Jeh – beh – nuh.
7:30 am. My cell phone is ringing but in my dream it sounds like a bad song you’d hear on an elevator. I slowly wake up and clumsily slam my hand around on my nightstand until I find it. I flip it open and through blurry I eyes read Ahmed. I hit the little green button and hear his voice before I even bring the phone to my ear,
“Oh! Bessaly! Jebena fahraht!” My blurry head knows that he’s telling me the Jebena is ready.
In my sleepy haze I try to focus on what I am supposed to say,
“Ok…uh… Shukran…Ahna…Ahna… Jaia?”
I’m trying to say, “Thank you. I’m coming.”
He laughs and says “Ok” as he is hanging up.
I crawl out of bed and put on a skirt and a long sleeve shirt which has become my uniform of sorts in the last few weeks. Even as I am getting dressed the Idea of sipping Jebena is waking me up. I stumble down the stairs and out the side door, into the back where Ahmed, our amazing guard is waiting to serve us a coffee drink unlike any we have had before.
As I walk toward him I see that Brian, Joanna (our housemate) and Hubi (one of our colleagues) are already there sitting patiently on their mats waiting for the Jebena. I sit down, still a little blurry eyed, and wake up watching Ahmed perform his ritual – a skill that he has perfected.
He takes a fist full of unroasted coffee beans that he says are imported from Uganda (his favorite). He drops the beans into a miniature pan that looks like the big dipper with a longer handle. We listen to him shake the beans around in the pan until they are ready. He takes them out and puts them into a wood cylinder. He reaches in his plastic bag and pulls out a chunck of dried ginger and places it in the same cylinder. Then last, but definitely not least, he takes out a hand full of pepper. Yes, like pepper corns. He then takes a stick and proceeds to pound away at the beans, the dried ginger and the corns of pepper. The wood makes a popping sound as he hits the bottom with the stick, “Pop, pop, pop, pop.” We’ve been in Kassala less than two weeks and already I am being conditioned to the sound. Like a good Pavlovian dog, I start drooling. Once the beans, ginger and pepper are ground into powder he gently and skillfully pours the powder into the thin mouth of the pot that makes this whole process what it is: the Jebena jar.
He pours water down the throat of the pot and set is down on the charcoal fire. While we wait for it to percelate, we talk, he teaches us Arabic, but Ahmed’s FAVORITE thing to do is to mock us. He calls Brian “Abu Diggen” which means “Father of the Beard” (I was a bit mistaken in the last blog) and he scratches his face like Brian does and mocks the way Brian struggles to learn Arabic. He makes fun of the way I choke on the pepper in the coffee and have to run off and get water with tears rolling down my eyes. He has his “things” with each one of us and it’s hilarious.
Suddenly in the middle of his imitation the Jebena pot spits coffee from it’s mouth, signalling it’s ready. Ahmed stops mid-imitation and yells, “OH!” He pulls the Jebena pot off of the charcoal and sets it down, waiting for it to cool. While the coffee cools, he takes tiny cups, one for each of us and places them on a wooden block. He places a scoop of sugar in each one. From a plastic bag he pulls a wad of camel hair. Yes, camel hair. He places the hair in the mouth of the pot in order to keep the grounds of coffee, ginger and pepper inside the Jebena pot. Then he takes the Jebena pot, and from the belly, through the camel hair comes a dark liquidy goodness. He fills the tiny cups to the rim just before they overflow.
In the cool morning air, we pick up our cups, burning our fingers on the coffee spilling onto them. And now, here’s the tricky part. I cannot describe the taste. The coffee, peppery, ginger taste is really unlike anything I’ve tasted before. Even with the camel hair filter, the pepper grounds are so strong that it catches in my throat if I’m not careful – a mistake I have made and Ahmed has taken note of. We sip and sip and sip and Ahmed continues his process. The rule in this culture is that you MUST have three cups of Jebena in order not to offend the one giving it to you. But usually we drink between 5 and 10 cups before heading into the office. By the time our last cup rolls around I am awake, refreshed and my taste buds are squirming with flavor.
We walk away from Ahmed thanking him, knowing that he will be calling us again at 4 pm and again at 8 pm for more Jebena, more Arabic and more teasing.