Stories from Afar & Up Close

We would never have just one

I was learning names of fruits and vegetables and I wanted to know the word for 'apricot'. 'Mishmosh', Jamil (who is trying to teach me Arabic) said. Knowing just the slightest bit of Arabic grammar, it sounded like a plural to me, and so I asked again. 'One apricot', I said. He looked at me, puzzled. 'Why would you want to know the word for one apricot? These things are tiny! You would never have just one!' I begged to differ; I am pretty sure I regularly eat just one apricot. To Jamil, this was total insanity: you don't eat one rice, or one lentil, do you? It took me a few minutes to get him to tell me the singular: mishimsheh. When I walked home I stopped at the vegetable-seller to get a zucchini. I picked a nice one, took my wallet out of my purse and looked at the shopkeeper for the price. The man waved with his hand. 'Khalas', he said, 'it's ok.' I motioned that really, I wanted to pay - after all, he has a shop and I am buying my food for dinner. He once again told me no, shook his head and said: 'It's a zucchini. Just one.'