Last night we had the upstairs neighbors over for dinner. I had invited them the week before and mentioned it to their daughter once during the week, but I still wasn’t sure if the invitation had registered. Apparently it hadn’t. When I went upstairs at 7:30 to tell them that we were ready, the mom was wearing a robe! About an hour and a half later (a typical time for Sudanese to eat supper, we understand), she and her three children came down, and we fed them a pioneer dinner: hot dogs (they have them here! Yummy ones in fact), corn on the cob (nasty and starchy; we won’t do that one again), baked beans (but not really baked—the oven made an exploding noise when I tried to light it so we cooked them on the stovetop), salads, potato chips, and watermelon. We tried to explain Pioneer Day to them. I’m not sure how much they understood.
Everything was awkward and uncomfortable until we started trying to speak to them in Arabic. Actually, I started trying to ask a question in Arabic, and my kids rolled their eyes and said, “Mom!” and asked it with the right pronunciation, and the guests laughed and tried to help me fix my pronunciation. They stayed just long enough to eat—about forty-five minutes--and then left.
I have mixed feelings about how it all went. I think I made them feel awkward, which I regret, but as Ruth pointed out, at least they didn’t feel obligated to stay and stay when they needed to go, and as David pointed out, we had some very awkward meals when people in Bosnia invited us over, but they are some of our fondest memories. The kids pointed out that our best moments in the meal were when we tried to use their language. I’ve appreciated all this particular neighbor family has done for us, so I’m happy to have made a gesture of hospitality and friendship. And I’m going to have to keep inviting people over if I’m going to develop a circle of friends here!