Integrating Refugees While Breaking Bread
Food is a universal language that knows no grammar or words, channeling its information over all our five senses. To me, it represents love, happiness and comfort. Love is the creamy wedding cake standing on the dining table at the parents’ house in the middle of June. Happiness is a serving of fries dipped in sauce at a local bar we share with friends. And last, but not least, comfort is a hot chocolate warming us up during a cold winter night.
Food connects people the way that peanut butter and jelly bring two slices of toast together. This is exactly what Potsdam is going for. At an event called “Buntes Essen”, which translates into “Colorful Food”, Berlin’s sister city attempts to bring Syrian refugees together with the locals. The idea is simple: Refugees prepare dishes from their home country, creating a warm atmosphere to get us all together over the bread and salt we share.
The way to a person’s heart goes through the stomach, says a Syrian idiom. Consequently, if you want to win many hearts, you have to be a good cook.
My first Syrian experience was in the buzzing cafeteria of Potsdam. The smell of garlic and oil mixed with the sweetness of caramel filled the room with its scent. The kitchen counter transformed into a small bazar with a variety of dishes presented in round bowls and silver trays. Near the entry, a woman was scooping a milk-like shake out of a pot as wide as the table it stood on into glasses. In Syria, the amount of food represents the amount of joy felt towards the guests. To compare, it was probably enough food to get a family of four through a whole month.
Four young Syrian men served the food. “Taboule? Kibbe? Waraq Ainab? Hummus?” Long story short, a simple gesture toward the food got the job done without using a single word. “Thank you.”
I shared this culinary experience with my friends.
My gaze wondered beyond my assembly of golden, red and green colors. “May I try your… “, the fried dough crunched between my teeth, “…Mmm. This is delicious.” I don’t believe I finished the question. It was a constant giving and taking. Even the one meatball on my plate was equally split.
I was simply amazed by the variety of dishes and the hospitality.
Up to 2016, 47% of the refugees entering Germany were from Syria. The project “Buntes Essen” changes roles, as Syrians became hostesses and Germans as the guests. It’s an opportunity to say ‘Thank you” and to connect. “Buntes Essen” was already recognized with the integration price, which awards the efforts to connect people and to reduce prejudice.
I find this project exemplary and hope that similar projects help build a sense of community.