This time I was invited to a traditional Arabic, more specifically a “hijazi” restaurant. Twice a week, the place is reserved for ladies only. And so 8 of us gathered in colorful seats and sofas: from the USA, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Slovenia.
We were treating ourselves with dates over Arabic coffee and tea, the afternoon turned into evening and the tables around us were steadily filled with other groups of girls and women. From noticeably “western” to a mix of locals, the hall was bursting with life along with a small fountain positioned in center of the room.
There were no scarves and veils between us as one would expect outside in the street. In fact, it is very difficult to guess which of the ladies, for example, wears the niqab, because the latter, together with the abayas and scarves, is left at the reception.
As we were served our last course on a platter of traditional delicacies from the Hijaz region, which includes the city of Jeddah as well, a blonde woman in an extravagant dress with an animal print walked in. A vivacious lady who I am sure demands and receives all the attention in any room she enters. She greeted her company of friends and every now and then circled the room, sitting down at one table and then the other.
When our time together was almost over, she approached us.
“Do you speak Arabic or English?” She measured us with a smile and curious eyes. Such a diverse company is not something one sees every day even in this vibrant society. But she focused her gaze on me most of the time.
Something piqued her curiosity. Something about me stood out in her book, and she had to uncover this secret.
“Where are ‘you’ from?” She popped the question with her finger pointed at me, right after we explained that we are from all over and that we speak English, and some also speak Arabic.
“From Slovenia,” I answer and immediately notice a smile widening on her face.
“Oh yeah, how are ya? I’m from Montenegro! ”
In an instant, I switch to my broken Serbo-Croatian and turn on that Balkan spark, I get up to hug her without hesitation.
I admit, after such a long time, I was caught unprepared in the social wilderness. I was this close to crying. Luckily I didn’t!
We exchanged a few more words alone and then took each other’s phone number to stay in touch.
“You have to come visit me! I have a pool you know, and another house in Mecca. You and your husband are both welcome!”
What a day! What an adventure.