I am continually amazed at how totally different lifestyles and cultures can live so close to us, and we don’t even know it. Six months ago, I had very little knowledge of refugees and just didn’t spend much time thinking about the neighbors I share the streets and grocery stores with. This diversity and ability to live relatively peacefully together is one of my favorite things about America.
The day we went to Blue Nile, we sat by a neat couple named Julia and Chris. They adopted a beautiful baby girl from Ethiopia about a year and a half ago. They enjoyed sharing stories of their trip to Ethiopia with Isak. They had some coffee from their trip that they wanted to send to Isak, and he was so excited when it arrived in the mail a few days later.
We had been talking with Isak about having a coffee ceremony, and with some true Ethiopian coffee it seemed like the perfect time! Isak went into total party planner mode. He invited Julia and Chris, and he probably called us six times that week to confirm we would be there at 3:00.
So at 3:00 we arrived and Isak did not disappoint. He had a couple of Ethiopian friends over and they really cooked up a feast! We could smell it as soon as we walked into the apartment building! After everybody arrived we all dug in; it was a typical Ethiopian meal. Before the plates were cleared the coffee ceremony began.
I think it is traditional for a female to perform the ceremony, and Isak’s friend Samir (not sure of the spelling) did the honors. We all sat around on couches, but Samir sat on a small bench and roasted the coffee beans over a little propane burner. I think they usually use fire, but this is what they had to work with. When the coffee was ready, they passed it out and I nervously took it. I thought I was hiding my nerves but I must not have been doing a very good job, because Isak crossed the room and whispered “Jayme, are you scary?” into my ear. How I love refugee English!
The cup was very small, maybe four or six ounces. I sweetened mine with a couple spoonfuls of sugar and took a sip. It was very flavorful and tasted different than American coffee….almost like an herbal tea. I got down a pretty good system….sip of coffee, gulp of water. Sip of coffee, gulp of water. Don’t judge. It worked. I finished my glass.
(Please excuse my low quality picture)
Then they served the second round. And then a third round. I put my big girl pants on and finished them all. 🙂 I know there are a lot of traditions to the ceremony that we missed, but I know there will be more to come.
It was really a beautiful thing. Four American adults, three Ethiopian adults, and three Ethiopian children running around (one adopted, two refugee children). We had great conversation about American customs and Ethiopian travels. We talked about their jobs and their dreams and watched the children dance and laugh and play together.
A year ago, I never would have ever guessed that I’d be sitting in a refugee’s small apartment in downtown Kansas City (just 10 minutes from our house!) having an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. It’s a little bizarre sounding even now. But I love it. I really love it.
And it has really made me think about things. The next time you hear someone speaking another language in a store or see someone dressed in non-American clothing, stop for a minute and consider what their story might be, and what obstacles they may have had to deal with to get here. Refugees are often very lonely and welcome any interaction with Americans who care enough to talk to them. A lot of times they have strong communities from their home country, but have a really hard time meeting Americans. Samir specifically said that she was happy to be in America but that she longed for some real interaction with Americans. She interfaces with them daily at her FedEx job, but she said everybody is in such a hurry and they often get frustrated that her English is heavily accented (though if you listen she actually speaks the language very well). Slow your own life down for a few minutes and ask them where they’re from. Show some interest in their story. You might not understand everything they say. They might be rude or brush you off. But you might make their day. And you might learn more about the people you share your streets and grocery stores with.