TRAVEL THERE: MORNING AT THE MENA HOUSE
After the wedding, four of us went to the Mena House, while everyone else went to Sharm el Shiek, a beach town on the Red Sea. Our nephew and his friend had headed to Sharm as I repacked our luggage the night before and Izzat would be picking us up to take us to the airport. I regretted leaving the Mena House. There was so much more of it I wanted to enjoy. I wanted to laze around the gorgeous pool, enjoy my patio and continue to eat marvelous meals. We had one more meal to enjoy at their remarkable buffet.
Breakfast at the Mena House
I won’t bore you with the details of yet another breakfast buffet. I actually got tired of them while I was there. Morning after morning each hotel had a massive spread of food and I had to walk the not-so-fine line between satisfying my hunger and becoming a practicing gourmand. I will share an odd situation I observed, however. On our first morning at the Mena House, Bill remarked on a woman who had piled a plate high with carbs. He assumed she was gathering her own breakfast and in his opinion she needed to modify her diet. On the second morning, she was back and I watched her, because I doubted anyone could actually eat the mound of pastries she had gathered up.
Come to find out, she wasn’t serving herself at all. She gathered up several plates heaping with food on a table and had a bus boy deliver it to her room for her on a large tray. Of course, I’m wondering all kinds of things, like why doesn’t her family just come down and get their own food, but most of all I felt sorry for her. I even speculated that her husband was one of the towel wearing pilgrims I’d seen at the airport and wondered if his pilgrim status kept him from making the trip to the buffet. Whatever the reason, she didn’t have the demeanor of someone who was enjoying their role. She seemed huddled and secretive. Her posture suggested she expected to be berated for her performance. I realize I was imposing my own western ideas on her, but it was not the fact that she was performing this task for her family that bothered me, it was how burdensome the job seemed to be.
I’ve filled a tray at a breakfast buffet for Bill before and taken it back to the room. It wasn’t a mound of pastries, but I certainly didn’t mind doing it. I even enjoyed it, smiling as I thought of ways to make the meal more attractive. When we’re at a buffet together we take turns serving each other. Each of us will fill our own plate and then if we head back for beverage refills or to get a missed condiment, we always check to see if the other needs something. Sometimes when we go back for the refill we’ll spot an item that we think the other must have missed and carry it back for their enjoyment.
My silent observation at the Mena caused me to watch for similar situations in the other places we traveled. I did not see an exact replication of the circumstances with the huddled woman, but I did see echoes of it. In Sharm I would see tables full of men loudly enjoying their breakfasts. On the table were large stacks of pastries like the one prepared by the woman in Giza. Meanwhile the women scurried around preparing individual plates for the men and for the children. Over several mornings I watched one woman and I don’t think she ever got the chance to eat.
I’m all about different strokes for different folks, but one thing really bugged me and it was those huge mounds of pastries. Each plate seemed to have about 20 pastries carefully stacked on it and there were several plates scattered on the tables. When the families would leave the table it seemed as if all 20 pastries were still there. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those mounds of pastries. American hygiene would demand they be thrown away, but I saw so much poverty and want through out the country that I couldn’t help but wish these gorgeous tidbits were in some way passed on to people who needed them. I couldn’t help but think that they might be taken to the kitchen for recycling on the buffet – so I pretty much stayed away from the pastries.
Farewell Mena House
From the buffet we made our way to the lobby and settled our bill. Our luggage was already waiting for us. Before long, Izzat pulled under the portico and our next adventure began – and once again it was at the airport! Come back next week and laugh with me about Egyptian security measures.