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TNH Travels: “Hummus”

I am sitting on the floor of a Middle Eastern restaurant with my dad. The restaurant is authentic, just like he is. The food arrives in waves as my father describes the manufacturing process of each and every item. The more he talks, the less I want to eat it.

However, he spent his whole life watching his mom slave away while making this food, and he wants us to get it; so I make a plunge into a plate full of hummus and grape leaves. He asks me in between each bite if I like what I’m eating. I nod – swallowing a grimace at the bitter, soggy texture of the food, which, in my mind, is foreign.

“Dad, I’m pretty sure I can’t breathe,” I tell him with my mouth full of food I just can’t seem to swallow.

He shushes me, and continues to delve into the history of his culture and their food preparation. I lose consciousness.

I am taken to the hospital and diagnosed with an allergy to sesame, the key ingredient in most Lebanese food flavored with Tahini.

My father, being traditional, spends the next 10 years telling me that allergies aren’t real, insisting that if I simply eat a few sesame seeds each day, eventually I won’t be allergic anymore. My 13-year-old self resents him for his pompous disbelief.

From then on, he grumbles and pouts when my mother comes home from the store with plain buns a rather than everything bagels. I roll my eyes and text under the table.

Almost 10 years later, I am backpacking through Europe. I am on the Buiksloterweg ferry traveling from the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station to complete my commute toward my reasonably priced hostel. The hostel is cheap, but it’s anything but convenient.

I had purchased a box of take-away Chinese food which seemed much more satisfying to eat in the comfort of my rental bed than on a park bench. I carry the box for 45 minutes, dodging cyclists and waiting for public transportation to deliver me to my temporary sanctuary. I open the thin, bendy box to reveal a thick layer of sesame seeds coating the surface of noodles. I eat the whole thing and fall asleep drunk. I wake up not dead.

I call my dad and apologize. I tell him he was right about allergies and that I should have been eating sesame this whole time. He scoffs at me with a well deserved, “I told you so.”

Nine months later, I am sitting in a booth of a Moroccan Restaurant in South Kensington, London with 13 other study abroad students. We bask in cheap mojitos and bad jokes. The restaurant is traditional, so they deliver large plates for the table to share. The waiter places a feast of hummus and falafel in the center of the table, directly in front of my vision. I eat more than my fair share.

“Hummus is SO good,” I squeak in between bites. “I never really had it before.”

Tipsy and full, I feel a great sense of pride toward the notion that I am enjoying the food of my culture, of which I have been neglecting for the last 10 years.

Suddenly, I am running down the street, in no particular direction, looking for Benadryl. When my first hive appeared on my forearm, I tried to ignore it. No one else could tell. But as my throat began to close, I decided it was time to take action.

Upon finding a convenience store, I take six pills before even purchasing the product in order to stop the iron clench in my throat. I feel like a “404 error” on a computer running Windows 95 as the antihistamine overdose begins to fog up my brain in the best way possible.

I am skipping back towards my school-sponsored event, with a stupid smile on my face. When I return to my cross legged seat, I am perplexed when my peers ask if I just threw up. It turns out I had.

I am walking arm in arm with a friend who is carrying most of the weight. She keeps telling me it will be fine.  I insist that I know that already.

“I know,” she says. “But I told you so!”

 She doesn’t get it.

As we near the entrance of the Tube, she asks me if I need to throw up before we ride the shaky caravan for 45 minutes toward our hostel.

“No,” I insist as I reach over my companion to grab a newspaper with Donald Trump featured on the cover.

“Trump Inaugurated as 45th president of United States,” the headline says.

 I roll it into a cone and puke into it. I can feel my back being rubbed amidst the sound of someone clapping. I smile a goofy smile, thinking I’ve earned it.

I call my dad, and I say I told you so.

stef khairallah/contributing
A peek inside a Moroccan restaurant in London.
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