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July 19, 2008 Tea Time

How teatime appears to you depends entirely on where you are for it. If you’re in the big, well-appointed visitors’ room, it’s a delightfully appointed array of beverages and food. If you’re in the kitchen, it’s a frenzy of activity.

Whether you’re the first guest to show up for tea or the 41st, you’ll be presented with a pot of tea and a cup. Depending on the size of the crowd, it may or may not be a freshly-washed cup. (Communal drinking is entirely normal in my village; there’s never more than one or two water glasses on the table, so sharing a teacup doesn’t strike anyone as particularly odd.) Though my family has dozens of teacups in the big kitchen, there are usually no more than 6 or 8 in use; these keep getting rewashed and sent back out for new guests.

Groups of women typically come and go throughout the afternoon, so later arrivals may find the spread a bit picked over…unless the later arrivals are Special Guests, in which case the spread will be sent back to the kitchen, tidied up, supplemented and rearranged as needed, and then brought out (in state) to be placed in front of the Special Guest.

Also, mid-afternoon tea is almost a meal; in addition to tea, several kinds of bread and/or cakes and cookies, several varieties of jam, honey, etc – which comprise the most basic tea – there’s usually a second course of aHrir.

The hostess may or may not eat with the guests, depending how many kitchen helpers (read: sisters, daughters, female cousins, etc) she has on hand. If the kitchen is safely in a sister’s or daughter’s hands, she’ll spend her time chatting with the company. If she’s on her own, the guests entertain each other while she shuttles back and forth to the kitchen.

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