There is, perhaps, nothing in this world more wonderful than a mother’s unconditional love. No matter how old we get, how far we travel, or who we strive to become, their presence is always felt in our lives.
They are, after all, the reason we are here.
And, indeed, all mothers tend to act the same; it’s like there’s this… universal mother code, a language secretly transferred over borders and continents that unifies their behaviors and advice. But, since this is Mother’s Day in our part of the world, here’s a list of things specific to our mamas and our mamas alone. Check it out.
1. She calls us “Mama”
The paradox of all paradoxes: in Arab countries, mothers call their kids “mama.” Some attribute it to the shortening of phrases like “Ya alb el mama” (the heart of mom) to simply “mama”. Word of advice: If you haven’t used a joke after your mother exclaimed, “Mama, please behave!” to your advantage and asked her, “Why are you asking yourself to behave?” it’s still not too late.
The childhood days of waking up to delicious zaatar and fresh bread from the neighborhood bakery is an all-too familiar memory for most of us – particularly before exams or job interviews. And if you ever dared ask your mother for sausage and eggs, you would get the even more familiar response of, “Mama, zaatar makes you smarter!” Although it is said to be a myth created as a consequence of the abundance of zaatar during the civil war, it remains a commonly held belief among Lebanese that zaatar makes the mind and body more alert.
3. She prepares Yansoon as a cure to almost everything
Sick nights were always marked by our mother staying up late to drench the towel in cold water and drape it over our scorching heads. In addition to that, she always seemed to believe that no matter what we had – be it the flu, chicken pox, or food poisoning – yansoon tea was the cure. We would argue and try to avoid the taste of the licorice-flavored cup of burning tea but we’d be met with, “drink it up before it gets cold!” anyway.
4. She listens to Fairuz or Oum Koulthoum every morning
Early mornings were marked by the sound of an old Arabic mix tape playing in the living room or during our rides to school. If you ever dared complain and asked to switch to a “cooler” English Channel or CD, you would hear her rant, “When I was your age, I didn’t care about this silly American music! Arabic music is the only real music!”
5. She recites verses from the Qur’an/Bible over you while you sleep
Our mother’s made it a habit to pray over us, using almost voodoo-like hand gestures, when we were children. Their prayers would always be finalized with a goodnight kiss on the forehead and a tuck in bed. Today, when we’re miles away (*tear*), she doesn’t hesitate to end phone calls with Allah ma’ik or 3adra tehmeeki.
6. She tells you to beware the Kharze zar2a (Evil Eye)
Lebanese mothers are superstitious – very, very superstitious. They believe everyone is jealous of their children. If their children ever get a bad grade in class, it’s simply because “someone hit you with the evil eye.” Yes, even if you failed every course miserably it was not, God forbid, your lack of intelligence (you were eating your zaatar sandwich every day, after all!) but rather, other people’s jealousy toward you. Other types of superstitions include, but are not limited to: turning your slippers frontward, crossing in front of cats, breaking a mirror, and knocking on wood.
7. “Nshallah” means no
This is the most dreaded answer to a question. Take it as a rule of thumb: Nshallah (if God wills it) simply means “no.” Nee. La2. Nay. Non.
Nothing in the world lights her beautiful face up more than when you take a bit of the wara’ ‘inab, put a big smile on your face, and say, “I’ve never tasted anything better.”
9. She insists she was first in her class
Don’t ask me how, but it seems every one of our mothers were the first in their class when they were going to school. They were all dedicated and intelligent, not to mention, their teachers’ favorites.
10. She tells you never to leave the house with wet hair
Our mothers’ worst fear is having you leave the house with your hair wet and consequently catching a cold. The horror of drying our hair after every shower, to prevent our mother’s almost rhythmic complaints, was a daily struggle. And guess what? Going out with wet hair isn’t correlated with getting sick, but we’ll still continue to do it, because, well, we love you. Worrying is their middle name. If, in two minutes you have not answered her phone call, all of your friends – hell, even your acquaintances – will get a ring from good ol’ mama.