“Tea & Thread: Portraits of Middle Eastern Women Far from Home” is a new collection of stories, recipes and traditional handicraft projects from refugee women. Written by Sally Bathgate and Katrina Flett Gulbrandsen, It is a beautiful book; a welcome accompaniment to any coffee table. Yet, the stories are more than a coffee table book. The stories are harrowing yet beautiful; stories that lift the veil on a world far removed from the everyday lives of many, yet it is a world that is seen and experienced by courageous women who share their stories.
As soon as the book arrived, I needed to take a seat and carefully begin to read it. It captivated me. It reminded me of the way meals and hospitality open up a home, a life and a world unknown to us. In the simple act of inviting a person in and sharing a meal, relationships begin to grow. This is exactly what Katrina shares:
Tea is synonymous with hospitality in the Middle Eastern wold, and although the ritual may vary from place to place, the meaning is the same, Ahian wa sahlan- Welcome, you are amongst family, may it go well with you! (Bathgate and Flett Gulbrandsen, 2017, p.10).
As Christians, we are encouraged to love our neighbour and to care for the vulnerable. In my regional community, it has been hard working out how to care for the refugee, yet it is a growing epidemic and one where Christians need to be ready to share the love of Jesus. As this grows, a wonderful starting point is starting to educate ourselves on the plight of the refugee. At the end of 2016, the United Nations estimated that 65.6 million people around the world had been forced from their home.http://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/refugees/ As you sit and read Tea & Thread, you discover that this is much more than just a number- each person has a history, a story to tell and a life to lead. These women have gone through so much, yet it doesn’t end when they arrive on the shores where they are seeking asylum. They have fled with next to nothing and find themselves in a camp or a new country; often leaving behind loved ones in order to flee. In amongst such hardship, there is still beauty. Beauty can be found in a delicious meal, a traditional handicraft or the love of a child. Samar shares,
I always try to make them [my children] feel that tomorrow will be more beautiful, and that it won’t rain forever. There will come a day when our lives will change for the better. Aye, I always tell them, ‘bukra ahla’- tomorrow is a better day (Samar in Bathgate and Flett Gulbrandsen, 2017, p.30).
Tea & Thread has been published by Grace Abounding Books, an imprint of Anglican Aid. It contains beautiful photographs, recipes and handicrafts alongside the stories of the women who share their culture with us. It is a project where time, thought and care has been put into communicating these stories with respect. It could be given as a gift or bought for oneself. It is 208 pages, so gives a great overview, and depicts the stories of 17 women from the Middle East. All the proceeds from the book go to further the work of projects supporting refugees in the Middle East. It can be purchased from The Wandering Bookseller.
Image Courtesy: Anglican Aid.