A friend of mine had never been to a Lebanese restaurant.
What better way, I thought, to introduce him to my home country’s cuisine than a banquet? So I ordered a banquet for each of us, but I wasn’t feeling like meat so asked for a vegetarian option instead.
The Lebanese store owners looked at me like I was crazy.
We go through the mezze; nibbling at the delicious baba ghanouj and hummus dips, munching on the falefel and kebbeh; my friend happily eating his shish kebabs while I dreamed of the moment when I’d meet my lovely loubyeh plate…
they bring out my dish..
and IT WAS OKRA.
O K R A
And just like that, all those years of repressed childhood trauma over being force-fed loubyeh’s uglier, hairier, grotesque(r) ogre-ish cousin –
this element of mass disgust,
this slithering snakepot of slimy flatulence
came back to haunt my plate like a bad case of PTSD,
in a military coup worthy of the Carthaginian General Hannibal himself.
Like a WWI returned soldier reacting to news of the outbreak of WWII, my face must have contorted in so much putrid disgust at
WHAT MY EYEBALLS WERE BEING FORCED TO WITNESS
that my friend stopped eating,
putting down his fork and knife gently,
onto his plate, and asked: ‘Are you ok?’
DO YOU NOT SEE IT?
DO YOU NOT SEE THAT OKRA LOOKS LIKE OCTOPUS SHIT? LIKE SLICED OCTOPUS TENTACLES SHITTING ALL OVER MY PLATE?
Incredulously, my friend could not.
And at that point, my Arab-ness got the better of me, and I thought to myself how sinful it was to waste food, food that other (other?) kids would rather starve and die than eat, but still food nonetheless.
And so I brought one to my mouth, and chewed on its slime, trying to gulp it down as quickly as I could but NO, like Abbott, it clutched at my cilia, refusing to go down without a fight. And I looked down and I saw that there were 1000000000000s of these little suckers left for me to eat.
Unbeknownst to me, my epic struggle with my mutated plate was being witnessed by the store owner, who came over and asked: ‘Please be honest with me, are you enjoying your food?’
To which, deflated, I answered with a whimpered, bambi-eyed: ‘No’.
This kind, upright citizen, model for generations of men to come, a shining prince with 1000 haloed rings above his face and pistachio-flavoured gelati bearing unicorns flapping circles around his magnificent aura, sacrificed himself for my happiness, declaring that he would rather eat the okra himself, than witness my suffering any longer.
It that shall no longer be named was taken away,
I was finally united with my real love, loubyeh,
and the world did not care.