The Saudis come to Donegal


On Wednesday evening, two Saudi Arabian families arrived at Millhouse. They live in Dublin at the moment, and came up to Corcreggan for a holiday. The man who booked for them, Saud, is an old friend of Brendan’s. He’s an artist and a poet (it says so on his business card) and made the beautiful sculpture that sits on the reception desk (a horse on one side, a woman in profile on the other).

I was excited to see them, because they reminded me of Hussain, my Saudi English conversation student back in Texas. Saud informed me that they would buy a lamb the next day to be butchered, and this would be the main source of food for the 4 days they were to be here. Back in Texas, I never got around to visiting Hussain’s home and learning about his traditional foods, and going to Saudi Arabia as a lone woman isn’t probably the best idea. But here, Saudi Arabia came to me, and I was allowed to watch!

Upstairs in the communal kitchen, the two wives (Ohud and Shama) were cutting up a lamb roast bought in the local grocery (expediency), and cooking it with chopped red onion and green bell pepper. They added cumin, chili powder, black pepper, salt, garlic granules, and soy sauce. It smelled heavenly. Shama speaks almost no English, so Ohud translated when necessary. Mostly they kept up a running dialogue in Arabic. It was musical, and made me wish I could speak even a little Arabic. They told me I would eat with them, but when the men came in, Saud told me to sit and eat with him and Fayez. We squeezed lemon on the stew, and there were sliced tomatoes and green onions for eating, as well. I was also treated to hot, sweet tea. They used Arabian bread (pita, to us) to grab pieces of the meat and vegetables. No forks or spoons were necessary!

The next day, the men disappeared early and around noon, I saw them with the cut up lamb on trays by the barbecue area. Saud wasn’t too pleased with the wood, saying it would burn up too fast. He hadn’t found the right wood here in Ireland, and he didn’t know the English word for what he actually wanted. Later, I found the women upstairs cutting up the meat and dividing it into bags, many of which went into the freezer for later. They had a dish of liver leftover from lunch, and they invited me to eat as much of it as I wanted. Again, there were red onions, green and yellow peppers, and bits of fat with the liver. It was delicious! Lamb liver is not nearly as strongly flavored as beef liver, or even chicken.

After watching them work on the meat for about 45 minutes, they finally finished. Shama had to use a heavy knife and her metal can opener to bash down on the knife to get through the bones. I told Ohud they needed a hacksaw for that, and then had to explain what a hacksaw was.

In the late afternoon, everyone, including Brendan and me, found ourselves down by the creek, sitting on the rock wall, having an afternoon tea. There was coffee laced with cardamom (I had 3 tiny cups of this wonderful brew), lovely dates, and biscuits (read: cookies for us Americans). It was too cold for me, so I went back up to the house and folded linens.

I’ve only seen the women in passing today. Later, I hope to go back up to the kitchen to see what they’re cooking next.

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