--- Commentary by Cynthia Thomet
Nothing says “comfort” quite like freshly baked bread. Everything about it feels good. Making it, there’s the sifting of flour, carefully adding water to knead the combination into smooth dough. Baking it, the leavening has a fragrance that can draw crowds. Significantly, making bread is a process that takes time.
The positive impact is even greater for relief efforts. Today, I came across a little story published on the World Food Programme website entitled, “Pakistan: Food Aid Means Fresh Bread for Homeless Families,” the article underlines the basic human need to eat food for survival, but more importantly, it’s about people surviving the devastating impact of broken families, ruptured communities.
The recent floods washed through Pakistan as I was coincidentally wrapping up a book called “Three Cups of Tea,” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It is a non-fiction account of Greg Mortenson’s commitment and travels to build schools for girls and youth in the most rural areas of Northern Pakistan following a troublesome K2 climb. Throughout the book are scenes of poor families and struggling villages preparing feasts from what little they have to create a lifelong bond with Greg, and to secure a commitment from him to build another school for their children.
People who break bread together can develop a deeper understanding for meeting basic needs to build better communities.
There’s one scene in this book where Greg was frustrated to learn that the money he raised in the United States was re-appropriated by village elders in Korphe, Pakistan to build a bridge across a treacherous ravine—one that for decades was bridged by a zip-line of sorts. Greg was immediately aware that bridge project would eat all the funds he raised for a school and would put off building the school for at least another year.
Greg worried what his backers would think. He had approached the village with the vision of building a school. As he fretted and micro-managed construction of the bridge, he was taken aside by Haji Ali, a village elder, who taught him one of the most important lessons for helping communities: “We’re the country of thirty-minute power lunches. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects.”
After that meeting with Ali, Greg let go. The bridge was the best solution for this village, as it was the only reasonable way to transport tons of construction materials across the canyon through which some of Central Asia’s coldest glacial waters flowed. The following year, the school was built and led to a domino effect over the next several years of school-building projects throughout this mountainous region of Central Asia. All because he took the time to drink three cups of tea.
In my mind, the two stories written years apart connected in my consciousness this week. Food is more than fuel, just as my sitting next to a stranger is more than a random occurrence. The moment can carry the impact of a butterfly fluttering its wings on the opposite end of the earth. It can breathe comfort into your soul like freshly baked bread.
--- The author is Cynthia Thomet, a humanitarian, and co owner and doyenne of the award winning downtown Atlanta, Georgia; US restaurant, Lunacy Black Market. http://www.lunacyblackmarket.com/