I have a trade arrangement with a group of Somali refugee women. I teach them healthy ways to live in the United States, and they teach me what it means to emerge from a deep trial with a gracious spirit.
These women have survived refugee camps, lost family members, and endured a steep language barrier in a foreign land. Still, their smiles light up the room.
We talk little about their stories. Instead we focus on life in America – especially as it relates to food.
The overwhelming response to our industrialized food culture?
“Too much sugar. In Somalia we have sugar with tea in morning, and sugar with tea in evening. No other sugar.” The woman who tells me this is in her 50s and has the most perfect teeth I have ever seen!
Another woman asks “Where are the cows?”
“We see milk on the shelves, but no cows!”
They talk about the lack of fresh food.
“In Somalia, fresh meat and milk everyday.”
Not just any milk. Camel’s milk. The milk may not taste as good as goat or cow’s milk, the women insist, ” but very very good for health.”
They show me one of their favorite remedies – black cumin seed.
We talk about the allergies some have developed since moving to the United States. I’m not surprised. The hygiene hypothesis suggests our sanitized culture is contributing to heightened allergies, because of missing microbial diversity. One can only imagine the loss of microbes one might experience moving from Somalia to America.
Another woman tells me about her frequent headaches since beginning her work in hotel housekeeping. “The chemicals so strong,” she says.
I teach them the simplicity of cleaning with white vinegar. For a fun project, they each made their own Vinegar of the Four Thieves – a recipe using apple cider vinegar and herbs.
Another project? Sauerkraut. If microbes are missing in America, then a probiotic food makes sense. “Cheap medicine,” my daughter Megan explains. Megan is the tutor who set up the classes.
They nod with understanding and excitement. It takes all of ten minutes to see these women embrace the sauerkraut making process.
Fatuma excitedly tells me she is going to make “more and more” for her family and friends.
“I go to emergency room 3 times last week. No good. Now, make cabbage (sauerkraut). Better, yes!”
Last week we made kombucha. It’s not easy to describe a SCOBY (the mushroom that ferments the tea.)
But nothing stops these women from trying new things.
Something I plan to emulate.