Story by Nour Ghalyoun, Summer 2018
You could say it started on that Ramadan morning, when the half-light of the unrisen sun filled the dark corners of the house, and my mother handed me a sliced cucumber. This was one thing she knew would help us stay hydrated and fill our bellies, even if we did not think it was enough. I asked my mother to make me some food during suhoor, and she reached into the fridge and pulled out a cucumber. After she washed and cut it, the cucumber finally ended up in my grubby little hands. I didn’t actually want a cucumber. I craved a Toaster Strudel, Pop-Tart, or an omelette - something that would hold me over until we broke our fast. But a cucumber? I felt betrayed. How could she just give me a raw cucumber? I wanted to cry. I never knew my mother cared so little for my needs. My mother’s eyes sliced to mine, and I knew what she was going to say without needing to hear it. There are Syrian children that would kill to have this food. You better not think about not eating it. I didn’t want to be scolded so early in the morning, so I ate the cucumber.
You could also say that it all started when my mother would place a smaller plate of sliced raw vegetables as a side to all our rice and meat dishes. This small plate was heaping with bell peppers, radishes, and of course, cucumber. It would be passed around to everyone on the table. Simple foods are sometimes the best for us - when did food need to be so complicated when nature itself gives us everything that we need? Maybe that is what my ancestors and my long-forgotten family members thought as they washed and cut peppers, green onions, radishes, and any other vegetable to eat alongside our meals. Perhaps they knew the health benefits that came with eating these simple and raw foods.
Sharing these foods is also a big part of my family’s tradition around food. My mother never gave me simple foods like the cucumbers just for me - the small plate was meant to be passed around and shared with others. Even when my mother would slice up a cucumber, she would cut two vertical lines, making four long strips, so that my five other siblings had a chance to break off a piece for themselves. These simple foods, in my family’s eyes, were something to be shared, something that should not be kept to one person. My mother’s love for simple foods gave me my love for cucumbers.