A Somali woman once worked for me at Two Tartes.
She was thirty, had six children -- the oldest in middle
school -- and had fled Somalia unexpectedly. Said she
and her husband had about twenty minutes to leave
their house with their (then) three young children
or face certain death. Her husband worked in his
family business -- a hotel. They left everything,
ended up in a small apartment in the Renton Highlands.
She was enrolled in a refugee retraining program
at Seattle Central Community College. My job
was to teach her to bake. She knew well how to cook
her native cuisine, but Western cooking was foreign.
I started at the beginning, with measuring spoons,
cups, ingredients. She was intelligent, learned quickly
and had a marvelous sense of humor. Every day she arrived
to our hot little space in the midst of summer, fully swathed
in her Somali dress. I always dressed in as little clothing
as possible (no chef's whites for me) -- shorts and tank tops.
She insisted that she wasn't hot, but I sweltered.
That bakery cooled down to a toasty 85 degrees
in the afternoons with the AC blasting. (Wimpy AC.)
The basics -- flour, sugar, baking powder, salt --
these were easy for her. It was all the add-ins that
vexed her. She asked, "what is walnut ? What is cranberry?"
When she learned that my husband had died in a car accident,
she told me that she couldn't imagine such loss and sadness;
of course, I said the same right back to her about her
loss of country, home, culture.
Fatima -- pronounced "FAH -dee-muh" --
was a pleasure to teach. She was with me for ten weeks
and then left, and I have not seen her since. On her last day
she brought in a traditional Somali meal that she prepared
at home (and carried to us on the bus). I don't remember
what it was except that I loved all of it. I miss her.