Author Archives: B-Rad

Eyelash wishing game – Arabic Children’s Folk Game

Context:

She was in an all-girls elementary school in Jordan when she learned this game. She thought that it was silly, and did not pay much mind to it, saying that “girls, usually teenagers, like to make wishes.” There are two versions of this game that she remembers.

Game (Version 1):

The game involves two people (P1 and P2), and one of their eyelashes. P1, after noticing a fallen eyelash near one of P2’s eyes, immediately tells P2 to make a wish, and guess an eye (left or right). If P2 guesses the eye that the eyelash is near, their wish is supposed to come true. If they don’t, nothing happens.

Game (Version 2):

The game involves two people (P1 and P2), and one of their eyelashes. P1, after noticing a fallen eyelash near one of P2’s eyes, immediately grabs the eyelash and squeezes it between their thumb and index finger. P1 then tells P2 to make a wish, and guess which finger the eyelash will stick to. After the guess, P1 separates their fingers to see which finger the eyelash is stuck to. If P2 guesses the finger that the eyelash is stuck to, their wish is supposed to come true. If they don’t, nothing happens.

(I added the P1 and P2 distinctions to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

I remember my informant playing this game with me when I was in elementary school, and it reminded me of how people at that time would also blow on the dandelion seed puffs and make a wish. At its core, when one makes a wish, they are hoping that something is accomplished that they themselves do not have the power to do. Jay Mechling, in Chapter 5 of Elliot Oring’s Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, notes that a “theme [pervading children’s folklore] is power, something children generally do not have in their institutional settings. So they take power, or play at taking power, through their folklore.”* This aligns with the idea of making a wish when an eyelash comes loose and the child guesses the right eye or finger; they earned a wish (an instance of unlimited power) that they can use as they please.

*Jay Mechling. “Children’s Folklore.” Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, edited by E. Oring, 91-120. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1986.

“I stopped sleeping on your lap”… “You saved me from your farts.” – Arabic Saying and Comeback

Context:

She learned it from her grandma in Jordan, when she was around 7 or 8. The first time she heard it was when her grandma asked her if she wanted to sleep over, to which she said that she had to go home. Her grandma then said “Rayahtni min fsak” (“You saved me from your farts”).

Text:

Original Script: بطلت انام بحضنك… ريحتني من فساك

Transliteration: Battalt anam bi hodnak… Rayahtni min fsak

Translation: I stopped sleeping on your lap… You saved me from your farts

Thoughts:

I found this saying-response pair really funny, since not many people think of how often children fart while sitting on an adult’s lap. The first part (“Battalt anam bi hodnak”) sounds like it could be swapped out with any declaration of independence that would make the other person upset. The second part (“Rayahtni min fsak”) is a witty response to the declaration that essentially means “You were a burden to me.” The humor of the response makes it easier for the message to get across without sounding rude, since independence can be a touchy subject in a culture where families are tight-knit.

How to play Basra – Arabic Card Game

Context:

He grew up playing it in Jordan with his family, mainly on New Year’s Eve. At one point, he and his siblings were able to beat their parents.

Game:

The game can have many players, and it requires a standard deck of cards without Kings, Queens, and Jokers. Aces are worth 1 in this game.

After the players decide who the dealer is, the dealer gives each person 4 cards. After that, the dealer puts 4 cards face-up in the middle of where they’re sitting. The person who got a card first goes first, and it goes in order of who got their cards until the dealer goes and the cycle repeats.

During a turn, the player puts down a card on the middle area. If there is another card with the same number, they take it along with their card and put it in a pile near them. If there are multiple cards whose numbers add up to the number of the player’s card, they take those cards along with their card and put it in their pile. (If the middle has cards with numbers 2, 3, 4, and 6, and a player places down a 6, they can take their card back along with the 6, 4, and 2.)

If a player places down a Jack, they take everything in the middle and put it in their pile. If a player places down a number card that takes everything in the middle, they get a Basra; they have to stick the cards they took, along with their card, face-up and sideways in their pile. (An example of a triple Basra is if a player places down a 9 when the middle has numbers 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9).

When the players run out of cards in their hand, the dealer passes out 4 more cards to each player in the same order as the first time. If there are not enough cards left in the deck, the group will decide what to do. When there are not enough cards left to deal, the player who last took from the middle gets the extra cards in the middle and dealing deck.

At the end of the game, each player counts the number of cards in their piles, and whoever has the most cards gets 3 points. Next, they count the number of Aces and Jacks, getting 1 point for each. If a player has the 2 of Clubs, they get 2 points. If a player has the 10 of Diamonds, they get 3 points. For any card that is part of a Basra (sideways in the pile and face-up), you add the card’s value to your points. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.

(I added the parenteticals to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

I remember playing this game many times with my family–my brother loves Basra. It’s a fun strategy game, since you have to be wary of which cards to leave in the middle (you do not want another player to get a Basra). Because the length of the game is proportional to the size of the card deck, and inversely proportional to the number of players, individual games of Basra can be very brief. Although the game does not bring the family together for long periods of time like Sebah ou Nus (Seven and a Half), it can do so during a lull in the day.

For other variations, see https://www.pagat.com/fishing/basra.html

How to play Seven and a Half (Sebah ou Nus) – Arabic Card Game

Context:

He learned this game when he was around 10 years old from older relatives in Jordan, trying to mimic the adults playing Blackjack 21.

Game:

The game can have many players, and it requires a standard deck of cards without 8s, 9s, 10s, and Jokers.

In order to choose the dealer, each player draws a random card from the deck. Whoever has the highest number is the dealer. Picture cards–like Kings, Queens, and Jacks–are worth ½, and the Ace is worth 1. However, the Queen of Hearts can either be any whole number from 1-7, or ½, depending on the player’s choice.

The game is played similarly to Blackjack 21, so each player asks for cards until they feel like they will go over 7½, called “burn” here instead of “bust,” or until they get 7½, at which they must flip over all their cards. Each player places a bet on their card before taking another card from the dealer, called taking a “hit,” and the amount can’t be changed after they take a hit. When the player no longer wants cards from the dealer, they will say that they are “asleep.”

The dealer, after all the players are burnt or asleep, takes cards and “wakes” players (asks them to show their cards) as they please. If the dealer’s total is greater than the player’s who was woken up, the dealer gets the money placed on the card. If it’s the other way around, the dealer must pay the player the amount on the card. If the totals are equal, no money is exchanged. If the dealer burns while taking a hit, they must pay each player that is asleep the amount on their cards.

If a player gets 7½ in two cards, they become the dealer in the next round unless someone else gets it in two cards as well. In the latter case, they decide who becomes the dealer. The dealership can also be sold to another player by the current dealer even if they did not get 7½ in two cards.

(I added the parentheticals to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

This is one of my favorite card games; I learned it from my parents and grandparents when I was in middle school. Because the length of the game is not proportional to the size of the deck, but rather to the skills of the players, a single game can go for over an hour before somebody runs out of money. I remember we would play it whenever we knew that we could sit uninterrupted for a couple of hours, usually at night. Although it appears to be a child’s version of Blackjack 21, it can bring the whole family together, which leads me to believe that the reason this game has not been replaced by Blackjack 21 is because of how well it engages the whole family.

For other variations, see https://www.pagat.com/banking/sette_e_mezzo.html

Beggars have conditions – Arabic Jokes

Context:

He heard these two jokes when he was a kid in Jordan. There were many little fruit vendors back then, and there were a lot of beggars back then too.

Joke 1:

“A poor man wants to sell fruits on a cart to make some money. So a beggar came to this guy asking for something from his cart for free. The guy looked at him, and gave him a small watermelon. So the beggar said, ‘The smallest one? I thought you were going to give me a bigger one. You know what, you will teach people to not beg from you.’”

Joke 2:

“A beggar goes to a butcher, and asks for a free piece of meat. The butcher goes and cuts a piece for him. The beggar then responds ‘You’re not going to cook it for me?’”

Thoughts:

I found these jokes funny because they switch out the expected expression of gratitude with the opposite: an expression of ingratitude. Because they occupy the space between the expected and unexpected, they get the listeners’ attention, and strike them as funny. Because these jokes sound similar to the English saying “Beggars aren’t choosers,” they could have been used as a build-up to an equivalent saying in Arabic (or just the English saying).