It is Saturday evening and Rana Abbas, newly wed, is chopping vegetables for salad.

Aside from her signature dish – a cake from a mix that she tops with marshmallows, frosting and fruit – cooking is new to her. Before she got married in June, she had fried eggs, but nothing more.

“I wasn’t ready to start learning to cook,” she said.

Then Rana, 24, and her husband, 31-year-old Hicham Chami, returned from their honeymoon – a gloriously lazy cruise through the bright blue waters of the Caribbean. They ate at their parents’ houses so often that Hicham worried they were becoming a burden.

The couple needed to be more self-sufficient. Rana had always lived with her parents, and her mother had always done the cooking and cleaning so Rana could concentrate on her studies. But she isn’t a kid anymore. She is a married woman, living in a Dearborn, Mich., apartment with her husband. Her relationship with her parents would always be important, but now she and Hicham needed to establish their own household, their own way of doing things together as husband and wife.

“When you’re married, it’s a partnership,” Rana says in her matter-of-fact style. “Everything, everything, down to the last pickle in the jar, I swear to God, becomes about you two. It’s about working together and that’s where the struggle comes in.”

Before they married, Rana hadn’t paid attention to Hicham’s tendency to open mail and leave it all over the countertop. Or his tendency to take off his shirt and leave it draped over the sofa.

“He’s messy,” Rana says. “That stuff really bothers me. Even though I hadn’t had to do things for myself, I’m used to living in a very neat environment.”

Meanwhile, Hicham was surprised that it took Rana three weeks to unpack her suitcase from their honeymoon and that for days Rana – who sleeps later than he does and turns in earlier – didn’t make the bed. Her room at her parents’ house had always been so tidy.

They decided they would have to devote part of their weekends to cleaning house. Hicham, who knew how to do laundry, taught Rana how to run the washer and dryer so they could take turns with that chore.

“Fortunately we’re never home so our house doesn’t get that dirty,” Rana says.

As for cooking, neither newlywed had a clue.

Hicham has convinced himself he’s helpless in the kitchen. Plus, he works during the day as a carpenter and has classes most evenings – he’s pursuing a degree in graphics at Henry Ford Community College – which means four nights a week he doesn’t get home until 9 or 10. Rana decided she would be the one to learn to cook.

Her first attempt – chicken stir-fry that didn’t taste like any she’d eaten before – ended up in the trash. In the weeks since, she’s learned to make beef stir-fry, teriyaki rice from a box, pre-marinated shawarma that just needs to be cooked, salad dressing and french fries.

“The difference between my sisters and Rana is that they are good cooks,” Hicham begins, before realizing the strength of the words coming out of his mouth. ” They’ve been cooking since they were 15,” he adds quickly.

“What Hicham wants to see me do are those traditional Arabic meals. They take hours,” Rana said.

“Those are the best,” Hicham agrees.

“You didn’t marry Betty Crocker. It isn’t going to happen,” Rana said.

“We try to have a home-cooked meal maybe two, three times a week,” she explains. “And then once a week, my mom will bring by a dish. And then once a week his parents will bring by a dish. On the weekends, we eat out. We compromised.”

Now there is another compromise on the table: Rana had agreed she would hyphenate her name and become Rana Abbas-Chami.

“I don’t have a problem with changing it legally as soon as I get a chance to,” Rana says. “True, I’m holding it off so people can get used to it. The big deal is for work. I’ve worked so hard to build up my name in the community. If I’ve changed my name, is it going to hinder me in any way? People form associations. I don’t want to hinder associations they may have.”

She changed her e-mail at work so her name is hyphenated.

A friend penned in “-Chami” on Rana’s business cards. She hadn’t ordered new ones – even though her title at work changed recently. She is now deputy director of the state office of the anti-discrimination committee.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she says. “I need to order those.”

Says Hicham: “It would be nice for you to have my name, too.”

That discussion will have to wait.

It’s time to eat now.

The food smells garlicky and spicy. Rana has baked the shawarma in the oven with tomatoes. Her french fries are golden. The teriyaki rice is fluffy. The salad crisp and fresh.

She admits she doesn’t know whether she’s cooked lamb or beef.

But it’s still a dinner triumph, one that a husband and wife in love will enjoy together, in their own home.

A couple weeks later, Rana orders new business cards – with her new name.


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