A Very Iraqi Celebration

Today commences spring break in our household. Within two hours of the breakfast dishes being cleared, a fort was constructed under the dining room table, one sibling was banished from, then welcomed back into the fort, “Club Dryden” was written into existence, and plans were made for an afternoon visit to the “Toy Library”. The whiteboard, which normally displays dull to-do lists for school days now reads: “fun Choosis: Eat Canby, Play!, Outside, Library, inside, Popcicls out of Juise”. My kids have spring break a week before the school district where I work part-time. John is spending the first week in Haiti with a couple guys from our church. Instead of viewing these circumstances as not having a spring break at all, I am choosing to enjoy it as a two-week spring break. Ok?

It is also the season of Lent, and this year, following our Rice and Beans Gathering, John and I have been reading through a book called “A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor” by Chris Seay. It includes short readings during the 40 “fasting days” and seven “feast days” of Lent, with reflections on the Israelites’ exodus and Jesus’ final days. Readers are encouraged to consider their own need for exodus – “from the cares of consumerism to those of God; from manufactured needs to real ones; from accumulating more to giving more away.” This week, John will literally take a place at a table in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The rest of us celebrated with a very special feast the Sunday before spring break.

The feast was in honor of an anniversary. Our dear friends Janet and Bassam, along with their three daughters moved to the United States from Baghdad as refugees one year ago this month. A few months after moving in to their apartment in Washougal, Janet’s brother, sister-in-law, and niece also arrived and settled in two doors down. Getting to know this family, break bread with them (and dip it in hummus), and watch our children play together has been an inexpressible gift from God. They have had many struggles in their transition to life in America, and walking alongside them during these last 12 months has been hard, humbling and hilarious. Janet and Bassam’s contagious warmth, energy, courage, intelligence, and optimism have drawn other families into relationship with them. Yesterday we gathered five families into our home and celebrated God’s goodness to all of us in bringing Janet, Bassam, Nancy, Zaven, and their daughters to the United States.

Janet and Nancy brought ingredients for a traditional Iraqi meal and taught my friends and me how to prepare it. It took five women, four teenagers, and three hours to get it on the table. We made Dolma, Tabbouleh, Chicken Biryani, Baba Ganoush, Hummus, a dish of eggplant rolled up around meat and onion, two kinds of soup, and white rice. “For the first time in forever,” the entire contents of my kitchen cupboards were emptied and put use (“who knew we owned eight thousand salad plates?”). I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every bowl, pot, and spoon in the house was used, washed, and used again. And sometimes again.

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I darted around the kitchen responding to requests such as, “a bowl with holes in the bottom!” and a “dish with tabs!” and “A small pot! No, not that small! No, smaller!” and “Jenae! I need a lad!” (after much gesticulating, I ascertained that a “lid” was what was needed).

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My lovely friend Annie who likes to cook “poetically” (her words, not mine) chopped and minced and chopped some more (“chop faster!”). Later, while minding a frying pan of almonds, she was severely chastised by our teachers and told to move aside so the almonds could be properly browned. Iraqis don’t approve of poetic stirring.

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Karen likes to be in pictures. And she’s just so cute we like her to be in them.

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If my daughter grows up to be half as delightful as these teenage girls, I will be one happy mama.

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Children did what children do, whether their place of birth is Baghdad or Washougal. I have no idea what the kids were doing most of the three hours. They popped in and out of the kitchen asking when it was time to eat, helped a bit, and made lots of noise and fun. Afterwards, Jack could only tell me that “Grant had a pocketknife!”

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We prayed and ate and laughed and ate some more.

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After the delicious meal, Annie taught us the Virginia Reel. We danced and laughed so hard our sides hurt. A certain sixteen-year-old collapsed to the floor in hysterics.

The quality of this photo is terrible, but I couldn’t resist Annie in this one.

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Nancy and Janet fired up some Assyrian music on YouTube and taught us a wonderful simple dance from their country. If you watch the video clip, you may be surprised to learn that no alcohol was consumed this evening. Much eggplant and garlic was, however, and perhaps that explains some things.

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It was a happy night. And I think it was no coincidence that the passage I read that very morning prepared my heart with this:

“God is serious when it comes to setting aside time to celebrate. Do you think it is possible to celebrate God’s love too much? On the other hand, is it possible to celebrate His love too little? I think so. If we err, we likely err by not celebrating God enough. So take these feasting days and do something special. As you eat great food, take a special trip, dance, and laugh, do it as unto the Lord.” – Chris Seay, “A Place at the Table: 4o Days of Solidarity with the Poor”

So we celebrate God’s love to our Iraqi brothers and sisters this year in the United States; his love to us drawing us into friendship with them; and his love to the world, from Port-au-Prince to Baghdad to Washougal – by sending his son Jesus Christ to live the life we could not live, die the death we should die, and by his resurrection bring us into right relationship with himself, for his glory and our joy.

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