, and laban), tabouli, fattoush, and other specially prepared dishes for our visit, in the neighboring friends’ refrigerators.  The very first thing we consumed, though, in the tidy and colorful sitting room squeezed full of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends was flavorful Turkish coffee.  And the Turkish coffee didn’t stop flowing for the entire ten days we were in Beirut and the surrounding towns.  While a guest may be offered Nescafe (milk with Nescafe and sugar) or tea in small clear glasses, Turkish coffee is the drink of choice in non-Gulf Arab countries like Lebanon and Jordan.  (In Qatar and other Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, “Arabic coffee” is quite different in taste and texture, combining cardamom and saffron with ground coffee.)  I will be writing about “Arabic coffee,” (cardamom coffee), in a future post.    

Grinder belonging to Bishara's mother.

Grinder belonging to Bishara’s mother.

While in Lebanon, Bishara related to me that when he was a child in Jordan and Lebanon (in the summers) his mother bought raw coffee beans originating from Brazil at the local grocer’s for her Turkish coffee.  The beans, still green, were placed in a roaster on a portable stand on the stove and manually rotated by Bishara’s mother until they were a deep, dark brown.  A manual grinder with a drawer was used to pulverize the roasted beans into a finely ground powder.  These days, however, you find beans already roasted and ground in coffee shops across Lebanon and Jordan.

I had become familiar with Turkish coffee during the 17 years Bishara and I lived in the Washington, DC area and in the two years before we had shared together as students at the University of Florida.  I had fond memories of my husband in our Charleston-style home in the suburbs of DC huddled over our kitchen stove on a Saturday morning, teaspoon in hand, nursing the foam from the fine grounds of Turkish coffee bubbling up in the small aluminum container (bakraj or ibrik) seated on the edge of the heating element.

Bishara and I would regularly visit the Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria, Virginia, a short distance from where we lived, to buy the grounds for our Turkish coffee.  We would roam the aisles of the small, family-owned, store behind a mini-grocery cart we would fill with canned chick peas, zahter (powdered thyme), pine nuts, labneh (similar to sour cream), hommous, and babaganoush, while the aroma of cardamom, freshly baked pita bread, and fruit flavored tobacco wafted through the air.  Soon after arriving at the Mediterranean Bakery we would order fresh fatayer with spinach, cheese, and labneh at the back counter, and our last task before leaving the store would always be to have coffee beans ground for the makings of Turkish coffee.  Endorphins surged as the scent of the pestled beans drifted along my nasal canals while we watched the store owner skillfully grind the roasted beans into a pan and pour them in a small brown plastic bag for us to take home.

Parties at our home in the northern Virginia suburbs would be replete with tablah drumming by Bishara, belly dancing, Lebanese mezzah, and Turkish coffee.  Oftentimes, Bishara would read the thick coffee grounds lurking in the bottom of demitasse cups to our guests’ delight, a skill my husband gleaned from his grandmother when he lived in southern Lebanon as a young child.  I’m not a big believer in reading tea leaves, tarot cards and fortune telling, but Bishara does have a gift for keying into people’s auras.  (Bishara always reminds me, though, that he is not nearly as good at reading Turkish coffee grounds as his sister.)  Each swirl, image, or clumping of grounds denotes a significant event in the past, present, or future; Bishara always apologizes for not being tuned into the exact timeframe.  The final step in the cup reading is the “yes” or “no” question when the guest asks about something silently that must be phrased to be answered with a “yes” or “no.”  Bishara advises the guest to concentrate on the question, lick the tip of their right thumb and press their thumb into the bottom of the cup.  “Ah,” says Bishara, “the answer is yes, and, by the way, you have a very white heart,” or “it will happen, but there are some roadblocks in the way.”  Bishara always teases me that he can’t read my cup, because he knows me too well; it would seem unfair.

Our relocation to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in late 2000, and Doha, Qatar in early Fall 2004, allowed me the opportunity to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the Turkish coffee experience from a whole new perspective, while Bishara reconnected with the experience in a more familiar setting and at a more organic level.  I was, increasingly, becoming less the novice and more ensconced with the notion that the serving of Turkish coffee was the harbinger of protracted conservation with friends and family, often coupled with pistachios, Arabic sweet pastries, fatayer, and olives.  In other words, a time to sit back, relax and enjoy the moments.

How to Make Turkish Coffee

  • Heat up water in bakraj/ibrik until it starts to boil.  Bakraj’s vary in size from a two-person pot, around three inches tall, to a ten-person pot, around five inches tall.

Bakraj

Bakraj with water.

  • For every demitasse cup, use one heaping teaspoon of coffee and one level teaspoon of sugar.  The amount of sugar, however, depends on individual taste.  My husband and I tend to like our Turkish coffee sweeter.  (If you like cardamom, include 1/8 of a teaspoon for every potful when coffee placed in bakraj.)

Adding coffee grounds to bakraj.

Adding sugar to bakraj.

  • As coffee mixture heats up, foam and floating coffee are important components of the texture, and resulting flavor, of the coffee.

Foaming Turkish Coffee.

  • When mixture starts to boil, again, remove the bakraj off the stove, and stir, and as coffee mixture recedes, put bakraj back on hot stove.
  • Wait until mixture starts to boil, again.  Remove the bakraj, again, and stir.
  • Put bakraj, again, on stove, let it boil, and then remove, and it’s ready to serve.

DSCF5360

Drinking Turkish Coffee.

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. . . And now for our Arabic lesson for my western friends.  (This is vernacular Arabic using  the Lebanese dialect.)

When do you want to meet for coffee?

متى تريد أن تجتمع لقهوة؟           MATA TUREED AN TEJTAMAH LE QAHWAH ?

_____________________________

Is the coffee ready?

هل القهوة جاهزة ؟                   HAL AL QAHWAH JAHZAH?

_____________________________

Do you want milk and sugar with your (the) coffee?

هل تريد الحليب والسكر مع القهوة ؟              HAL TUREED AL HALEEB WA AL SUKAR MAH AL QAHWAH?

_____________________________

How many spoons of sugar would you like (want)?

كم ملعقة من السكر تريد؟                           KUM MILAHQAH MEN AL SUKAR TUREED?

_________________________________________________________________

MATA = WHEN

TUREED = YOU WANT

AN = TO (or “THAT” or “AT”)

TEJTAMAH = MEET

LE = FOR (or “TO”)

QAHWAH = COFFEE

HAL = IS (or “ARE” or “DO” or “WAS” or “WERE” ; but only in a question)

AL = THE

JAHZAH = READY

HALEEB = MILK

WA = AND

SUKAR = SUGAR

MAH = WITH

KUM = HOW MANY (or “HOW MUCH”)

MILAHQAH = SPOON(S)

MEN = OF (or “FROM”)

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Arabic Lesson # 3: New Year’s Resolutions

English: New Year's Resolutions postcard

New Year's Resolutions Postcard (Author Unknown)

Well, it’s that time of year when we reflect on the past year, and look ahead to the New Year! . . . And we start thinking about New Year’s resolutions.  This is the focus of our third Arabic lesson.

Top Five New Year’s Resolutions (from: http://www.empowher.com/wellness/content/top-five-new-year-s-resolutions):

5. Spend more time with loved ones.  (Spend more time with the people you love.)

QATHEE  WAQUET  ATWAL  MAH  AL  NASS  ELLBETHUBHUM.

. قضي وقت اطول مع الناس البتحبهم

4. Get organized.  (Get your life organized.)

NATHEM  HAYATAK.

. نضم حياتك

3. Enjoy life.  (Enjoy your life.)

TAMATAH  BEHAYATACK.

. تمتع بحياتك

2. Learn something new.

TAHALAM  SHE  JADEED.

. تعلم شي جديد

1. Get fit.  (Do exercise.)

EHMAL  REYATHAH.

. اعمل رياضة

__________________________________________________

QATHEE = SPEND

WAQUET = TIME

ATWAL = LONGER

MAH = WITH

AL  NASS  = PEOPLE

ELLBETHUBHUM = THE ONES YOU LOVE

NATHEM = ORGANIZE

HAYATAK = YOUR LIFE

TAMATAH = ENJOY

BEHAYATACK = YOUR LIFE

TAHALAM = LEARNING

SHE = THING

JADEED = NEW

EHMAL = DO

REYATHAH = SPORTS

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What are your New Year’s resolutions?

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Arabic Lesson # 2: “Arab Time”

Arab time.”  Misperceptions abound around how time is perceived in the Arab world.  For many western expatriates, and good-natured nationals, in the Gulf region these words connote an inattention to time, and for some, even a disregard for this important nonrenewable resource.  I have found many inconsistencies with this view, and feel that the concept of time in the Arabian Peninsula is much more complex and textured.  General observations of, and personal experiences with, Arab acquaintances and colleagues, have revealed that the sense of time in this part of the world runs the gamut from Arab friends who are always on time (and who have to regularly wait for me and my husband to be ready for a night out), to Arab cohorts who have no sense of time at all.  Actually, it’s much like in the U.S., and west, where you know some people who are habitually on time, and others for whom you’ll have to allow an extra “cushion of time.”  You find yourself almost calibrating your own sense of time to those around you.  May I say that the “time gamut” just seems more elongated in the Arab world.

In the west being on time usually demonstrates a certain level of respect for the individual(s) we are scheduled to meet, as well as personal responsibility and accountability. . . .  And Americans/westerners tend to be highly productive and efficient, due at least in part to the emphasis on following schedules and meeting deadlines.  Once in our meetings, though, we regularly check our watch, or the clock on the wall, to ensure we’re not late for our next event or appointment, typically finding ourselves distracted by what is coming up next, and not always completely attuned to the present and the matter at hand.  It’s different in the Arab world.  What I have come to believe is that the perceived inattention to time in the Arab Gulf, is frequently quite the reverse, often reflecting instead an inherent reverence for, and recognition of, the preciousness of time at a more organic level.  It’s a belief, both from a cultural and religious perspective, that “people time,” in particular, is all-important and should be cherished and optimized.  Gulf Arabs revel in the moments spent with guests, family, and each other, and in informal, as well as formal gatherings, often appear lost in time, conversing and debating while sipping pungent cardamom coffee, seemingly unconcerned with schedules and appointments.  Even in the most intense business settings, this balance towards appreciating and savoring “people time” is reinforced by images of “tea boys” moving in and out of conference rooms with platters of Turkish coffee, tea, dates and Arabic pastries.

Western Expatriate Novelty Clock

Whether in the workplace or in social settings, “people time” is paramount in the Arab Gulf and throughout the region.  When I first moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from Washington, DC with my husband and two miniature poodles in November 2000, it was difficult for me to slow down in the middle of a deadline for completing a major financial report at work to accept offers of cardamom coffee or mint tea normally coupled with protracted conversation.  I didn’t have time; I had a deadline. . . . We were all frantically busy!  Time was of the essence.  While I still can’t bear to part from my watch, my many years spent in the Middle East have affirmed that these respites from work actually help create an improved sense of camaraderie and team effort, and the work, after all, eventually gets done.

“Arab time” is particularly prevalent, and on full display, when a guest enters an Arab household.  On countless visits to Arab homes I have been the beneficiary of Arab hospitality, and have experienced the altered dimension of “Arab time.”  Once across the threshold of an Arab home you are referred to as “sister” or “brother,” and the focus of the Arab host is on ensuring you are utterly happy and comfortable.  Schedules and previous engagements become immaterial. . . . And unscheduled visitors are not immune.  The guest is not asked if they want something to drink, but is immediately served fruit juice, followed by cardamom coffee and mint tea. . . Arabic sweets are commonly served, as is mezzah (tabouli, fattoush, olives, and such), and the guest is wheedled into having machboos (rice with chicken or lamb).  Somehow, when you’re not looking, another platter of machboos is placed in front of you. . . . And, you must eat, even though you’re quite sated.  The conversation effortlessly flows from a discussion of everyday matters, to regional politics, to the global financial crisis, and before you know it it’s 2:00 AM, and you really do need to get home.  “Oh, just one more cup of tea,” your host cajoles!

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

. . . And on to our Arabic lesson on “time,” especially for my western friends! 🙂  (Remember this is conversational Arabic.)

What time is it?

KUM  AL  SAHA?         كم الساعة ؟

It’s 7:30 PM.

SABHA  WA  NUS.      سبعة و نص.   

______________________________________

Are we ready to go yet?

HAL  NAHNU  JAHZEEN  KAI  NATHHAB?           هل نحن جاهزين كي نذهب ؟

No, I’ll be ready in half an hour.

LA  SAWFA  AKOON  JAHZEH  BAHD  NUS  SAHA.          لا سوف اكون جاهزة بعد نص ساعة.

_______________________________________

What time are we supposed to be there?

AYAH  SAHA  NAHNU  MAFROOTH  NAKOON  HUNAAK?         اية ساعة نحن مفروض نكون هناك .

They want us to be there at 8:00 PM.

YAREDOONA  AN  NAKOON  HUNAAK  ALSAHA  AL  THAMNA.           يردونا ان نكون هناك الساعة الثامنة .

_______________________________________

Are we there yet?

HAL  WASALNA  BAHED?             هل وصلنا بعد ؟

No, not yet.  We’ll be there in an hour.

LA  LAYSA  BAHED,  SAWFA  NAKOON  HUNAAK  BAHED  SAHA  WAHDEH.

لا ليس بعد, سوف نكون هناك نعد ساعة واحدة .

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

KUM = WHAT IS (can also mean “HOW MUCH”)

AL = THE

SAHA = TIME (or “HOUR” or “WATCH”)

SABHA = SEVEN

WA = AND

NUS = HALF

HAL = ARE (or “DO,” “DOES,” or “DID,” but only in a question)

NAHNU = WE

JAHZEEN = READY (plural)

KAI = TO (also means, “BECAUSE,” “FOR,” “AT,” or “SINCE”)

NATHHAB = GO

LA = NO

SAWFA = WILL

AKOON = BE (“TO BE” for singular first person pronoun)

JAHZEH = READY (singular feminine)

BAHD = AFTER (or “YET”)

AYAH = WHICH (or “WHAT”)

MAFROOTH = SUPPOSED

NAKOON = TO BE (for plural first person pronoun)

HUNAAK = THERE

YAREDOONA = THEY WANT US

AN = THAT

THAMNA = EIGHT

WASALNA = ARRIVED (for plural first person pronoun)

LAYSA = NOT

WAHDEH = ONE

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Arabic Lesson # 1: Bread

The focus of this first Arabic lesson will be on bread.  Why bread, you ask?  Because bread is the staple of the Arabic diet, often doubling as an edible utensil.  Many Arab meals start with mezzah, hummus, babaghanoush (or mutabbal), tabbouleh, fattoush, kibbeh, yogurt with garlic and cucumber, and the list goes on; particularly in the Levant (or Bilad ash-Sham), which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, as well as northern Iraq, and a portion of southern Turkey.  Mezzah dishes are scooped up with Arabic pita bread with nary a silver utensil in view.  Now, westerners like me typically buy our pita bread from local grocery stores like Mega Mart or Carrefour, but Qataris and other Arab nationals often buy their bread from bakeries in town.  A Jordanian friend pointed out one such bakery to us recently, and I decided to go inside to see an Arabic bread bakery “up close and personal,” which will provide the source of inspiration for our first Arabic lesson.

So, here comes the Arabic lesson, but before we start, there are a few caveats I need to mention.  There are some good sites on the internet that provide translations from English to Arabic, however, the translations are in formal Arabic like what you hear on Arab newscasts and such.  What I’d like to do with my Arabic lessons is to provide the translation in the vernacular, or everyday language.  I’ve looked into taking classes in Arabic, but found the formal Arabic not to be entirely useful.  So, I’ve turned to my husband, Bishara, a native of Lebanon, and fluent Arab speaker, to help me in my pursuits to learn “conversational” Arabic.  Another thing I should mention; I will be providing the translation phonetically in English, as this has helped me in my study of Arabic.  Also, keep in mind that Arabic script is written from right to left.  (It was strange when I first saw a book written in Arabic, and the front cover was on the back of the book.)  The English phonetics in this lesson, though, will be written from left to right. . .

. . . So, here we go.  To set up the scene I am in a bread bakery talking to the baker about buying some bread.

Outside Doha Bread Bakery

Bread on Conveyor

Bread in Container

Me at Bread Bakery

__________________________________________________________________

Me:  I would like to buy some bread.

ANA BEDDEE ASHTREE KHUBOZ.  .انا بدي اشتري خبز

____________________________________________________________________

Baker:  Okay.

TAIEB.    . طيب

____________________________________________________________________

Me: Is the bread fresh?

HADA ALKHUBUZ TAZEJ?    هدا الخبز طازج؟

____________________________________________________________________

Baker:  Of course, our bread is always fresh from the oven.

TABHAN, KHUBZUNA DAYMAN TAZEJ MEN ALFURUN.

. طبعا, خبزنا دايما طازج من الفرن

___________________________________________________________________

Me: How much does it cost?

KUM HADA?    كم هدا؟

___________________________________________________________________

Baker:  It costs ten riyals per kilogram.

KUL KELOGHRAM YUKALEF ASHARA RYALAAT.

. كل كيلوغرم ييكالف عشرة ريالات

__________________________________________________________________

Me:  Okay, thank you.

TAIEB SHUKRAN.  . طيب شكرا

__________________________________________________________________

Where They Make the Bread

 

Making Dough for Bread

Baked Bread

Bags of Flour

ANNA = I

BEDDE = WANT OR WOULD LIKE

ASHTREE = TO BUY

KHUBOZ = BREAD

TAIEB = OKAY

HADA = THIS

ALKHUBUZ = THE BREAD (“AL” is THE)

TAZEJ = FRESH

TAHBAN = OF COURSE

KHUBZUNA = OUR BREAD

DAYMAN = ALWAYS

ALFURUN = OVEN

KUM = HOW MUCH

KUL = EACH

YUKALEF = COSTS

ASHARA = TEN

SHUKRAN = THANK YOU

Sites for translation from English to Arabic:

http://translate.google.com/ (provides sound recording)

http://www.stars21.com/translator/english_to_arabic.html