A while ago, Tim and I got invited to a birthday party. We were talking in a cafe, about to leave, when we passed a table of young Syrians who had been brought a cake earlier in the evening. At the door to go, we offered our best wishes to the birthday girl, and one of the other girls at the table immediately invited us to join them.
The seven of them were all around eighteen, and all drinking fruit juice. The birthday girl herself, L, was divinely made up, very sweet and giggly, in a black headscarf, and seemed happy to spend the rest of her party at home with her parents. Her friend M, the girl who had invited us, was remarkably confident, in a long red flowery dress, a white hijab, white strappy shoes and a sparkly red handbag. She was very bossy, held eye contact and knew the lyrics of Britney Spears. The two other young women were sisters, with long dark hair unveiled – one left early, and the other just stared at us with a familiar dose of “foreigner-awe”. On my left was the boyfriend of L – very handsome, well groomed, like some of the many poseurs you see in Bab Tooma but with an obvious niceness about him. The man on the other side of her was gaunt, too-brooding-to-live and seeming on the verge of constant physical collapse. Tim discovered later that he was suffering from love. The last of the group was a friendly, geeky-ish guy, and the boyfriend of one of the open-haired girls.
We began a strange game. They wrote instructions on slips of paper, and we took turns to pick a dare or a question. The first question was, “Who on the table has the most beautiful cheeks”? Tim and I were a little nonplussed. I was asked to choose first. I looked at the different girls and boys of the group: L had done up her face with matchless cosmetics, so I chose her. She giggled. Tim was nice enough to nominate me for the top-cheeks award, and M chose me as well. Other questions were, “Who on the table has the most beautiful teeth”, “Who has the most beautiful eyes”, and, more difficult to judge, “Who has the most beautiful hair”? I chose L’s boyfriend for that one. Later we all had to sing a few lines of a song, and Tim gave us a great rendition of something in Chinese – he won everyone’s vote.
I felt awkward, speaking English in a party we had crashed, where not everyone could understand us, not sure how much time they had left before parental curfews kicked in, and also invited solely on the whim of M. They seemed awkward too, but I wasn’t sure if that was just slow-party syndrome. We also got stares from the other Syrians in the cafe, but still, it was a very fun, peculiar experience.