by Lyne Pitts
It reminded me of so many Sunday afternoons back home with family. The men, lined up in the outside chairs, elders sharing wisdom with young fathers, conversations about life, work and family. Across the yard, an impromptu soccer game broke out, a group of boys putting their skills into the competition. There was a table full of young women, 20-somethings, big smiles, giggling conversations. Two little ones grabbed the ends of a jump rope, using it like a snake charm while they swayed to the beat of a boom box. Inside, mothers crowded into the living room. Two older women in traditional garb put their heads together in whispered discussion. A pregnant mom stood up to show off her growing belly, another patted her new blonde-ish curls.
It was a gathering of family. A new family, created out of turmoil but growing in love. Eritrean men, women and children who now reside in Jersey City. Some are close enough to see each other regularly, others are scattered, so these comings together are important to keep connections and recreate the kind of close community they knew back home.
The event was organized by uber-volunteer Alain Mentha who has become, over the past few months, a lifeline for these families. He knows all their names, their stories and their needs. And he understands how much the social aspect of their lives has been taken away. So he plans these parties to bring them together. This one was held at a house at St. Peter’s University.
In the kitchen was the main event. A feast of native food, Hands worked quickly to roll the injera, a sour, doughy bread used to scoop up food on the plate. Cabbage and potatoes were heating in the oven, and a spicy meat stew was being dished up. The food went quickly.
I dished myself up a small plate of the fragrant stew and (shame on me) used a knife and fork to scoop up my injera. When I popped a large bite into my mouth, the spices lit my throat on fire. A young woman across the room caught my eye and burst out laughing. She said one word – Water? But it was delicious.
Among the many delightful sights were the children. Especially little girls, volunteer’s kids and Eritrean kids holding hands, laughing and trailing each other through the house. No language barrier, just children having fun.
It was a perfect Sunday. Just like home.