By Jason Michael
Wee miracles happen all the time over a cuppa tea. Today the Scottish Refugee Council is launching an initiative to break down barriers and bring people together. Faced with the flames of growing racism and intolerance a cup of tea is a welcome start.
“Ending cornflakes? Why would you want to do that?” Even in the heart of Dublin the Scot is faced with a language barrier. Here was me in a college society meeting, ten years ago now, describing the work I was doing. It was dead fancy for an undergraduate. I had been selected as a delegate to an international peacebuilding and dialogue forum, and in describing the idealistic purpose of the conference a young woman thought I said “cornflakes” instead of “conflicts.”
In the decade since, cornflakes have become a primary ingredient in how I have come to understand the often complex and frustrating processes of ending violence, nurturing honest and open dialogue, and building peace. Sharing food together is an evolutionary brain hack. We are hardwired to relax only into communal eating in the company of our own clan or tribe, and it is for this reason that the table set in the company of his enemies is so reassuring to King David in the 23rd Psalm. In eating with enemies the enmity and strife is ended.
We are not at war with migrants and refugees, but it would be wrong to say that their presence in our midst – with the deeply xenophobic and racist rhetoric of an irresponsible British media – has not stirred some rather nasty reactions. Social tensions have grown and conflicts have arisen.
It's about empathy and compassion: basic human emotions. Look where tabloid hate and #Brexit xenophobia have got us.—
Ben Fisher (@BenFisher11) October 19, 2016
Only a couple of years ago, while volunteering in an area of Dublin devastated by unemployment, addiction, and crime, there was a fire in an apartment complex. The building was something of a ghetto in the community. Most of the families were Polish migrants who worked in the city. Most of them had work and so were better off than most of their neighbours who – for reasons of education and discrimination – were mainly unemployed. Thankfully no one was hurt in the fire, but on the morning it happened the local parish priest came into the coffee morning where I was serving cups of tea and coffee and started filling flasks with tea and sticking biscuits into a pot.
“You’ll need more tea, father, if you’re hoping to put that inferno out,” one smart alec cracked. But soon the coffee morning had become a tea delivery service, with youngsters and old people lugging tea, cake, biscuits, and company over to the families standing outside as the fire brigade splashed much weaker tea on the flames.
Polish people tend to be religious but Fr. Gerry hardly knew them. Many of them went to Mass every Sunday, but not to his church. Understandably, they travelled into the city to celebrate Mass at the Polish church behind Christchurch Cathedral. It was still important for them to talk to God in their own language – pretty much in the same way my Irish friends frequent Irish bars when they’re sunning themselves on the Costas.
A miracle happened that day. Well, there was the miracle of no one being hurt, but there was another that begun that morning. Not a month later there was a new guitarist in Gerry’s church, and instead of us mumbling our way through the familiar words of the Our Father we listened as he strummed and sang strange new words: “Ojcze Nasz, któryś jest w niebiesiech, święć się imię twoje…” and out of a cuppa tea grew the moment strangers were talking to God together in Polish. The tongues of angels indeed!
Scot Refugee Council (@scotrefcouncil) October 27, 2016
You can imagine my delight then when the words “Cup of Tea with a Refugee” appeared on my Twitter feed. The Scottish Refugee Council has launched a project to help people see refugees not as statistics or news stories, but as real people – just like us. They have discovered a much more effective way to break down barriers; A cup of tea with a refugee. Like our coffee morning experience, this nationwide initiative to bring people together comes at a time when a fire is raging, but this one is more dangerous and calls for much more tea. All that can be said for this is Mile widziany i dzięki!
Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)