PeaceMeals in Iraq: Everyone has a story

16 stove burners!

16 stove burners!

It was a sprint to get the kitchen up and running before our first day of class this week. But we managed to buy the essentials and hooked up the gas with only one minor kitchen fire….

We have 8 students in this class, plus the teacher I am training, and my translator. Thankfully the kitchen is HUGE. It is a legit teaching kitchen with a commercial oven, dishwasher, and 16 (!) huge stove burners! Plus 5 more small burners on a side stove. The women have never seen such equipment, so we are beginning with the basics: sanitation, how to use the dishwasher, washing your hands, using separate rags to dry dishes and clean the equipment, pull your hair back (most wear headscarves), protect your feet, et cetera.

We continued the lessons during lunchtime with psychosocial skills including stress management techniques, mindful eating, and goal-setting.

Displaying photo 2.JPGFor Class 1, we prepared a nice spread of moroccan eggplant zaalug (I knew that recipe would come in handy!), individual lamb pies, anDisplaying photo 2.JPGd cucumber-yogurt salad with dill. While eating, we went through a small mindful eating exercise with a date dessert, and explained to the women that this class is meant for them to enjoy and relax and taste the food they make.

I was informed of some of the students’ stories in advance. ISIS caused much more destruction than many of us in the West are aware of. The brutal murders of students’ husbands, sons, and fathers, and older women, the abduction of female relatives, abuse, and rape are all common themes for the women in this region. They seem to be safe now in the camp, but many struggle with lack of food and basic amenities, and are dependent on aid.

If PeaceMeals has taught me anything over the years, it is that everyone has a valuable story.

One woman offered to the class a bit of her story and explained that she sometimes falls down when she is triggered or scared. Apparently falling down is a common post-traumatic expression here, especially for women. I was instructed to watch out for some women in the kitchen so that they aren’t working with knives, fire, or standing near sharp countertop corners if they may be triggered.

photo 5It is a radical concept for the women to actually have the first go at eating the foods they made, and to savor them. Usually they spend much of their days procuring and preparing foods for their family members, and they eat the remaining leftovers. They all ate very quickly – perhaps a learned survival mechanism. It was nice to have them be the guests of honor at the table for once. We were able to help them laugh a little, and by the end of the day, some selfies were even taken – so I think we’re gonna be friends.

This community center is but one project of the organization I am working for. They seek to meet material, social, and psychosocial needs, and having a therapeutic cooking class for women is one creative endeavor with tangible (and tasty!) results.

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