How Many Arabs Does It Take To Make A Pancake?

Thursday July 10, 2014

On Tuesday we met a woman named Soulaf Abas. She arranged a meeting with Madame Samara and introduced herself as a professor of art at Indiana State University, in Amman for the summer doing a humanitarian mission trip. Her project included gardening and art therapy, and she had come to the centre to paint murals on the physical therapy rooms and do art with the patients.

She came and we started on the second floor painting the walls. They painted flowers, their names, boats, and eyes, and though they were shy at first before long everyone was having a blast.

In the middle of the painting, Kahart (the Kurdish woman from Afreen) passed out. She had been fasting when she wasn’t supposed to, and was on the floor shaking. The children were gathered around watching, and Faiza told me to distract the kids. I took the kids and said, “Come on! Why don’t we paint some trees and suns?” They came with me and we joked around and I tried as hard as I could to make them smile and laugh and forget about the woman seizing on the floor with two doctors attending to her.

These children had seen more in their 7 years of living than anyone should have to bear in a life time, and there they were: standing over Kahart, faces blank. It didn’t even look like they processed what was happening, they may as well have been watching a caterpillar climb up a plant – mildly curious, yet emotionally detached and distant. It chilled me to see such young children who should be innocent and carefree stare so blankly at a woman writhing in pain.

That night Madame Samira (one of the 5 women who run the centre who had arrived from Manchester the night before) sent us to buy the fixings for pancakes. We mixed it up and all that was left was to cook them. Simple enough, right? Wrong. It took 4 women and 5 men (3 of which were doctors) all crowding around a tiny stove, yelling directions on how to properly make pancakes, and in 15 minutes we had made 3 – two failed ones and one that looked good, if not oddly deformed.

“The batter is all wrong. It needs more milk!”
“You can’t flip them like that. Its like THIS.”
“That pancake is too big! Let me do it.”
“Just give me the pan. I’ll show you how it’s done.”

The cooking was a blast and everyone enjoyed the pancakes, so all the frustration and arguing was worth it – though having to clean pancake batter up off every surface of the kitchen was a pain.

I spent most of so7oor talking to Abu Ibrahim, who had been to the doctors that day and was feeling better. He has pins in his right leg as a result of a crushed femur, and is slowly losing his mind. He’s a Lebanese man who was injured fighting for the Free Syrian Army, and was healing at the centre under an alias. He told me his war stories of fighting side by side with Arafat (“The hero of the Palestinian people, and my good friend of 24 years!”), fighting in Bosnia, his sweetheart in Germany, and spending a year in Brazil. He told his stories with a smile and laughs, and was fond of saying at the end of every story “fuckin’ people…HAHA!”

He spent 20 minutes trying to marry me to his son. He showed me photos of him and talked about him like he was in the house next door – I found out later that both his sons had died two years earlier.

Despite his mental state, he really is a sweet man with a heart of gold. “You, Hussein, and Sherin are my children. I love you like my daughter.” He also is the only one of the men I’ve heard say they regret fighting. He says it got to a point where he didn’t even know who or what he was fighting for, he just killed. With a disgusted look he’d say “these soury noury…they can’t even hold guns! They fire backwards, left, right, upside down, it’s a mess. They just die. Fuckin’ people. Come, look…I’ll show you pictures of my country!”

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