SUNDAY FAMILY LUNCH FROM MISSOURI

Yara Zgheib shares her Sunday Family Lunch ritual every Wednesday with her three Lebanese friends. They look back on their roots and share their vivid memories of Lebanon.

We have our Sunday Family Lunch on Wednesday, because Sunday is laundry day. Also Skype day with Mamy, Papi,Teta, Geddo, and the siblings and pets back HOME. Sundays are for cleaning the sparse, IKEA-furnished living rooms, changing the sheets and watering the little cactus, and piling up on groceries for the week. Sunday mornings are for sleeping in, Sunday evenings for Sunday blues. In between two of those, there are six days of 5:30 am alarms. So, to break them up, the four of us get together for a Sunday Family Lunch… every Wednesday night.

There are more than 12 million Lebanese people around the world living away from their families, returning to empty apartments from work shifts, classes, long days of expat life. A small price to pay for the future we seek, but since everyone, at some point, must eat, we pause our quest for opportunity long enough to have dinner together once a week.

My makeshift family knocks at my door at 7 pm sharp. Four foreigners, four Lebanese people in Missouri. Our country’s biggest export.

Rita brings the hummus; she makes the best west of the Atlantic, from scratch. She makes sfouf on special occasions too, one of my favorite desserts. On the days when she does, she smells of yansoun. On others, Marc Jacobs Daisy Dream. She works day shifts and night shifts, running around the hospital, white coat and stethoscope fluttering behind, making sharp, intuitive judgments… but on Wednesday nights she shares ekhir nikte and her mother’s famous recipe.

Elias brings some wine, his oud or a playlist of Fairuziyyet. By day he is a scientist, well written, published, read. By night his music transports us all to summers in Bishmizzine. He plays and sings songs I know, songs I do not, songs he teaches me to love. The words and tunes have more meaning and beauty the further you are from HOME.

Naji uncorks the bottle, pours, and launches the debate of the night. The conversation hops from world and national politics, this country’s and Lebanon’s, to neuroscience, economics, philosophy, history, social commentary, art. He pauses to take a first bite of fasoulia, his and Elias’s favorite dish. For a moment each of them is at the kitchen table in the HOME where he grew up.

And from the fridge, I pull out the labne I learned to make myself; homesickness breeds innovation. And apartment-made fatte and manakish. I offer more food and drink, and join the conversation in Arabic, English, and French. Sometimes no words properly translate the emotion; then I speak with my hands.

I have been as far east and as far west as an airplane ticket will allow; green tea ceremonies in a Tokyo bonsai garden, fortune cookies in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Part Phoenician merchant, part New World pilgrim, I learn and share with the other three. They each bring their own stories to the table for our family dinner each week.

For two hours every Wednesday we look back on our roots of kteb el tarbiye wil qira’a, eid el ‘isti’lel, Bonjus pyramide and Ghandour w raha. T’ish w tekol ghayra, tabboule w frites.

Grounded, we then look around and forward at the world we are discovering: the places, events, and people molding us, experiences making our lives rich.

Our ancestors were ambitious merchants and explorers. To be Lebanese is to go and seek. Often, it is lonesome, but it does not have to be lonely; the Lebanese also value family. Missouri is eight time zones away from Beirut, but at 7 pm on Wednesday nights, HOME does not seem so far away when we sit down for our Sunday Family Lunch.

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