Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Refrigerator Family

As the sweet little foreigner that I am, I get to jump through all kinds of hoops, many with live flames, to just be here and then stay here. I’ve recently discovered that my very best friend, we’ll call her Amina, has several family members who hold high positions in the secret police. [This. Is. Awesome! ]

My passport’s always due for an inspection, so sweet Amina called up her relative, a real top dog, and we showed up at his station. The little rent-a-cop, armed guards tried to stop us as we walked in like we owned the place, but she just said her last name and he said something to the effect of, “Ok. Have a nice day, ma’am.” And as I was sitting in her relative’s office, we’ll call him Mohammad, we were the only women I could see in the whole building.

{{Something that’s really important in relationships here is that you always do whatever you can to use whatever connections or position or power you have, called wahsta, to help your family and friends. It’s almost like every interaction is some kind of exchange of favors. It’s interesting, and good to know, being an American—everyone thinks that I have boatloads of money I’m not telling them about and can easily bring them to America. [Be careful, ya Sarah.]}}

So we’re sitting there: me, Amina, Mohammad and the judge, teacups in hand, the fan circulating the hot air, and I learn about what is now one of my favorite Arab sayings. My friend and her relative were talking about other family members, but then suddenly switch to some tribal language that’s different than Arabic and the judge starts talking to me [in mostly English, praise God] about how he’s about to release a bunch of prisoners, so I need to be extra careful and always lock my door because I’m “shagra.” [Cool. Thanks for that. Don’t tell my dad.]

Amina turns to me and asks how I’m doing and if I’m understanding anything they’re saying. I tell her “No way! It sounds like Greek—it’s not even Arabic, is it?” They laugh at me and bless my little heart in Arabic [sometimes I wish I couldn’t understand that… ]. We’d been visiting for a while, with my passport in the hands of some young man with greased up hair somewhere in the same building, I hope. They switch to Arabic and I lean over to ask her why they are talking about refrigerators. [Apparently, I know this word in Arabic.]

She translates to Mohammad and they burst into laughter, calling me clever and sweet. She then proceeds to explain that they are talking about some family problems and how, sometimes, it’s better to just not get involved even when they try to involve you. [I nodded my head like I knew what she was talking about.] Mohammad had said that Amina and her husband were “refrigerator family.” And that’s where she stopped, all pleased with herself, expecting me to rejoice with her.

[You should know that this is how I routinely get yelled at:]

“I don’t get it,” I tell her with an apologetic grimace.

Like YOU are my
refrigerator family.
This is niiiiiiiiice, ya Saaarrrrraaaahhhhh

Yeah, still not pickin’ up what she’s laying down. All I have are images of “Refrigerator Perry” of the 1980’s Chicago Bears, magnets and children’s art work flashing in my mind. Or maybe Amina and her husband as refrigerators with arms, and their kids as little baby refrigerators. A refrigerator family?

Mohammad said that Amina and her husband were the kind of people where you could walk into their house, say hi, and go straight to the fridge and open the door. [This I understand: I have three HUGE brothers and a dad. Boys, like, live to stand at the refrigerator with the door open, just looking inside.] “It means that you’re close,” she said as she put her extended index fingers side-by-side. “You can’t just walk into anyone’s house and open the refrigerator! Haram!! [Forbidden.]” Once I understood, I was warmly received into their conversation and I praised their close relationship, as the judge chuckled at me. Mohammad smiled at me for the first time as Amina told him that I was her refrigerator family, too. This is a high compliment.

What I keep in my heart is Amina calling me refrigerator family—as if I have always known her and been close to her heart. These are the moments that really matter, the ones that surprise you by showing you how lovely life and friendships really are.

[I’d love to show you a picture of Amina and me,
and maybe her refrigerator, but I can’t.
Instead, here’s a picture of her girls and me
making pancakes in their kitchen.
The refrigerator’s behind you.]


  1. Nice! Makes you wonder how many other sweet things people are saying that you never caught. I think you could be my refrigerator friend IRL if we lived in the same vicinity. That's a great term.

  2. I love your story. What a great story teller you are. And I agree with Jamie Jo, "refrigerator friend" is a great term.

    But what I want to know is this: Did the "washta" work? Did your residence permit get taken care of. We call that torpil here. ;) Things work exactly the same. You don't refuse a favor to a friend if you can help it, and everything works through connections...

  3. awesome term! Refrigerator family. Now that I think about it, there are definitely people in that category, and others who aren't. Very cool. Pun intended. Congrats on becoming 'refrigerator family'!!

  4. JJ: Seriously. Do you know how much content I miss out on daily? It makes me nauseous. Gotta. Learn. Arabic. I'd be most delighted to be your refrigerator friend!! IRL. I get talk JJ. Do you think you could start speaking Arabic and then trick me into learning it... effortlessly? Let me know.

    OT: Thanks for reading, sweet lady. Wahsta ruled. Got my visa extension. Torpil in Turkey--good to know. ;)

    Kimom: You're so punny. Thanks on the congrats--it's quite an honor. :)



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