At the end of our first full day in Sweden — after just a couple of hours of putting ourselves out there to make new friends in the Tensta neighborhood of Stockholm — we had received invitations to three different dinners in three different homes, enjoying the hospitality of Muslim neighbors.
Saturday night, the sun set around 9:15 PM, and then we broke the Ramadan fast with a lavish Turkish feast: dates stuffed with almonds… meatball soup… Turkish bread… stuffed grape leaves… eggplant, rice, and beef… cake, cookies, and tea…
We knew the family through our American missionary friend, Sarah. But by the end of the night, we felt like family, ourselves: Hassan, Nebahoth, Yucel, Amani, and our group of American visitors. They were so proud of their faith and their food (including many items harvested from their own gardens)… but they also made us feel like royalty and insisted that we had a home with them, if we ever found ourselves in Stockholm again.
Two nights later, on Monday night, we broke the Ramadan fast with a Syrian dinner prepared by some new friends that we had just happened to meet in the park on Saturday.
Feras, Jasmina, Nadia, Mohammed, and Leah were lovely hosts — and great cooks! They prepared a delicious salad… a rice and lamb dish called maqluba… some extremely flavorful meatballs in red sauce… pickled vegetables… roasted potatoes, mushrooms, and jalapeños… sweet and tart juices… and an amazing collection of pastries, fruits, nuts, and tea for dessert…
Our Syrian feast felt more familial than the Turkish feast (though both were amazing, in their own ways). We played with the kids while we were waiting for the sun to go down. We heard stories of the life Feras left behind in Damascus… the way Feras and Jasmina met each other… and the way they each came to Sweden. Our conversation was also less religious but more spiritual (if that makes any sense). They seemed like remarkably open people. Just as we had experienced two nights previously, we were told — or rather emphatically insisted — that we had a home with them, if we ever found ourselves in Stockholm again. And I do genuinely hope that such an opportunity might one day present itself.
Tonight, we completed the trifecta with a Persian feast, prepared by Marsiyeh and Asiyeh, to celebrate the 20th birthday of their sister Elena. We ate chicken and saffron rice… roasted potatoes, carrots, and parsnips… bread and butter… and chocolate cupcakes… And several other friends joined the celebration, as well. This one was not a religious observance, as much as a party — complete with balloons and birthday candles and dancing.
When we rode the train home from Tensta to our home base in Södermalm, we were exhausted. But we were happy to have made so many new friends. For the rest of our time in Sweden, we will be turning our attention more to the city (as opposed to the suburbs) — but I definitely hope that we get to come back again someday and take up our Middle Eastern friends on some of their offers of hospitality.