“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Indeed, nothing forges friendships, bridges language barriers and brings people together like food.
Those of us taking part in this week’s Global Village trip to Poland were reminded of food’s extraordinary power when we arrived at an apartment building just south of Warsaw’s downtown.
There, we met the Mamadzanov family – husband and wife, Bekzhod and Gulasal; their two young sons, Makhmud and Salokhiddin; and Bekzhod’s mother, Khafiza.
Here are a few things you should know about the Mamadzanovs: They came to Poland from Kyrgyzstan. They’ve been blessed by Habitat for Humanity Poland, which has helped them build a new life in a new country. And the Mamadzanovs are the kind of people who will gladly open their home to a group of strangers from America.
And so, for most of Saturday afternoon, different people from different cultures worked together in the Mamadzanov’s small apartment preparing a meal. There were carrots to be slivered, onions to be diced, radishes to be cut.
The dining room table became an assembly line of sorts – the place where dumplings could be filled and folded. A small table in the kitchen, meanwhile, became a prep station for a slew of amateur chefs eager to show off their knife skills.
Despite three different languages, plenty of pointing – and even a little translation via Google – everything came together perfectly: The rice was just right, neither too mushy nor too sticky nor too creamy (think paella, not risotto). The onions were soft and sweet. The rump of one fat-tailed sheep was as tender as could be.
Bulbs of garlic had been roasted. Carrots has been transformed into soup. Pomegranates had become the base for a salad dressing.
In between courses, a drink concocted of Greek yogurt and carbonated water cleansed the palate. The Mamadzanovs served Baklava and piping hot tea for dessert.
As were getting ready to leave, Khafiza, Bekzhod’s leaned back in the sofa, and beneath a framed black and white picture of the New York City skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge, she said: “We want to see America! We love America!”
It served as a poignant ending to a perfect Saturday in Poland.
Mark A. Waligore is the president of the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity-DeKalb. This is his first Global Village trip, and he’ll be writing about his experiences all week long.