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Serving Up Sisterhood: A Taste of Home and Connection 

Zeina Kanawati, originally from Damascus, Syria, now calls Berlin home after moving through various countries with her family. For the past five years, she has been working with one of our conflict response partners, Women Now for Development, a feminist Syrian organization that supports women's rights and development in conflict-affected areas. As the Communication Director, Zeina has been deeply involved in documenting and sharing the stories of women in conflict and refugee situations.

Finding Home in Berlin: 

Zeina with a cup of coffee at her Palestinian friend’s home.

When Zeina first arrived in Berlin, she was struck by the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of Syrian restaurants and Arabic-speaking people. "It felt immediately like home," she recalls. Despite the sad reality that these communities were formed out of necessity, escaping conflict and danger, they managed to recreate a piece of their homeland in a foreign land. Through food, they introduced themselves and their culture to their new neighbors, often before even learning the language or addressing stereotypical images of refugees. 

The Rituals of Food: 

For Zeina, food is more than sustenance; it is a profound connection to her roots and culture. She explains, "It's not just about one dish; it's about the full culture, the rituals around food." In Syria, weekends were marked by a traditional breakfast of hummus and yogurt-based dishes, a tradition Zeina continues with her children in Berlin. This ritual, carried from her homeland, now binds her family together in their new environment. 

zeina's house
The Syrian breakfast at Zeina's home in Berlin for the weekend. Credit: Zeina's personal archive.

One of the dishes that hold special significance for Zeina is Fatteh. Originating from the Levantine region, Fatteh is made from chickpeas cooked with cumin, garlic, and lemon, mixed with yogurt and tahini, and topped with crunchy bread and ghee. "The literal meaning of Fatteh is 'leftovers,'" Zeina explains. "It's a dish that evolved from using what was available, but it tastes amazing." For Zeina, Fatteh not only brings back memories of home but also symbolizes resilience and creativity in the face of hardship. 

Zeina vividly describes the sensory experience of preparing and eating Fatteh. The aroma of garlic, lemon zest, and cumin wafting through her kitchen instantly transports her back to her childhood in Syria. "It smells like my family when I was a small child," she reminisces. Though her family is now scattered across different countries, the familiar scent of Fatteh brings back cherished memories and a sense of togetherness. 

Food as a Tool for Connection: 

Beyond personal nostalgia, food plays a crucial role in bridging gaps between cultures. Zeina shares how food acts as the first hello between refugees and their new communities. "We knock on the doors of our neighbors with a small plate of food to taste. This is the first smile, the first hello," she says. Sharing food helps break down stereotypes and creates a common language, fostering understanding and acceptance. 

Zeina also highlights the collective power of food in times of crisis. After the devastating earthquake in Syria and Turkey, a community kitchen initiative emerged, supported by Women Now for Development. Women came together to cook and distribute meals to those in need. "Food became a form of resistance and a symbol of our longing to live again," Zeina explains. Through cooking and sharing meals, these women found a way to support their community and reclaim a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos. 

Join Us! 

Zeina's story is a testament to the power of food in preserving cultural heritage, fostering connections, and building resilience. #ServingUpSisterhood aims to amplify such voices, showcasing the rich cultural contributions of refugees and breaking down barriers between communities. By sharing these stories and flavors of home, we hope to create a world that is more empathetic, understanding, and united. 

As we celebrate World Refugee Week, we honor the importance of food in bringing people together and the incredible strength and resilience of those who have had to leave their homes behind. Join us in in standing with refugees in their journey to rebuild and reconnect. 

Download for free our e-cookbook to discover delicious recipes shared by Zeina and some of the women we support. 

Listen to Zeina's interview in our podcast. 

smiling displaced woman and family in KRI
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