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Chai Dhuha (Ladies' Morning Tea - Kuwaiti Style)

Chai Adh-Dhuha

Mia Ponzo

August 2002

KTM

 

 

        There is a most neighborly little custom that happens on a daily basis in Kuwait. It is called "chai adh-dhuha" (pronounced cheye as in "eye" aththooha, more or less), which literally means "mid-morning tea". Kuwaitis, especially those of the older generations, being born and raised in such extremely harsh desert conditions, had always been very close and dependant on neighborly relationships, especially in the days gone by, when things weren't so developed. In fact, the relationships with the neighbors were often just as close or closer than actual familial relationships. So "chai adh-dhuha" was at the time of the day when the morning work was done, the bread baked, the animals taken care of, the home tidied, and it was time for the ladies to go, renew themselves and get all the latest news about everything before it was time to cook lunch, . For them it was better than any morning newspaper, although much less accurate, to be sure.

The Kuwaiti women and men strive to have good relationships with their neighbors in almost all cases, and even when they don't like them, they still do their best to treat them with respect and courtesy. In Islam, people are ordered to honor the relationships of the closest neighbors. There is a tradition of the prophet Mohammad that says: ".The neighbor has more right to be taken care of by his neighbor (than anyone else).", and also, "O Muslim women! None of you should look down upon the gift sent by her neighbor even if it were the trotters of the sheep (fleshless part of legs)", (showing that there should be good relations between neighbors), and, finally, a tradition narrated by the prophet's wife Ayesha stating: "I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have two neighbors; which of them should I give a gift to?" The Prophet said, "(Give) to the one whose door is nearer to you." Of course, there are many more traditions about the neighborly relationship, but that gives you an idea. Kuwaitis, being Muslims, have always been acutely aware of the importance that the relationship with one's neighbor holds, and being a friendly people too, Kuwaitis, both men and women, have always held onto the love of their neighbors.

But, the special relationship that the women neighbors had was an even stronger bond. Often the neighbor women would even breast feed each other's children, and that would thus forge even greater ties between them, since, according to Islamic law, a child that has been suckled by another woman (other than its own mother) becomes illegal, and along with it all familial relationships that follow. (In other words that child becomes like a "real" brother or sister of the family, except that they do not inherit from them. The women would share the sorrows and joys of everyday life, and in that way became like the best sisters. If anyone had an emergency the others would stand by her, cooking her meals, taking care of her children, and even contributing money, if that was what it took.

Even now, many women continue to hang on to this special custom by gathering at one of the neighbor's homes daily for the standard "chai adh-dhuha" fare of tea, coffee, nuts and seeds, and little savories or sweet meats. For the older generations this is their continuity with their friends and others of their same generation. Generally, these tea sessions consist of plenty of laughing, joking and gossiping, and as the age of the women increases, I have noticed that the jokes become bawdier and bawdier. This came as quite a shock to me in the beginning, but I soon came to realize that it was all quite innocent, and was their way of making a hard life a little easier to take.

In the Bedouin world the morning gathering remains more persistant, perhaps as there are still plenty of women at home, and since the families tend to remain together in larger homes, or even compounds, they are likely to be closer and spend a lot of their day together. Also, it is a common sight for the neighbor women to come over bearing pots of coffee and tea, along with dates or other sweets. So, for the Bedouin, even with the younger generations, "chai adh-dhuha" remains a present day function. But never so much as it is for the older women in all quarters of Kuwaiti society, both rich and poor.

The younger generations are now living quite different lives from their earlier counterparts, and often the ladies of the house are working. They could be teachers, doctors, or anything in between, with only a very few ladies left at home as the proverbial "housewives". Also, much of the younger generation have moved to more remote areas, and are not familiar with their neighbors, being that they are all working most of the time, and come home tired, so the traditional "mid-morning tea" is running the wayside. But, still, even when a person of the younger generations decides to invite her friends or neighbors over, she will most likely do it as a formal "chai adh-dhuha", going all out, with all her fineries, and good china. She will have an array of delicious foods to choose from, and everyone will wear their most splendid clothing and jewelry. This is still a friendly gesture but not relaxed like the REAL "chai adh-dhuha".

The "chai adh-dhuha" that I know and love reminds me of a typical American household, where neighbors or friends come over in the morning, drink tea or coffee, shoot the breeze, and, if they are very close, the relationship is so relaxed that you wouldn't think twice about your friend going to the kitchen and helping herself to whatever, like in the olden days, the days of quilting bees and sun brewed teas.  Unfortunately, Kuwait is slowly losing many of its gorgeous old customs, and I hope that "chai adh-dhuha" will not be lost along with them.

 

         


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