Even in front of the supermarket shelf, memories of Syria come up. I have to be careful not to get lost.
Hmmmm! Apricot jam! Photo: photocase/beornbjorn
Raspberry jam. That’s what I was looking for in the supermarket. A variety I had only discovered in Germany. There were dozens of different jams lined up nicely next to each other on the shelves.
My eyes fell on a shelf full of apricot jam, but I neither looked for it nor wanted to buy it. Still, I couldn’t help but pick up one of those jars and look at it. I had to laugh because in my village in Syria, the apricot jam was printed with pictures of tomatoes instead of apricots.
Inevitably, I thought of the Syrian mothers who passionately cooked jam. Cooking one’s own jam was and is a traditional ritual in my village, repeated every year. I’m sure it’s no different in other parts of the world. But what was special about my village was that the women all cooked their jam at the same time.
The apricot jam was made during the apricot harvest season: During this time, I could see the house roofs being stocked with trays full of jars of jam. The women put the fresh jam in the sun for several days to let the water evaporate.
The smell of jam filled the alleys; the village air mixed with a special sweet note. And when the jam was nicely reduced, the mixture was poured into empty tomato paste jars and stored.
My grandmother placed her jars on a shiny copper tray on the roof of her adobe house and covered them with a chiffon cloth. After the work was done, she looked at me sternly and warned me, of this: if I put my fingers in the jam, it would go bad and could no longer be stored.
Often I would sneak onto the roof, dip all ten fingers into the jam, hide in the bushes behind the house and lick my fingers in peace. One day, the neighbor girl, two years older than me, who had watched me run into hiding with my jam fingers, surprised me.
She stood in my way and threatened to tell my grandmother about what I had done. I begged it to be quiet: I would do anything if only it would keep quiet. It may even lick a finger, but it should please be silent. After a moment’s thought, it said: "These two fingers here – and pointed to two in particular. My fear disappeared and I agreed with relief: okay.
The girl sat down next to me and smiling began to lick my two fingers, while I licked with pleasure the remaining eight. When we were done, we left the hiding place together and I promised him three fingers for the next morning.
Ah, this memory! It surrounds me from all sides of my existence. Maybe I should put the apricot jam back on the shelf and keep looking for the raspberry jam before I get caught up in memories and forget both the place and myself.
Translation Mustafa Al-Slaiman