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The Story of This Photo

Today's blogpost was written by Emerson Karsh Lomban, a Yahel Onward Israel Participant, learning and interning for two-months in Haifa

This summer I am doing Onward Israel’s themed based social justice and community service program where I am living and interning in Haifa for about two months. One of my placements is with Sindyanna of Galilee, which is a fair-trade, non-profit organization that is led by a team of Arab and Jewish women working together to create social change within Israel. Sindyanna produces olive oil, honey, soaps, Zatar, and other products while creating economic opportunities for Arab women, and assisting local growers and producers.

One of the projects Sindyanna works on year-round is teaching local Arab women how to weave baskets so they are able to work from home and sell them to their community. It allows these women to have economic independence and a marketable skill.

When I was in the office the other day, there was a group of Arab women working on basket weaving. I was not entirely sure if they were learning or just weaving baskets with their friends, but the room was full of love and laughter.

Within this photo, there is a cup of seemingly black coffee and a bowl of some sort of cookies. That day my computer decided to not work and I elected to walk away and take a break from turning it on and off. I went into the kitchen to try to manage to make some coffee.

Back in the US, making coffee is as simple as putting some coffee grounds in a coffee filter, add water, and turn on the coffee maker. Basic knowledge. In Israel, they do not have coffee makers and everything is essentially instant coffee and for an American coffee connoisseur (addict, really) making the perfect cup of coffee in Israel using just powder is a very daunting and frankly, difficult task.

Sindyanna is also a visitor center and we always serve our visitors Arabic coffee. Thus, that is what my office’s kitchen had in surplus. Little to my knowledge, Arabic coffee is not prepared like Israeli powdered coffee where you just add hot water from the tea kettle.

I was attempting to make this cup of coffee when one of the Arab women weaving baskets saw my immense struggle and I think her reaction was a mix of heartbreak and laughter watching me - excuse my language- completely fucking it up. She tried telling me I was not doing it properly but unfortunately the language barrier deemed it difficult. I was motioning to her that I would give up and go back to my work station, but she refused.

Instead, she started gathering the Arabic coffee pot and she started to make me a cup of coffee. We stood there, exchanging smiles waiting for this pot to cook. After the coffee was cooked she asked me what my favorite color was in her limited English and in my limited Hebrew I tried responding yellow. She went to another area of the kitchen and grabs a yellow mug for my coffee and starts to fill it up. My supervisor, who speaks Arabic, English, and Hebrew, came in and the women making my coffee tells him something. My supervisor translated and told me she has a daughter around my age at home and loves to make coffee with her and sit and talk about life over that shared cup of coffee.

It brought me back home where my mom and I always get coffee as a special treat or pick me up together. I brought my cup of coffee back to my makeshift workstation and she proceeded to bring me the bowl of cookies while I was working. I still have no idea if they are some sort of biscotti or what was in them but they were delicious and that small act of kindness made my week.

I decided to take a picture when I noticed the sticker on my computer. I see that sticker every single day but I don't necessarily think about it every day. “Bloom Where You’re Planted”, and at that moment those words symbolized so much to me. I literally and figuratively was planted at Sindyanna and to be blunt, it has not been easy. The office is not in Haifa and is a commute and for someone who hates Israeli traffic, it's difficult. There have been times during these past three weeks where all I wanted was to go home and leave Haifa or switch internships or change something because it wasn’t going as smoothly as expected.

Israeli work culture is a hard transition from American culture and my weeks are relatively unstructured and scattered. There is also this added constant pressure to be socializing and exploring and having a fulfilling internship because this truly is a once in a lifetime experience with such a diverse group of amazing participants and opportunities. This transition, unstructured environment, and continual pressure had been weighing me down but at that moment, I had to remember to keep blooming. To continue to sit in the discomfort. I needed to keep working through the commutes, language barriers, and seemingly mundane work.

To me, I am not doing the most glamorous, life-altering work where I am going to see immediate results so I need to consistently remind myself that the social justice work I am currently doing does have an impact even if I can not visually see it. But when a random woman makes me a cup of coffee and brings me cookies because she knows the work I am doing will have an impact, I need to continue reminding myself that what I am doing is life-altering to someone and I need to dismantle my own privilege and selfishness to understand it is beyond okay that it is not my life that is being affected but is, in fact, impacting the woman who makes me a cup of coffee out of the kindness of her heart. Seeing the big picture is a daunting task, especially in the world of social justice, but I am going to continue finding joy through the small, daily things, like drinking out of my favorite colored mug or meeting the people who are truly making this experience beyond rewarding.

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