Fwalah is the first authentic interaction with an Omani family.
When visitors arrive at our grandparents’ house, they knock on the door by slamming the brass door latch of the main gate on to the metal door, producing a metallic squeal followed by a clunk that is not necessarily pleasing to the ear. It does; however, result in the pat pat of little feet rushing to the door to greet the visitors. The little ones open the door, extend their hands, and greet with “Asalamu Alyakum” the way they are taught that is proper.
“Walaykum AlSalam, is Aunt home?” The visitor asks.
“Aywa,” confirming with a shy smile and opening their arms signaling to the guest that they should enter the house. As soon as the visitor takes their first step in, the little ones rush back into the house to tell grandma that there is a guest coming inside.
“Hood hood” the visitor yells, making their presence known. If the visitor is of the opposite sex of those residing in the house, ‘hood hood’ allows the men to rush out from the back door and the women to move to the area of the house where strangers and non-Muhrims will not enter. A Muhrim is a family member who is a direct blood relative.
Same gender greetings consists of a handshake followed by a side kiss on the cheek three or four times depending on which region of Oman you are from. The lips do not touch the skin. If the greeting is from a stranger, the visitor extends the right hand to shake and places the left hand just below the elbow, shaking hands with both arms signaling respect, which is important if you are greeting an elderly.
In some ways Fwalah resembles an English tea party. It consists of a tray with several plates of fruits, pastries, cookies, a bowl of dates, a water bowl for washing hands, and delat al–qahwa, an Arabic style coffee flask.
Female guests sit on the floor striking a relaxed Sukhana yoga pose; men, on the other hand, tuck one leg under the buttocks while the other is bent and held close to the body. A position that gives you the sense of urgency, as if they are ready to jump up at any moment.
There are requirements you have to follow when sitting at a Fwalah that are understood, but never really taught. My grandmother starts by slicing apples in non-uniform sizes and moving the plate near the guest. “Tafadhali,” she says requesting the guest to take a few slices. In that moment, even if you are eyeing those delicious Pakistani mangoes, apples are all you should eat. Once everyone takes a slice, she cuts the next fruit then the next. Cake and cookies are served, then my grandmother takes the delat al-qahwa, and pours coffee in a finjan, a small porcelain handle-less coffee cup that holds less than 60 ml of coffee. She uses her left hand to hold the dela while the finjan sits in her right hand. This is so she offers the finjan to the guest with her right hand. Omani coffee is usually strong and bitter. It is complemented by Tamur or as Omanis call it Rutab, fresh dates that are half crisp and half soft, in the summer and dates in the winter and spring.
“Qahwa?” my grandmother asks as she offers the coffee.
“Shukran,” the guest exclaims and holds the finjan using the thumb, index finger, and middle finger.
After a few sips, the guest hands the finjan back to my grandmother signaling for more coffee, or shakes the empty finjan signaling for no more.
It is customary for Omanis to offer the guest more food even when the guest exclaims “Shukran, i’m full.” It is a sign of hospitality, and you may encounter some that will swear in the name of God to “take more,” then guilt you with “don’t make me fast for three days!” a consequence they will suffer for not fulfilling the oath. After a few more bites, the guest stands up and shakes everyone’s hand saying good-bye.
“Ma’a Al Salamah.”