Dinner in Damascus

How a meal 14 000 kilometres removed from a conflict brought members of Australia's Gold Coast community together.

صار بيننا خبز و ملح

The Arabic quote "We share bread and salt" has a deeper message meaning "we are bonded now, as we shared a meal". By sharing a meal, you share not only food, but also your culture, your story, and your customs.

How a meal 14 000 kilometres removed from a conflict brought members of Australia's Gold Coast community together.

In March 2018, Syrian chefs took over the kitchen at a restaurant on the Gold Coast in Australia and guided their guests on a cultural and culinary experience to the old city of Damascus. Approximately 100 people attended the event, 'Dinner in Damascus'.

While Australia may be a country based on immigration, multiculturalism and diversity, it was the first time the majority of the guests tried Syrian food. The chefs made an immense effort to satisfy every taste bud, starting from the traditional aperitive, Tamir Hindi, that they replicated to taste just like in the Syrian markets. The chefs went out of their way to please the eyes with chopped parsley and fresh pomegranate decorating the meals and every aspect of the food presentation was carefully thought out because food presentation is extremely important.

لعين بتاكل

(it means "the eye eats")

Following the traditional Syrian buffet, guests engaged in listening to story-tellers with origins from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Greece, China and local Gold Coast artists and entrepreneurs. Guests went live to Damascus to hear from the Watad Educational and Musical Group, a scouting organisation utilising art as an educational tool to enhance the lives and provide psychosocial support to children in Syria. Guests also heard about local projects and organisations working together with displaced people and profits were raised to help refugees in the community through the Refugee Association of Logan.

The story-tellers showed immense courage, as did the chefs. It has been said that senses can restore memories and emotions and remembering the taste of Damascus, in a small, far away Australian city is not an easy task.

Some research has been done on the power-infused relations between hosting and being hosted, between giving and receiving, as well as the politics of food and hospitality and how food can create intimate environments, often in contrast to hostile realities, but more needs to be put into practice. The evening aimed to foster feelings of togetherness and connectivity, beyond borders and stereotypes, providing a platform for the people of the community (and far away) to share their stories and their individuality, which the Sheherazade Gold Coast Belly-dance Academy did so well. Guests jumped out of their seats at the sound of the dabkeh and embraced the food, the stories and the dance.

Dinner in Damascus provided guests on the Gold Coast with an intimate and enlightening experience from which everyone both gained something and gave a part of themselves as well. We hope to repeat this experience. Maybe in your city?

Jovana Mastilovic is a PhD Candidate @GriffLawSchool in Brisbane, Australia. Jovana's PhD research analyzes the impact of securitization on access to asylum in the European Union. Originally from Serbia, her passion concerning migration, mobility and security arose from a diverse personal and professional background. Follow her on Twitter @jomana_va

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