Tabouli, Baba Ghanoush, Hummus and More…
The smell of frying eggplant fills the air as Hajar efficiently dips chicken legs in tomato sauce. Brandon Buerkle and I busy ourselves chopping piles of parsley, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Hala, age 5, entertains herself with toys on the floor.
In April 8 I joyfully offered my hands in service as Hajar Alodah worked to prepare a traditional Syrian meal for 35 lucky attendees. Last year we at NFC and North Valley joined together in the Welcome Home project, gathering the household items necessary to furnish a home for the Alodah family. Last August, they arrived in the U.S. from Syria via a refugee camp in Jordan. Ben and Emily Wynsma hosted the Alodahs in their home until the Alodahs’ housing in Salem became available. At Christmas, my children—Abram and Meika—and I colored and folded envelopes into airplanes, for the giving tree to raise funds to pay off the Alodah family’s travel debt. God provided through you, and their $ 7,000 debt was paid in full. God also afforded a wonderful connection for the Alodah family in the congregants of Evergreen Presbyterian, who took on the role of cultural mentors and navigators.
The ensuing months have been full of transition, learning, connection, and struggle. Hajar attends English classes; the kids are settling into school, and Ibrahim is looking for year-round, full-time work. Monetary support for the Alodah family through the U.S. resettlement agency and Catholic charities ended after six months. Ibrahim, a baker by trade, is currently working as a seasonal employee at a nursery up to 50 hours a week to provide for his family’s needs.
Hajar also uses her culinary skills to help provide for the family. Just after noon that Saturday we met her in the social hall kitchen to help prepare a delicious traditional meal for community members at Newberg Friends arriving at 5:30 p.m. to partake of delicious Syrian fare.
The first task was boiling chicken legs—with star anise, garlic, onion and chicken bullion, and Kebsa spice mix. After peeling and chopping the eggplant, we used Google translate to discover we needed more oil for frying. Hajar deep fried the eggplant for baba ghanoush. This technique was new to me, as my mom always roasted the eggplant for baba ghanoush. I joyously discovered deep-fried eggplant makes a baba ghanoush better than any I have ever tasted (probably not nearly as healthy, but quite delicious). Once the chicken boiled, we removed it from the pot, then added rice to boil in the chicken water. Next we dipped the chicken legs in tomato sauce (mixed with a little Kebsa spice mix) and put them on trays under the broiler. All the while, we communicated with smiles, hand gestures, and the occasional translated sentence. Food is a universal language of friendship.
At 4 p.m. my husband, Aaron; Tamara Brand; and Erinn Hampton arrived to set and decorate the tables with flowers and candles. Hala, Meika, and Abram played joyously as we filled the buffet table with delicious food: hummus, pita, tabouli, baba ghanoush, leban (homemade yogurt), chicken, and rice. As the whole group gathered and ate together, I was reminded that we all have gifts to offer and receive within community. It was an evening to enjoy the culinary delights Hajar created, and in so doing we glimpsed the beauty of Syrian culture, helped provide for the Alodahs’ financial needs, and basked in each other’s loving, joyful presence.