Mouthful

saffron-rice-04I have a group of friends from Bangladesh, and they love to party pretty hard.  I don’t see them much anymore.  I used to attend all of their crazy parties.  And I always wanted to leave earlier than they wanted me to.  At Bengali parties, the food isn’t served until after 10 and with this particular group, they drink and dance most of the night.  That’s just not my style.  I would eat then leave ,which is not cool.  You eat.  Then you stay.  And so I don’t go anymore. They know that they’re not going to get all of me that they want.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

And so when I was invited to a wedding reception party, I came late, but this time I really was late.  I was the last person to arrive.  It was in a friend’s apartment.  If you’ve never seen a southeast Asian wedding reception, you’re missing out.  It’s beautiful.  The bride and groom are dressed like royalty up on a platform covered with flowers, sweets, and rice dishes.

I walked in and my friend jumped up to say hi and introduce me.  There were many people there I did not know.

“Hey everybody, this-a David!  He speak Bangla!  Go ahead,” and he pounded me on the back.

My face burned.  I’d learned a few Bangla phrases to show that I cared about my friends’ culture. Most of them appreciated my feeble attempts, but at one party, a very drunk fellow heard me say to one of the women how delicious the food was in Bangla.  He mimicked me by saying it back with exaggerated slowness.   After that, I didn’t much care to do it again.  But my friend had put me on the spot so I shouted “Assalamu alaikum!”  and everyone gave their usual cheer.

My friend said, “Ok, here’s what you do.  You go up to the them, offer them a blessing, and they’ll give you some food.”

I was glad to hear this because I was really hungry and was looking forward to some good Bengali cooking.  I came up to the platform and tried to think of something to say.  I thought of all of the corny blessings in American films featuring foreign characters. Something like, “Many blessings be upon your head and upon the heads of your children.”  But that just didn’t seem right, and I’m not sure I could have said it without a phony accent.  I don’t remember what I said, though, but whatever it was, I was going for as normal as possible.

I started looking around for which food I might eat, but I couldn’t see any plates.  Then the next thing I knew there was a plastic spoon in my mouth.  The groom, with a wide grin, had shoved a spoonful of cold rice into my mouth.  He began to nod and grin at me.  I nodded and grinned back, but something was happening.  My body was rejecting this rice.  Something about him putting it into my mouth and it being cold made me start to gag.

Rather than swallow the rice, I ran to the bathroom and spit it out.  I don’t think anybody saw, but I was worried about it nonetheless.  Who knows how old this tradition even was?  Who knows what superstition might come with it?  Maybe by spitting out the rice, I was making the bride barren.  Maybe I was bringing down some sort of curse on their heads and the heads of their children.

I realize now that if I hadn’t have been so late, the rice might not have been cold and I might not have spit it out.

I miss my Bengali friends.  It would probably only take a phone call to be invited to another party or reception.  But I also know what that would mean.   I’d have to be out late on a Saturday night.  And while those guys would be sleeping in the next day, I would be getting up at 7:30 to direct music at church.  And I’d rather have a plastic spoon of rice shoved into my mouth than miss that.

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