The woman across the table from me has hair the color of steeped red tea. Her thick, curly locks are gathered at the nape of her neck and loosely tied. Her name is Ouahida (pronounced why-dah) and she tells me her prénom* means "unique" in Tunisian. Ouahida and I are drinking Earl Grey at an Irish pub in the French Alps, but soon we will be transported to the wheat fields of Northern Africa where my friend's story begins...
Back in Tunisia, Ouahida's grandfather, being a landowner, was considered rich. On his land he cultivated blé* from which one of his wives made bread. One day, and for reasons unknown to Ouahida, her grandfather traded his scythe for scissors, quitting the wheat fields to work as the town's circumciser. With so many babies being born (Ouahida herself has nine brothers and sisters) there was plenty of work to be found in his new field.
Ouahida remembers her grandfather, who was never trained as a doctor, leaving for an appointment with his black bag, ciseaux* and rubbing alcohol. Often, the villagers were too poor to pay for the procedure, so they gave Ouahida's grandfather a fresh egg or a bit of lamb or a piece of cake from the accompanying celebration as payment and he was always invited to stay and drink the traditional tea, served with mint; inside the tea, roasted pine nuts were added when they could be afforded. Otherwise almonds or peanuts would do.
On days off, Ouahida's grandfather enjoyed a quiet stroll through his village. He was sensitive to noise so when the local kids made a racket all he had to do was hold up his hand and make "coup de ciseaux" or "clip clip" gestures and, like that, the children disappeared, faster than sweet mint tea on a hot summer's day.
*Photo of my friend Ouahida, with her fan Matthieu (aka "Pioupiou", or "little soldier").
References: le prénom (m) = given name; le blé (m) = wheat; les ciseaux (m) = scissors
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