What I Love About Khash

So here’s the story of my infatuation with khash.

Khash is the Armenian name for cow-feet soup. You buy a whole lot of cow feet, soak it overnight, get all the hair out –quite the unpleasant endeavor—you soak it again, you try to get all the hair/crap out again, then you pour water over it and let it simmer 8-10 hours! You refrigerate it overnight, collect the half inch of fat from top of it and throw it out, heat it, and eat it with copious amounts of garlic and vodka!

Because of the labour-intensive nature of the meal, it’s made rarely, and never consumed alone. Traditionally it’s made in cold weather and eaten in a large group. It is a big deal to be invited to khash.

The part that infatuates me about it, is the atmosphere that’s created around khash.

When you make khash, you invite your khash-eating, khash-appreciating buddies. You invite them for 10 or 11 am on Saturday or Sunday. For brunch really. You do not invite the friends who go “Euww, Khash!! It’s full of fat! I hate garlic!”

They might be the nicest people. But you do not invite them.

You also don’t invite the friends who exclaim, “You drink WHAT for brunch on Sunday?”

They might be your best friend. But you still don’t invite them.

Because khash is not for the faint of heart.

The reason you invite your khash-buddies for brunch is because by 1 o’clock you’re full to your eyelids with khash, garlic and vodka and you need the rest of the day to burn it off and feel your normal again.

Okay, I don’t mean normal in a good way. I mean normal as in stressed, crossing stuff off your “to do” list, checking your phone and watch every two minutes, usual way.

Because after you and your friends add the dried flat bread to your first bowl of khash, pour in the garlic mix, salt, pepper and maybe lemon to taste, have a few spoonfuls, drink the first, “Good morning” toast, have a few more spoonfuls and drink the second, “Good to see you toast” and so on, until you finish the first bowl, you’re already limber in body and soul.  Last night’s argument with your wife, your boss’s unrealistic expectations, the gout in your right foot, the loads of laundry waiting for you when you get home, are erased clear off your mind.

The second bowl of khash is usually accompanied by toasts to the parents, children, grandchildren, memory of the departed, health, friendship, country and such, with longer speeches. Nods of approval, and exclamations of, “Well said,” or “That’s right,” follow each speech. By this point you feel a kinship to everyone under the roof.

Few of the guests ask for a third bowl. Instead they busy themselves with various dips, cheeses, salads,  vegetarian and meat dishes, and of course, vodka – you’ll never go hungry even if you don’t like khash, but you are invited to and choose to attend a khash party, because you appreciate its spirit and enjoy the gathering in its name.

The toasts become more creative at this point: they might be drunk to subjects like, “Rays of sunshine” and “Sweet things in life”, with elaborate variations, additions, contradictions and humorous comments contributed by those present. Toasts also become more wishful and wistful: “May we all continue…”,  “May the rest of our days…”. Hopes, wishes, aspirations, apprehensions, disappointments, acceptance and forgiveness rise to the surface.

As toasts grow further apart, and drinking becomes more selective, guests break up into various groups and engage in intense conversations over coffee and dessert. The topics can vary from politics to business, sports to spirituality, and past memories to family issues, depending on those present. Souls are poured out, pains shared and hearts bared.

In this passionate atmosphere you might find yourself becoming very close with a stranger. Friendships are formed and business relationships forged over khash.

Alternately you might find yourself changing your good opinion about someone who you thought you liked, because of candid views they expressed or the way they behaved in the fervent environment of khash.

At the end of a khash party you feel like the stink of garlic will never leave you, that you won’t be hungry for a whole week, that you are a member of a small tribe of comrades with a communal ritual experience, that your spirit is soaring, that you’re ready to take on life, and that said life is definitely worth living.

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Loss

For Johnnie

A lone yellow mum from the huge bouquet

you brought me only two weeks ago

still sits on my desk

 

Your car is in your garage,

Your mug on your coffee table

Your jeans on metal hangers at your cottage

Your tools outside in the shed

 

Your cat is at your sisters’

Your texts on my cell phone

Your voice rings in my ears.

 

Ania said you didn’t need to be born this time,

You came only to help her cope with life.

 

It was easy to believe her.

You were loving and generous,

Light-hearted and witty

Discreet and graceful

 

A superior human being.

 

You saw Ania off,

Nursed your sister after her operation,

Took care of her move when she had to downsize

Went on the trips on your bucket list

And having accomplished your mission in this life

Serenely bid it farewell.

 

I hope you find another reason to come back

To grace the life of a few more mortals

Though too late for me

to enjoy your presence one more time

 

Mary

They say people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Mary came into my life to help me, stayed for a few seasons and will remain a friend for a lifetime.

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When I first found her on Kijiji over four years ago, Mary was one of the few Filipino women who responded to my ad. My requirements were specific, and she wanted me to change them. Her English was not the best and she came across pushy. Despite that I decided to meet her, and ended up hiring her.

My mother, in her late eighties moved in with my brother, late-sixties, because her Alzheimer’s made independent living impossible for her. But my brother had started having mini-strokes, which combined with other factors gradually eroded his health, both physical and mental, and he became unable to take care of himself and mom.

Enter Mary, relaxed, loud and bossy. She came in the afternoons, after her day-cleaning job, and take over the household. She prepared and served light dinner, cleaned and tidied up, made sure everyone took their medications, took mom to the bathroom, cleaned her up, put her to bed and left. She kept an inventory and let me know what was needed and when –consolidating my grocery and pharmacy shopping for two households – and reported on any undesirable situations.

A year later, when my brother suffered a cardiac arrest, spent three months in the hospital, and was transferred to a nursing home, mom moved in with me. It was a pleasure to have someone reliable, capable and positive to lean on at this difficult and heartbreaking period in my life. Between my job, and biweekly visits to a nursing home 45-minutes away from my house, I had little time to spend at home with mom. Mary was there in the afternoons and evenings to take care of her, and me, cleaning the house, doing the dishes, suggesting changes to keep mom – with  her worsening physical and mental impairments – safe in our two-storey house. She even encouraged me to get away for a few days to rest, which I was able to do, only because I had Mary’s reassurance: “Don’t worry Nora, I’ll take care of everything.”

And she did.

When I was away, she slept at our house – answered mom’s calls in the middle of the night – served her breakfast, and went to her day-job from our house.

When it became too unsafe for mom to stay at our house, and she moved to a nursing home, Mary went to the nursing home punctually every afternoon, to spend the evenings with mom, help her with eating and generally make sure everyone there did what they were supposed to do. Her texts arrived like clockwork. “Mom finished her dinner.” “She in bed. I’m off now.” I had a job, and two loved ones with deteriorating health in two nursing homes that were over one-hour driving distance apart. Time became more and more scarce. But I knew I had Mary, who I could depend on to be with mom, rain or shine.

Mary and I became like sisters. We talked and shared our problems. She had her share of issues, and listening to hers sometimes made mine look easier. But Mary refused to be a victim. When the going got tough at her son’s house where she was living, she moved out.

No nonsense and decisive.

When mom needed to be taken to the dentist, podiatrist or optometrist, I made the appointments in the afternoon, so Mary could help me. She was an expert in getting mom in and out of the car; and into and out of her wheelchair. We even took mom to visit my brother a couple of times: a long and arduous task, which Mary did stoically.

Mary had a keen eye in noticing problems as they started – a cold coming on, a urinary tract infection, agitation, constipation and a million other things our flesh is heir to – and nipping them in the bud. She would solve the problem herself, or alert the staff and request appropriate action.

She even became an advocate for other residents and their rights, and fed them when their loved ones weren’t there, and the staff was too busy.

When my brother passed away Mary consoled me. When I moved, she helped me.

She had mentioned to me over the years that she wanted to go back to the Philippines to see her daughter and grandchildren, but had never bought a ticket or given me a date.

Until she did.

In January she told me she had bought her ticket for February 18th.

For over 4 years Mary worked two shifts a day, one shift of cleaning houses in the morning and another shift of care giving to my mom in the afternoon and evening, six days a week, through statutory holidays, snow storms, ice pellets, freezing rain, heat waves and smog advisories. During these four years she took a total of maybe 10 days off: four Christmases, a couple of day trips, and a few doctor’s appointments. She always notified me a few days in advance of her upcoming absence. She was dedication incarnate.

I was Mary’s main employer. She was my best friend. And now she’s gone.

I should be grateful she came into my life. But right now I’m sad she left it.