Tonight; special. I met Erin and Kristin at Alfanoose - Mediteranean food and hookah bar on 2nd street in Santa Fe. Now two good and separate friends have finally met. Alfanoose owner, Sami, is out of this world. He came to the U.S. 15 years ago from Palestine. Politics fascinate him and he can talk to you for hours about philosophy. His cafe menu states restaurant closure at 10pm, but that is a rare occurrence. Sami will keep the place running until 3:30am if customers stay that long. My swedish couchsurfing friend Otto, who has since returned to his country I'm sad to say, introduced me to this hole in the wall slice of international eclecticism, in early August. Now I love introducing new people.
Tonight is Erin's first time. I explain, sometimes the place is filled with people, and other times it is taken up by only the friends you bring and Sami.
When we first arrive at 7:30pm, no one is home, although the door is wide open. We grab menus and sit outside so my other friend Kristin will spot us when she comes. A few seconds later, Sami pulls up. "Hello, we just got here," I say. " I know, I just left" How great is that? To leave your restaurant wide open to run a quick errand?
Later, we are seated inside on patio furniture. Parakeets in cages in the front room. There are only 4 of us in the cafe at this early hour and it feels like a friendly hearth. Middle eastern music on the stereo, warm red walls, and Sami singing along as he takes our order. Sami says, as he has before, that life is for enjoying. His mission with this cafe is to help others have fun.
Erin craves some shwarma. No words, how good. And Kristin gets the special: an okra broth with tender lamb served with basmati rice with herbs. Sami arrives later with aromatic black tea. "See how skinny I am? This is because I go back and forth like this." Then he comes back with falafel samples fresh from the oven because he wants us to try. And baklavah. And then turkish coffee. He and his Egyptian friend, Alladin sit down to join us after we finish the food. "Mahaba" he teaches us hello. "Shukran" he teaches us thank you. "Habibi" he teaches us my love. and "Masaba" he teaches us good bye.
The only other time I'd met Aladdin was the first time I came, with Otto. Aladdin introduced himself to the table with a giant, sweet watermelon! I'm telling you, this place is special. This time, Aladdin brings another plate of baklavah and hookah. Then Sami gets up and pulls over the keyboard/synthesizer that greets you when you walk in the door. "Play" he tells Aladdin.
After an impressive round of middle eastern tunes, Aladdin tells stories. One day, in the beginning of his life in America, a man at a restaurant asked him if his name was Mohammed because there are so many mohammeds in Egypt. The next day, Aladdin was leafing through the phone book and saw an enormous number of Williams. The next time he saw the same man at the restaurant and the man jokingly asked him if his name was Mohammed, Aladdin replied "no, William, my name is not Mohammed."
Another time, Aladdin met a woman who told him she needed a date for that night. Aladdin said, sure, he would find her a date. He came back with a variety box of 20 dates. The woman tried to explain this is not what she had asked for. The woman said, "If we took this box of dates and ate them together at the concert tonight, that would be a date." Aladdin was confused. So the woman took out a dictionary and showed him the work rendevous. Because Aladdin also understands French, he finally put two and two together. And then they went to the concert ~
At one point, when Aladdin is in the restroom and Sami is helping another customer, Erin and I are overtaken with fits of giggles. I can not look at her with out cracking up. It started when I said, "How do you say thank you again? Shrew von?" I made up a word that resembled Shukran. Really this is life. I am so grateful Alfanoose exists and I can remember these times when I am taking myself too seriously.
The stories continue. Tea is drunk, food is finished and cleared. We talk about religion, the conflicts in the middle east. Sami says, "Religion is not for me. I talk politics. I was brought up Muslim, but I can't do it. I can't fast because I smoke. Many people go to church, go to mosque, go to synagogs and when they are not there, they treat people poorly. What is that? We only have one life!" "So you do not believe in past lives?" I inquire, thinking of the recent meeting with a psychic who told me about my many past lives. "I am open to the idea, but really I do not need to know. It could be, but we are hear right now. We are here to do good, to be happy, to give," Sami responds. "To be creative," I add. "Exactly."
Then Sami asks me, "What do you think about past lives?"
"I believe in them. I mean, I don't think we ever die. We are energy and we change forms. If our physical body ends, maybe we are soul energy until we feel like experiencing physical being again. I am open to anything though."
"It makes sense," Sami says.
Aladdin tells us, that, contrary to popular opinion, there are actually many places in the middle east, such as Televive, where Palestinians and Jews get along fine.
Sami says I should read the book, Lemon Tree. Erin and I tell them about the book "Three Cups of Tea" and that the author, Greg Mortenson, will be speaking in Santa Fe in December.
When we are ready to pay, Kristin and I give cash to Erin and Erin tries to hand Sami her credit card. We were never given a bill, but it is 10:30 now and we need to leave. Sami simply dismisses the credit card and takes only the $20 bill from Erin's other hand and leaves for the register. This often happens here. Money is not a priority for Sami. We leave the remaining cash on the table.
"How much longer are you here?" Sami asks me as we are putting on our coats to go. "The end of September," "We will miss you.""But I'm coming back next year." "She's coming back next year" my friend Kristin affirms. We stand up to leave and exchange hugs. "Mahaba. Shukran." I say. Thank you. Good bye. Aladdin goes and sits on the hood of the car, pretending to keep us from driving away.