Saturday, February 20, 2010

buying basil at half past eight

“My name is Enas and I am a spinster,” she says, re-adjusting her black scarf around her head. “Do you have a mirror?” I do, actually. A small multicolored spotty one I was given for Christmas. Should I whip it out in the middle of this dark garden?

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” she says, waving her sickle towards the dimly-lit houses at the edge of the large green patch. “It’s dark, no one can see me anyway.”

“What about you? What is your name?” she asks. “Are you married or are you a spinster?” I consider this. I am 27. In my book that is not old, but then again I am not married. “I am a spinster,” I announce. She likes this. We become friends instantly.

She asks why I want basil. I explain it is to cook with, not for a bride or a dead man’s shroud as is usual in Yemen. She takes this in her stride. She knows this because she has American neighbors who do the same.

With her sickle, she gathers two large bunches of mint and one of wild basil. We step back over the damp earth mounds separating the lettuce, marjoram and radishes to the edge of the garden. Her elder sister, wrapped in the same red an blue cloth with nothing but her eyes and hands showing, is waiting.

She introduces me. The same question again. “I am a spinster, but God willing there is still hope,” I say. She laughs, “Not in Yemen!”


  1. When I come to visit can we wrap me in a red an' blue spinster cloth please?

  2. Congratulations Alice, will study it more carefully when I am back in my office in Brussels. It looks very interesting. News and views, given freely, are very important these days.
    Mounir & Diana