Saturday, December 11, 2004

coffee and moonlight

With nimble movements of narrow fingers, Zaynab prepares a coffee ceremony on the dirt floor outside our dollar-a-night rooms. The warm blackness of night envelops us, and the glow of a full moon caresses our skin with distant tenderness. Moving swiftly, silently through motions her hands have traced a thousand times, Zaynab scatters the pale, raw beans on a metal pan placed atop smoldering coals. She lights incense and sets it before us, its scent mingling with that of the roasting beans and soothing our bodies and minds. Once the beans have darkened to a rich brown, Zaynab grinds them by hand and stone, her fingers moving effortlessly, almost imperceptibly, between this task and others—heating water in a ceramic coffee pot, arranging six small cups on a tray, dispensing sugar from a cone of wrapped newspaper. Her movements suggest no more thought or effort than breathing or smiling or waking by sunrays after a restful slumber.

My fingers are soon warmed by a steaming cup to be followed by two others—three cups should be offered and accepted for good luck. Between swallows from her own cup, Sophie passes around a jar of honey for us to spoon into our mouths and savor as it melts, thick and sweet, upon our tongues. Zaynab, for all the beauty of her coffee roasting, does not take a cup for herself. With cheerful disbelief, Sophie explains that Zaynab prepares the ceremony daily for the family that employs and houses her yet does not like coffee and never drinks it. So she sits, cupless, fanning the aroma of the beans toward us that it might fill our lungs and bless our souls.

A few drops of rain touch upon our skin as we sit together in the moonlight, and I lose myself in the sounds of Sophie and Zaynab’s voices. The spirit, if not the meaning, of their words embraces and soothes and comforts.


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