An Acquired Taste

The first time I met Danah, I never expected we would become friends. She just seemed so standoffish, so blunt, and so uninterested in me. We were at our friend, Ahmed’s beach house, seeking refuge in the Red Sea from the blazing Saudi sun. I remember seeing her from a distance – standing solo on the pier – while we were cruising on the jet boat. She seemed elegant and mysterious from afar. Once we came back to port and climbed out of the boat, the air of mystery I thought to have surrounded her disappeared and was quickly replaced by an air of disinterest.

She was a tanned, green-eyed woman who murmured a painful, half-hearted hello when introduced to me, eyeing me suspiciously the entire time. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking, but I was sure that it couldn’t be favorable, given her lukewarm greeting and cold glances. As soon as she’d murmured hello, she turned away –

clearly uninterested in making small talk of any kind, or in getting to know me further. Being the friendly, inquisitive type that I am, her behavior made me ill at ease. I tried my best to continue enjoying myself, engaging with others in the group and pretending I didn’t feel her watchful eyes following me.

Later in the afternoon, I found myself alone on a bench with her. We were both sitting out the volleyball match our friends had just started. We exchanged a few words, nothing out of the ordinary, and no obvious change in her demeanor, though she did genuinely smile at one of my sarcastic comments. She seemed to relax as the day turned to night, and I didn’t dislike her as much when the time came to say goodbye. We even exchanged numbers, though there is no way I could have predicted then the way our friendship would blossom in the years to come.

I saw Danah at several occasions in the next months. I saw her at gatherings with our mutual friends in Jeddah, and we even spent one-on-one time together in the parks and picturesque streets of London when we were both spending time in the city. I grew to know her, to understand her blunt remarks and glances, and to admire her honesty. Today, she is one of my best friends. She was simply someone who took a while for me to warm up to; she was an acquired taste.

I like to think of Danah and those like her as I do of our local Arabic coffee – gahwa arabia. They often come off as too strong, or bitter, in the beginning, but in time you learn to appreciate them for who and what they are. No sugarcoating, no buffer zone, no milk or cream with this coffee – just pure flavor. It takes a while to get used to such brutal honesty in a world full of mujamalat and friendliness so superficial it borderlines the surreal. “Prozac nation,” my sister calls it.

I love my “Gahwa Arabi’s.” I have a collection of them – one that I’m very proud of. They are quirky, odd, and most importantly, real people. I treasure them as my truest friends, and I can’t imagine my life without them. I like to think that I, myself, am an acquired taste as well. I believe the best things in life are.