As mentioned in the last Snapshot, one of the first families we were introduced to and got to know well was the M Family, refugees from Sarajevo. They hoped to emigrate to New Zealand where Mr. M’s aunt already lived. However, in order to qualify for emigration, one of the two parents had to pass an English proficiency test. Mr. M, with his journalistic background, had a base to build off of, so he and Stan began to meet for English Language lessons. Due to the dearth of English language learning materials plus a desire to present Truth, Stan suggested using readings from the Bible. Mr. M not only agreed to the plan but desired it.
As they met over a period of six months for language study, Mrs. M would swing by with their boys after lessons, and we’d all visit while the kids played in the back yard. Those conversations were by turn serious, hopeful, sad, funny, covering the whole of our lives, and throughout we were able to share the underpinnings of our life, our hope, our joy found only in Christ, His Word, His Sacrifice.
When the time drew near for Mr. M to take the ESL language test with their (hopefully) quick departure to follow, the M Family wanted to reciprocate our hospitality and invited us over to their place for a visit.
That visit was my first introduction into the intimate life of a refugee. Oh my. They lived in a large old house that appeared adapted for refugee living. There was a main hallway on each floor with doors opening into rooms. They had the private use one of these rooms on the second floor for the five of them. Along with a couple of couch beds, there were two tables—one for working/ cooking/storage, the other for eating plus a couple of small wooden stools, and two chairs. A bathroom down the hall served all the families on that floor. No one had a real kitchen, so a stove had been set up in the landing for the use of everyone on that floor. I found a new appreciation for my tiny (to me) kitchen in our rental home.
When we arrived, we expected to stay the typical 1-hour visit—the mark of a proper social call as it is not too short as to imply you didn’t really want to visit, nor too long to wear out your welcome. We were quite mistaken! After a round of pleasantries while enjoying cool fruit drinks called “sok”, Mrs. M began to set about making a meal for us despite our protests that there was absolutely no need to do so.
With very little income, refugee families relied heavily on the international aid packages made available to them for their meals. We were fascinated to see what they had: canned beef from Argentina which made total sense with their giant Pampas plain; canned tuna from Japan (an island nation would send fish); spaghetti from Italy (what else?); canned hash from the USA (I honestly thought we could do better). Plus bottles of oil and bags of flour—staples from the world over.
Mrs. M was eager to make us one of her specialities: Sunflower Bread. We were doubly excited because the only bread we’d had for months was the local version of white French bread, the only type of bread available back then. Since my oven at the time never reached hot enough temperatures, I was not able to make bread myself. We were long bored with our tasty but monotonous bakery loaf and sorely missed English muffins, bagels, hot dog and hamburger buns, rye bread, wheat bread, tortillas, and many other breadstuffs. Something different was going to be a real treat indeed!
With nary a recipe, Mrs. M began. One big pour of flour on the table (No bowl! My kids’ eyes widened). Then a sprinkle of yeast over top which she stirred in with her fingers. (Their eyes grew even wider). Next came a mini-shower of salt followed by finger-stirring again. At this point she pushed the flour out to make a well. With a fluid motion, she began to pour warm water into the center while incorporating flour from the edges until a loose dough formed. More flour poured on the counter got hand-stirred into the dough. Lastly, she reached for oil, sunflower oil naturally, for Sunflower Bread.
Switching to a knead-and-stir motion, she added the oil bit by bit by bit. And bit by bit by bit. A tad over one cup (!) of oil. Now my eyes widened; even my richest Better Homes and Garden yeast bread recipe had no more than a 1/3 cup of fat included. I suspected this is why it was called “Sunflower Bread”—all that sunflower oil. Then, with the bread dough covered and rising, Mrs. M disappeared for a moment. (I later learned that she had slipped out to reserve the oven.).
Once the dough had finished its first rise, I discovered the real reason for its name. It wasn’t the sunflower oil as I thought, but the presentation. Mrs. M divided the dough into four parts and rolled each out, courtesy of old wine bottle (no rolling pin here), into big circles.
Making one, two, three circles, she laid each on top of the previous with a good brushing of oil in between. Then she cut the dough just so, like radiating slices of a pizza but not to the edges, so that the inner pie-shaped pieces could be pulled back, looking like petals on a sunflower. With a final small ball of dough placed as the eye of the flower, the Sunflower Bread received a last brushing of oil and was set aside. Mrs. M excused herself again to turn on the oven and make sure her right-to-use had been respected.
When the time came for Mrs M to take the loaf to the oven, I got up to accompany her, but she shook her head. Thinking that she was being polite and didn’t want me to disturb myself for her sake, I explained that it was no problem. But again, she shook her head, and then I got it: she didn’t want me to come with her. While sitting around the table together, with the conversation flowing, with her sure and confident mixing, kneading, and pulling together a meal, she was mistress of her domain. But having me see her plod down the hall to bake it, to a shared oven that she had to reserve, that was too bright a light on a dark spot, a beacon blinking “Refugee! Refugee!” I didn’t follow her; I pondered anew the threads of our lives.
While the bread finished baking in the oven, Mrs. M got the rest of our meal ready. She popped open a (single) can of tuna. She cut up a couple of apples, and she put out a few slabs of local, salty young cheese. We moved stools and couch beds around. We gathered assorted plates, size didn’t matter. With great fanfare, the Sunflower Bread was brought in and duly awed over—it was a thing of beauty.***
That repast was delicious and joyous, too. The warm, rich Sunflower Bread with its delectable aroma took center stage, the main stay of our dinner as one little can of tuna and a few wedges of cheese only go so far amongst a dozen people. I learned about hospitality that day— a joyful sharing of what we have, not fretting about what we don’t have. We certainly didn’t ask for more. We didn’t want more. We were abundantly blessed with a bounty of good things: Food, Friends, Family, Faith.
***Note: We lost the actual picture of the loaf; this is a close replica. Also, the shaping wasn't as easy as it sounds. I tried to duplicate it months later when I had a better oven, but I never managed the same classy “You can tell it’s a flower” look.