I perch on a chair in her small kitchen and watch my grandmother make laban. She pours milk into a pot, and although she does not measure it, she knows exactly how much to put in. Slowly she brings the milk to a boil and I smell it as it warms. Once the milk boils, she takes it off the stove and sets it on a wooden board. After a few minutes, Gram puts in her little finger and counts to ten. That means it has cooled the right amount. I never saw her put her finger in before just enough time had passed. Then she stirs in the laban from the previous batch; that is, she adds the culture. She wraps the bowl carefully in several towels and leaves it to sit overnight.
There are many places Arabs can go to find our cultural achievements—bookstores, museums, art galleries, music halls. We can also stay home. At home we make Arabic foods, we hear traditional rhythms played on durbeckes, we tell jokes that reflect Arab humor. All of that is our culture surrounding and sustaining us. Our culture is common, easily recognizable, and re-created daily. That common-ness and daily-ness does not take away from its power, beauty, and historical meaning.
Our foremothers were often the ones who handed on our culture; mothers, grandmothers, and aunts who carried out daily tasks in the kitchen, who passed on baking rituals and cooking rituals and singing rituals and dancing rituals and storytelling rituals. Most of their cultural achievements are not recorded in any tangible form. But those achievements are every bit as important as books and pieces of art, they carry as much wisdom, sustenance, beauty, and meaning.
When I pondered our grandmothers' activities I realized we have not often noticed them. They are not what springs to mind when we think of cultural achievements. There may be several reasons for this; let me name two that I think are important. First, our community has not always noticed or affirmed women and the