The year: 1992
The city: Damascus
A Quest for Bread
The smell of bread wafts through the crisp morning air just as it has every morning for the past six weeks. It is 6:00 am, and I – on my way back from an early morning tajwid lesson – am starving. Every morning I suck in that fresh bread smell wishing that I could buy some. The only problem being that I have been in Syria for less than a year, and I don’t speak the language, have any idea how to ask for or pay for bread and I am afflicted with a little problem called “too arrogant to admit I don’t know.”
So I continue to want bread every morning for the next month. My ego fights with my desire.
One morning I find a way to balance the two. As I drive past the little tiny window that is my access to the bread (the neighborhood bakery) I see a woman walk up and stand in line. A WOMAN! Arabic is a gender specific language – I figure I can listen to her, repeat whatever she says, get my bread and keep my ego. I swing right, slam on the brakes, fly out of the car and up the walk. I made it! I am standing directly behind her. As I fight to catch my breath I inch centimeter by centimeter closer to the woman, until I am way out of my own comfort zone and plastered against her. I focus my ears and prepare myself to memorize whatever she says when it is her turn. One more person in line; he’s gone. Ok the man in the window is looking at my woman. It is in slow motion and I am listening so carefully. He looks at her. She tilts her head up, opens her mouth, holding a bill in her hand she says ever so clearly, “Godiligook, goodilook, goodilgook, gookilgook”
He replies – also with clarity, “goodiligook?”
“Ay,” she answers and hands over the bill. Now “ay” I know. It means “yes”. But what was the rest of it?
He hands her the change and the bread and now it’s my turn. I want to turn and run – but my ego won’t let me. I don’t know what to say. He’s looking at me expectantly. I don’t know what else to do. I tilt my head, open my mouth and repeat exactly what I had heard “godligook, goodiliillook”
He replies “goodliligook?”
Not having a clue as to what either one of us has said, I reply “Ay”, smile and hand over my own bill expecting change and my long desired bread.
He takes the money, gives me a teeny, tiny bit of change and starts piling loaves of bread on top of each other. One after the other, I can’t count them anymore. Since I don’t know what I said, I don’t know what to say. The bread keeps coming. My smile is fading. They come flying out of the depths of the bakery – each one the size of a large turkey platter. The pile grows taller and taller and the steam curls in questioning spirals, as I start to wonder how in the world I will get it to the car.
Finally he is finished. I heave the pile up on my forearms and peek around the side as I waddle to the car. I drop the burning hot stack of bread on the passenger side. It is tall enough to see out the windshield. I have bread. I breathe in the scent of it. I smile again. I did it! It is 6:00 am, but I am oblivious to the time; I proceed to visit every single person I know in Damascus. A knock on the door. A bewildered look. No explanation from me other than, “I got you some bread.”