Sugared Rice & Bitter Tea [Archives:2001/08/Focus]

February 19 2001

by Mohamed Kadri 
While I was in Scotland, people in a coffee shop began to stare at me as If was an alien from another planet when I asked for some sugar to put in my tea. After having a few sniffs, I asked what there was for dinner, so the gentle old waitress told me that there would be rice for dinner. I felt like jumping for joy I was dying of hunger and had longed for a good old rice meal, a meal that I hadn’t been lucky enough to eat during the months which had passed since my arrival in Edinburgh. However, and to my bad luck, the rice that I thought would be a fine dinner, turned out to be sugared rice served as a dessert. Once again, people stared at me in amazement as I openly expressed my surprise and disappointment. 
Recalling my days in Beirut, I used to have an English teacher who had previously taught in Aden. Weekends to him were the time to enjoy cups of tea prepared in the Adeni style; adding fine black tea, sugar and herbs to the water and leaving it to boil for a long time followed by the addition of some milk. To him, this was more like “cooked tea,” than the prepared tea usually drank elsewhere! 
But this “cooked tea” had been described by another Arab col league working in Yemen as “soup” and far from the regular tea that he was used to. 
To my wonder, I had met a friend in Egypt who always praised a good cup of tea when it was , as he always used to say, “black like a summer night’s sky.”And while I used to hear an English saying; “take a cup of tea whenever you are thirsty”, I knew an old European man in Aden who considered having tea as irregular and anomalous behavior. Instead, he used to collect rejected qat branches and boil them to satisfy his taste. 
In conclusion, it seems that the saying, “on what they love, people are of different sects” is indeed, quite true!