By Marwa Belghazi
It makes the whole family gather around it and sit next to each other.
On a Friday, day of worship, people go to their prayers at the mosque and come back to eat together. Those who don’t go to pray to wait in excitement, doing their best to not ruin the perfect mountain of wheat grains and vegetables. The meat sits at the top, like a crown, there is a modest amount that will have to be shared in a fairway. The impartial judge of such mathematical division is most likely to be the mother, the cook, the person trusted to care about all equally. Sometimes we contest her decision. Why did he get this part of the animal? I have received the part with the bone and therefore request a mandatory reconsideration. The appeal is granted, the meat allocation is increased. Everyone needs to trust in the process for the meal to be peaceful.
The rules are simple: you play in front of your doorsteps ( لعب قدام باب داركم), meaning you eat in the area in front of you. Don’t get too greedy and do not have ambitions of couscous lands beyond that. Imperialist quests are met by a reprimand and the whole circle ensures you go back to your turf. Sometimes that is done with cutlery fighting back to return the peace you have stolen. Everyone can lose something if someone gets in their head the idea that the whole couscous is theirs.
And so the sign is given to start eating. The clay dish is filled to the edges and the strategy has to be progressing from the edges to the centre to not spill the food on the table. The most delicious pieces of carrots, pumpkin, potatoes, courgettes are arranged on the flank of the mountain. Trust that no side will be left unexplored, each of us has their favourite bits and goes for them instantly. My sister loves potatoes. I call her la Grosse patate.
She and I also love eating couscous when it’s cold. After everyone has finished picking their favourite ingredients, after the fight is over and the leftovers and gently packed in a metallic plate covered by another metallic plate and left on the kitchen counter. We wait for the afternoon to lure everyone into having a nap. Then we uncover the treasure and eat it in peace. The competition has turned into cooperation, beautiful memories of mischievousness and a first understanding of how to function in a group setting.
Being away from my homeland now, I contemplate the plates put in front of each person as they receive their individual couscous orders in a restaurant. Couscous is made of multiple tiny grains and other ingredients that come together as a mountain, it is a weekly exercise in collective decision-making and participation. It tastes best when it brings people together. Try it and let me know.