The Pistachio season has arrived, fresh pink Pistachios decorate the streets and markets of Syria. Their look however is far more attractive than their taste, ‘fresh’ means raw un-roasted and unsalted. No matter however healthy you want to get (I guess you shouldn’t be even considering these little gems if you are watching your weight) a Pistachio has to be salted and roasted.
Today is not just any-other-day, it is an extra special one because I am in the Christian village of Safita – a sublime spot near the coast. I am waiting to meet up with Michael a character I’d met recently who had kept me entertained with anecdotes of Syrian life through the poems he had written – especially one called ‘I’m fed up’, and then others directed to the Queen and Diana – but today it seems this English-speaking Anglo-file is too busy to meet me. He said he may have to attend to his crop of olive trees; it was time to divide the takings on the oil between his family who own the land, and the workers who pick and crush the Olives to make the oil.
So instead I pass the day eating and sleeping. Hummus Fool for breakfast followed by a walk and a nap before waking for Falafel lunch or did I sleep then too? I can’t remember… However when I woke I decided to treat myself to some roasted Pistachios, it was either that or doing some exercise to work off my hummus belly. But with the temperature around 35c and this being a Christian village where booze is widely available there isn’t much chance of that.
So I approached the young boy selling the nuts. He didn’t speak any English and my Arabic is as good as my Japanese, so we danced around for a bit then I took hold of the smallest weight from the scales and said give me this much, the boy measured out a sizeable bag and I held out some coins and a Syrian 50 pound note (80p). At first the boy grabbed the coins then the note, the lot, then he looked up at me pitifully and handed one of the coins back, I couldn’t work out what the price was or should be and withdrew from deal immediately fearing the boy was ripping me off. He looked dejected pouring the freshly roasted nuts back into the jar.
It was only later when buying the same nuts from his father that I discovered that the true cost of the nuts was more than all the money I had offered the boy, but instead of asking for more money the boy gave me money back – pitying my situation. My superior-westerner-recently-ripped-off-on-the-coast persona had left me sad, sorry, and embarrassed because it is so rare to be ripped off in Syria.
The other day on route to the dentist in Damascus (great cheap dental treatment) my cab driver didn’t have enough change so we stopped at a shop where I got out to buy a can of diet 7up, the shop owner had no change and gave me the drink for free, so the driver and I strolled down the street looking for another shop to change the money, I can’t remember being in a place so safe and so honest and so friendly.