Friday gatherings: machboos, laughs and diet tips

In recent years, the working week in Kuwait was shifted so that it starts on a Sunday and ends on a Thursday; this makes Friday the first day of the weekend. Fridays in Islam are akin to Sundays in Christianity and Saturdays in Judaism. The day starts off slowly and centers around the congregational prayer and sermon at midday. When the prayers are over (just after noon), people disperse and go about their weekends. For my family, this means heading over to my late grandfather’s house for a large gathering.

This tradition has not changed since we were little kids. When I was born, there were about a dozen people at these gatherings: my grandfather, my step-grandma, my parents, my mother’s siblings plus three cousins my age. Our family has grown to include at least 30 people at every gathering. And that’s when some don’t show up!

Our gatherings are loud, short but rather structured. We all show up right at lunch time (around 2 PM), exchange news and pleasantries then sit down for the meal. The main dish at every gathering  is almost always machboos diyaay (saffron infused rice with crispy chicken on top) with a few sidekicks ranging from pastas to fried shrimps, kebabs and even Mangolian chicken! This is when the gathering picks up its pace and the noise ricochets in the room. Someone says a loud joke which is following by booming laughs and requests for dishes to be passed along. Those who walk in late are reprimanded and we all make space for them to join us.

The noise drops down a notch as we make our way to another room – this time segregated by age groups. The older cousins sit with the adults for tea and coffee, the teenage girls huddle in a room over friendship bracelets and celebrity gossip whilst the little ones run around trying to maintain the commotion that is associated with these Friday gatherings.

The next hour or so is known for heated political and economic discussions. Here, jarring acquisitions are served about somebody’s weight. Every. Single. Gathering. “Haw! Shfeech tha’faanah?” (Hey! You’ve lost weight, are you ok?” or “Kha-twalee! ‘Aayzt w-ana agoolaha. Kaifha, ma raaḥ telga shay talbesa” (Let her be! I’m sick of telling her. Leave her alone, she won’t find anything to wear.) My all-time favorite is , “Ana basaweelch rijeem!” (I’m going to devise a diet plan for you!) These ill-informed notions of body image and appropriate (or desired) weight are spoon-fed to us, one by one as we make our way through some sugary dessert a birthday cake. Delicious, calorie-loaded irony.

Fridays also include impromptu photo shoots. iPads are confiscated form the little ones and they’re instructed to run around for a bit while the paparazzi snap away. My little cousins, I’ve found, are the most willing models. I would say attention-loving divas but I don’t want that statement to come back to haunt me.

By 4:30 or 5 PM, the gathering draws to an end. The first person to leave dispels the invisible ties that held us together for a few hours. We quickly grab our purses and keys. Some people grab their kids and wipe chocolate smudges off their faces. Everyone has an excuse: movie reservations, homework, dinner plans, work out, whatever. Our duty done, we say goodbye and we part ways until the following week.

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