I am a violator of tea custom. It’s interesting how something like the consumption of boiled leaf water has developed such particular and stringent nuances. A common saying in Kenya and Egypt (and, I might imagine, many former British colonies) is that any time is tea time, and they both certainly put it into practice. I love tea, it is surely my favorite beverage, and I like it black with ice and lemon if available. Our director is from the south, so his preferred iteration is sweet tea (hummingbird fodder, if I'm being kind). In Kenya, they take a splash of tea with copious milk and sugar. In Egypt, just sugar. If there’s anything I like less than tea with milk, it’s tea with sugar, and a combination of both is doubly undesirable. Forgive me, but there's nothing appetizing to me about watery milk and if I want sugar water, I'll take it carbonated from a can marked Cola. But try to articulate that you prefer your tea in any other way than the predominant preparation of the region, and you get a reaction like you asked for the blood of infant. When I attempted to get tea without milk in Kenya, I received only haunted and confused stares. Eventually I found out that they add tea bags to heated milk, rather than milk to the tea, so my request was essentially nonsense. On the site here everyday, although it is upwards of 48 degrees Celsius, we get hot tea when we arrive and at break. A tray of tea is brought out with a sugar bowl, and Ibrahim or whoever feels inclined will ask how many spoonfuls of sugar we want in our glass. If I say no sugar, I simply don’t get tea. I’m just ignored, even though the sugar has not yet been added, and all one would have to do is shrug and hand me a glass. After days I finally got frustrated with this and so on the next occasion when I was skeptically asked 'how many sugar' I wanted, I replied “Ten!” And it was granted. Because even a glass filled with more sugar than tea is more reasonable a request than chai with no sugar at all.
I should amend that since I wrote this post two weeks ago Ibrahim became very familiar with my eccentricity and indulged my peculiar taste...in the morning. At break, I give up and just take a spoonful, the sweetness slightly mitigated by my bitterness over having to drink it with sugar.