There is always a ‘first time’ you share with a loved one that through the years just gets sweeter in the retelling.

When we first married one of our roads was finding common ground in the things we loved to eat. Yemeni food is not world renown gourmet. Its what my husband, until then, had ever known. I happened to have a taste for many types of food. Living in NYC opens up your palette and the availability of the ‘united nations’ food buffet makes it just that much easier. But because of the winds of trade and shared histories colliding in Yemen; we quickly found common ground.

Spicy and hot foods, Basmati rice, potatoes, eggs, and fruits were all common to us both. The day I spotted Papaya at a road-side souk, I found heaven! The milk shakes I grew up with I repeated as soon as I got home. My husband would fork over precious riyal to get a chunk of ice, since at that time there wasn’t a fridge in our compound. There was a cold room- don’t ask me how it works, but it feels like a meat locker!

The women of the house would learn that not only was papaya good for your colon; it was your ticket to beautiful skin. I showed them how to mix a very ripe papaya with honey to make face masks! The tribe has kept bee hives for decades, so honey was plentiful. To this day everyone back home still uses these masks to clear and lighten their skin, and for burns and scraps the kids seem to produce out of thin air, it soothes quickly.

I would discover the thirst quenching prickly pear fruit of the Cactus, that my father in law carried one day in his ‘futa’ (the Yemeni male skirt) from the valley below. The family, once seeing my absolute delight at the taste, would daily pick them just after lunch, peel them, and put them in the cold room for my late afternoon treat. Yummy!

The one thing we had found in common was a taste for soft drinks. But the discovery would be made the first week we arrived in NY. We had gone food shopping at Pathmark. This supermarket, about 4 miles from our apartment, sold stuff my husband didn’t yet have vocabulary for. It was like watching a kid in a Toy Store. He would walk every single isle. Looking, touching, smelling, tasting! ‘What’s this?’ Ever present question. Sometimes I had the Arabic word, sometimes I was stumped. Plantains being one of them! Yellow, green, big fat ones, small stumpy ones. He would, later, get to taste them all comparing them to their banana cousins. Fried green tostones and mashed yellow ones with sauté onions are his favorite.

When we were at the supermarket’s soda section I grabbed a six pack of Pepsi. You know the one’s with the plastic chokers around the top of the can.

‘Ah, pespesi!’ My husband said smiling at something he recognized from our mountain of purchases cresting almost to his chest. Hubby is 6’2″.


‘Pespesi!’ He repeated pointing to the cans.

‘Oh, yes rohi, Pepsi.’ Another thing I quickly learned was never to correct him, just repeat the word he was misprouncing in its correct form. He eventually got it- usually by the fourth or fifth time.

This one would be different.

‘Yes Hayati, pespesi.’ He was pleased, already savoring the idea of a cold one.

‘So rohi, when we get home how would you like the Pepsi- with ice cubes or should I put a few in the freezer until they’re ice cold?’ I asked walking towards the next isle where the dairy products started.

‘Hmm, well I’ll have the first pespesi with ice. The other pespesi we can put in the thalayah’ – the word refrigerator not negotiable at the time, ‘so they’ll be cold tonight for dinner.’ He stated, pushing the cart behind me.

‘Oh ok. So pespesi with ice it is.’ I conceded.

‘I thought you said it was a Pepsi?’

I chuckled, ‘Ya Rabbi!’


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