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Watering the wrong plants

By Sarah Nabulsi , Family Flavours - Aug 09,2020 - Last updated at Aug 09,2020

Photo courtesy of Family Flavours magazine

They water the wrong plants. The water that emerges from the tips of their watering cans spills and caresses the weeds and not the trees. Now the weeds are thriving and the trees are dying unable to grow and produce fruit for them.

 

May 23, 1992

 

My son and I open a restaurant on the ground floor of our apartment building.

My restaurant’s name is Baytuna (Our Home).

A brief description of my restaurant: It sits at the corner of the road, on the ground floor of our apartment building. Above the building soar intricately entwined wire cables that stretch out with an occasional bird perched on top of them. The wires overlap each other in a chaotic, yet, sophisticated way over the banner with its red lettering that reads Baytuna restaurant in graceful Arabic letters.

On weekends my restaurant is packed; busy tables, women and men giggling and chuckling, children fighting over who should take the last bite, and wisps of smoke hanging above the black and white tiled floors, wooden table tops, coloured scarves, bald heads, and curly, straight, wavy, black, brown, and blonde hair of the people sitting on the chairs below eating their food. On these days the restaurant is loud and the pirouetting aroma of food draws you into the restaurant, forces you to one of the tables, beckons you to sit down and wave your hand to order a menu as the bitter fragrance of coffee, acrid whiffs of burned tobacco, hints of body odour and perfume loiter in the air around you. I love it. It is a community, my community. A community I created. 

 

November 07, 1999

 

A chain restaurant opens right in front of my restaurant. Its logo blinding, as it towers over the restaurant’s rooftop. The logo’s arching yellow downward curves and the red block of colour surrounding the letters that form the chain’s name are also glued to the restaurant’s facade as they taunt me and nudge at my patience and sanity.

 

How I feel about the new restaurant that opened

 

Worried. Although my baba taught me to always be happy for the accomplishments of others, I have to admit thoughts of uneasiness are dancing in my head. The music my thoughts are dancing to has a tempo that is increasing by the second. It is as if the musical sheet has an endless number of accelerandos scribbled onto its page. 

 

My restaurant after the chain restaurant’s opening

 

My restaurant sits at the corner of the road and the cables still run above its banner but on weekdays and weekends, its ambience is no longer what it used to be. No longer is it as crowded as it used to be. No longer is the food’s perfume strong enough to command them to enter my restaurant and be engulfed by its vivid atmosphere that hangs over the tabletops. Now the faint scents of food linger over lifeless chairs and empty tabletops. For no longer is the wafting aroma of food powerful enough to make your mouth water. No longer do I hear squeals, chuckles, laughter and gossip as often as I used to. No longer do I hold the same community within these four walls as I did before that restaurant opened across the street from mine.

 

Questions I wish 

I had answers to

 

Why did people stop coming to my restaurant? What did I do wrong? Why do people choose international chains over local ones? Where is Robin Hood to steal money from the rich and give it to the poor? Where is he to give me money to pay for my electricity bills?

 

A letter I will never send

 

Dear Whoever This May Concern,

Ever since you’ve opened, my customers have flocked to your restaurant. Is it nicotine that you put in your food to make people addicted and coming back through your doors asking for more? You don’t love your customers as I did mine, you never greet your customers at the door when they come in as I used to. You just want to wrap your greasy fingers around their metal coins and paper bills. You want them in and out quickly. People come to your restaurant to fill their bellies with your plastic meat, fatty cheese slices, and greasedripping, oil-oozing, limp fries that they wash down with sugary, fizzy sodas. My food feeds their souls, your food kills them. ~ Abu Samir

 

November 07, 2001

 

It has been two years since the yellow arches were rooted in the piece of land in front of my restaurant. Still, my restaurant perches on the corner of the road, usually empty, and though it still serves food, it has a mission too. It has the mission of fostering a community. My restaurant is beyond its menu.

 

Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

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