home March 18 2012, 1 Comment

I'm an American. I've always thought of my country as the land of opportunity, a freedom-loving nation of diverse land and people. It is my home. I grew up in the South, but I've been in Illinois for a long while now. I can remember leaving Texas, moving up here.

I still miss the food and people of the South. I miss the big magnolia trees I used to walk past, warm Southern accents, and the beans and corn bread my mom made every week. I miss the fusion of Mexican and Southern. But I'm still in America. When I long for home, it is there waiting for me. I can hop in the car and be ensconced in that lovely familiarity in a matter of hours.

The sewing machines buzz along and sunlight streams in and makes the cutting room awash in light and heat. The women at Re:new talk about home. These conversations revolve largely around food and culture. Something happens or someone makes a remark, and then I hear, "That's like in Africa..." and the others nod their heads in agreement, weaving that common thread of shared knowledge that you can only have when you've been there and lived that.

I sit and listen and picture myself in their homeland. They reminisce about how in Africa you go to the farmer and the market every day, how everything is fresh and good, and can you believe how expensive mangoes and guava are in America, when in Africa you can pick them off the nearest tree. I asked one of the women about soup. She said her favorite was camel soup. She said this with a longing in her voice, a faint smile on her lips. I didn't even know such a thing existed and marveled at the thought.

It seems that all of the refugee women are amazing cooks. One recently brought in samosas she'd whipped up that morning (I barely have time to throw frozen waffles on the griddle), and, let me tell you, they were delicious. The other day the conversation revolved around tamarind. Another time is was about a spice...what do you call it? No one knew how to say it in English. The women scour local ethic markets for familiar ingredients and then excitedly share with one another the good finds. They are from a culture deeply connected with food and land. We call it eating local. They don't call it anything, it's what everyone does.

They are also deeply connected with one another. In their culture is not a big deal to share meals and life and leave the front door open. I like that. How I wish my life were filled with more community!

In life we move, we change, we establish new routines in new places. But the refugee women remind me that home is rooted deeply -- in myself and in them -- even if it's not such a great place after all. As one woman said, "My country is wonderful. The people, though, are bad." And for that reason alone, they are here. Many will never see their homeland again, and so they set out to make America home while fondly remembering camel soup and mango trees.