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1/14 A Teatime Substitution

I was invited to a friend’s house for a 5:30 tea. I got there at 5:35, which I was confident was before she was expecting me, and sure enough, she wasn’t home. I loitered outside her door for a while, chatting with passersby and admiring the alpenglow from the setting sun, which was bathing the snow-coated mountains in rosy radiance.

After 10 or 15 minutes of this, her next-door neighbor popped her head out. She explained that my friend was visiting another friend, and would be a while. Then she began scolding me about something I couldn’t follow, but which sounded like What are you doing hanging around? It’s silly. I couldn’t figure out whether she wanted me to come into her house or go home. I responded vaguely, saying that I didn’t mind waiting a little longer, because it was really no problem, but then the scolding turned into haranguing, so I figured I’d go along with it. Plus, I was getting chilly, even through my two coats. But I still wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to go home (to my left) or into her house (to my right). Fortunately, as soon as I took a hesitant half-step straight forwards, away from the lintel I’d been leaning on, she said, “C’mon! Come here!”

So I thanked her and ducked into her house. We went straight to the forno (woodstove) room, where she immediately sat me down next to the heater. Tea and bread followed, inevitably, but I was happily surprised with the wheat-y yeastiness of her bread. I ate slowly, despite urgings, and tried to refuse a second cup of tea (unsuccessfully). After the second cup, I said that I should be going, but was shouted down. Apparently, my friend still hadn’t returned home, even though it was past 6:15 at this point. “Stay! Spend the night here!” offered the matriarch. I thanked her and sat back against my pillow. (Like every other Berber house here in Berberville, the living room was furnished with sheepskin and woven rugs set around the edge of the room, with pillows leaning against the walls.)

By 6:45, though, I was anxious to be on my way. My hostess’s hospitality was genuine, but I still didn’t like taking too much advantage of it. I thanked her for her generosity, explained that I’d see my friend another day, agreed to come back and visit these nice folks another time, reassured them that I’d remember how to find their house, and eventually managed to force my way out. (Fighting your way out of a Berber woman’s home is a job for a linebacker with an attitude.)

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Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps