Sharing Food and Life Stories

LCC Freshman Zina Hamu

Iraqi briany prepared by Zina

Since I’ve been at LCC I’ve had such a huge opportunity to meet people from all around the world. My room alone consists of 4 different countries represented. Although it’s been so exciting, I’ve had trouble getting past small talk with the international students. I tend to not be so intentional in getting to know their stories, mainly because it is so comfortable to interact primarily with the American students. Despite my shyness, I finally got a deep talk with one of the international students, and it was while we were cooking in the kitchen. I was making my usual lunch, pasta with vegetables, when I saw my hallmate sautéing peanuts. I was intrigued by this, so went ahead and asked her what she was making. My hallmate, Zina, told me she was making a traditional meal with rice, raisins, and peanuts. I asked her where she was from, and she answered Iraq, just like my roommate, Rita. I asked her if she knew my roommate and she explained to me how they know each other, which led her to open up about her religious beliefs. Zina is Yazidi, which she explained is a religious minority which is currently being persecuted in Iraq. She was very open about the situation, and told me her whole family is currently living in a camp, because of the persecution from ISIS. I began to ask her more questions, as I was incredibly shocked by her family’s situation. She told me that LCC helped her to get to safety, to come to Lithuania and away from the persecution. She is the only one of her family that is currently safe, and the rest of her family wishes they could be in Lithuania with her. She hasn’t been home in over a year, and misses her family dearly. She wants to make people aware of what is happening in Iraq, so she has been asked several times to speak on a variety of platforms about her story. She is trilingual, with English being her third language. Zina prefers to speak about her story in English rather than her native language, because she says she feels the flood of emotions when speaking in her native language. When she speaks in English, she is more focused on saying the next word and using the right grammar to clearly tell the story, directing her attention away from the emotions in the story. She told me she loves to cook her traditional food, because it makes her still feel connected to her home and family. I was so touched by how open she was with me. There was so much I wanted to say, but I just told her thank you for telling me, and please tell me more so I can understand. She smiled and offered me a bowl of her food. She told me she would make the food for me again sometime, with more ingredients such as egg and chicken. This was just the sweetest gesture, and I told her I wanted to cook my favorite Mexican dish for her, ceviche. She got excited because she loves Mexican food, and fish! This short conversation, during our hour long lunch, simply cooking in the kitchen, was so incredibly eye opening. I want to listen. I want to learn. I want to understand.

*Out of respect of Zina, I did not include all of the details of the story she shared with me. However, if you’d like to know more, I encourage you to see the video I linked below where Zina speaks on CNN.

I brought up the idea of cooking traditional meals to my roommates, Rita, Elena, and Elina. They all thought it was a great idea and wanted to do it right away! We went ahead and planned to do it that Saturday at 8pm, bringing our favorite traditional dish. I was so excited to invite Zina, and even more thrilled when she said she would love to come. Since I am half Mexican, and absolutely love Mexican food, I decided to make my famous ceviche! I have been making ceviche since I was in 7 grade, and if you’ve tried it, you know that it is AWESOME! I went to the grocery store and found all the ingredients I needed (which was a relief since I was afraid they wouldn’t have shrimp or tortilla chips). Our kitchen was packed with all of us cooking our different dishes, and the smells were just amazing. We all invited several guests so it was a full house! The dishes served included kebabs, Iraqi briany, and ceviche. The kebabs were made of tortillas, chicken, spices, cucumber, tomato, mayonnaise, and Chinese cabbage. The briany was made of rice, nuts, raisins, noodles, potatoes, spices, chicken, and eggs. My ceviche consisted of crab, shrimp, cucumber, onion, tomato, cilantro, and lemon. Before beginning the meal we gathered to pray, and I was super happy to pray the blessing over the food and our fellowship. There were a variety of countries represented, including U.S., Armenia, Russia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan.  Most of the students on campus speak Russian, so naturally the conversation would vary from English to Russian. Usually when the students speak in another language I just listen and think about how cool the language sounds, or how I have no clue what they’re saying. It was hilarious because I was sitting across from my roommate, Rita, and her friend, Johanna, who both spoke Arabic, not Russian. So, for once, I wasn’t the only one clueless about what people were saying, it was great! To mess around I usually start speaking in Spanish and everyone will start asking what I’m saying, which I find pretty cool considering no one at home asks me for help understanding Spanish (considering half my family is fluent). I do enjoy being around the other languages, since being around Russian I’ve learned a few words! I’ve learned Привет (hello), Как дела? (how are you), Хорошо (good), Спасибо (thank you), and my favorite word, Шишка (pinecone). I even learned how to write my name in Russian, Тэйлор Эммерсен. It was so fun to have such a diverse group, and even joke about taking pride in our countries. The running joke of the night was from the three students from Iraq who started off by saying that the dish they prepared was indeed originally from Iraq. As people questioned whether it was actually originally from Iraq, they started to pick up everything on the table saying “this is from Iraq, this is from Iraq, even this is from Iraq!” We were busting up laughing, especially when all of us from countries other than Iraq started to say “I’m even from Iraq!” Getting to experience genuine laughter and fellowship with young people from around the world was just astounding. I had the most amazing time, and loved all the delicious food. I’m so glad they want to do the dinner again sometime this semester! I’m so grateful for the diversity at LCC, and that I get to meet simply incredible people from all sorts of backgrounds.

-Study Abroad Intern Taylor Emmersen

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