M y sister-in-law H is really good about including me in her plans. Spunky H is married to one of Adnan's brothers. She drags me along to most of her activities, like weddings, her family's get togethers, shopping, and other outings. And I must admit I am always eager to go with her because I always have such a good time. I have met most of the women in her extended family, and I find them to be warm, gracious, and oftentimes hilarious. H is very generous with me, constantly bestowing gifts on me and my son Adam.
H comes from an extremely large, wealthy, and well known family here in Jeddah. Her prolific grandfather, the patriarch of the family, had a total of nineteen wives! Not all at once, of course, but as Islam allows, four wives at any one given time. I don't remember the exact count of the number of children he had, but, as you can imagine, it was in the hundreds.
I was astonished one day when H showed me an actual leather bound published book that featured all the male members of the family. Page after page of the various branches of the family as was determined by each of the wives. Page after page of the male offspring of this man, and the offspring of the offspring, each with a photo and a little bio. It was written in Arabic and H explained little tidbits to me as we paged through the book. She knew some of the branches of the family, but not all. Suffice it to say, her actual family count numbers in the thousands.
Recently I accompanied H to a casual family women-only gathering at one of her aunt's homes. It was a beautiful walled villa that housed her aunt on the first floor, and two of her daughters and their families on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Just inside the large foyer, off to one side, there was an elevator. There is always a large mirror and a powder room at the entryway. A table under the mirror is equipped with mints, perfume, a brush, toothpicks, and other useful things of this nature.
During the hour or so before dinner was served, the hostesses kept coming around with small elegant cups of gahwa (the traditional "coffee"), a variety of juices, and an assortment of baklava, chocolates, and cookies. There was quite a feast in store for the guests, including a yummy seafood dish in a garlic sauce, chicken, stuffed grape leaves, kebabs, sambuseks (stuffed meat pastries), tabouleh, an amazing rice dish, hummus, and a pasta dish in bechamel sauce, and for dessert, rice pudding, flan, and cake.
While we sat there enjoying the evening, I thought I would try to pay H a discreet compliment by telling her that I thought she looked a lot like her beautiful aunt with black hair who was wearing the pretty turquoise blue dress and sat across the room from us. I almost fell off my chair when to my surprise, I heard H say to me under her breath, "I hate her - pick another one!"
One thing I like about hanging out with H is that I never know what to expect from her...