Department of Invitations

To give you a background, Penny Travlou, Natasha Tsangarides, and Jeffrey Andreoni set out last April (2015) to make an experimental culinary event with our friend Senait, who lives in Athens after arriving here 3 years ago. Senait left Eritrea much earlier than that, but as you know, the voyage to get to Europe takes several years for most people. Senait traversed many African countries and eventually made it to Turkey, where she was hoping to get refugee status, but since there was no way for her to support herself in Turkey, she finally landed in Greece, where she obtained refugee status.
Senait had been visiting Babel, the day center for refugees and migrants, with which Jeffrey and Francesca were doing a separate project since 2014 called “Invitations Department“. This project quite simply matched refugees living in Athens with local residents to have dinner. That’s it. Dinner at a local’s house for people (newcomers) who are also locals but might have never had coffee with a “local” local.
 The first "Invitations Department" dinner in Athens. November, 2014

The first “Invitations Department” dinner in Athens. November, 2014

By the time time Jeffrey met Senait, the folks at Babel felt she would enjoy such an activity. So, we “invited” Senait and her friend Zara to Penny’s house where we had a lovely dinner with five guests, but, as often happens when you are guessing about other people’s cultures, we made some mistakes! Senait was fasting for the Coptic Orthodox Easter which is stricter than the Greek Orthodox one. Although we had prepared food to fit the Greek Lent “Sarakosti” (butter beans in the oven, zucchini and feta cheese pie, beetroot and yogurt salad), it wasn’t suitable for the Eritrean one where they also refrain from eating dairy. Half of the dishes we prepared couldn’t be touched by our two guests from Eritrea.

Making Ethiopian Coffee

Making Ethiopian Coffee

After the meal, Senait let us try traditional Eritrean coffee. She lugged all the equipment from her house in a taxi and set herself up in the corner. Luckily, after some wrangling, the startup Taxibeat sponsored Senait’s taxi rides since she has mobility issues. This made it easier for her bring all the coffee equipment.

The coffee isn’t just a drink, it’s a ceremony: it’s rather meditative. As we watched her roast the beans, waft the odour around the room, and prepare the flask for the slow boil, we broke into conversation, which made us think the ceremony was having its effect since we were mostly strangers in the room.

Capturing the odors.

Capturing the odors.

As we chatted, we learned much more about the two women from Eritrea and we also started scheming: Senait has a talent for cooking and Penny has a talent for organizing, so this is when we first began discussing the idea of a pop-up kitchen in Athens.

Going back to where all started, at the end of 2014, Jeffrey spoke at International Migrant’s Day about the Invitations Department and possible new projects such a pop up kitchen for/with refugees. However, when it was finally our turn to speak, there was almost no one left in the room!

Speaking at "INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION DAY IN GREECE"

Speaking at “INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION DAY IN GREECE”

Eventually we did the event with Senait last April, too bad no one from the IOM was there. Maybe we can invite them to some future dinners “Invitations Department” style. It was quite memorable however, at the IOM event, when the president of one of the oldest migrant communities in Greece stood up and said, “You’re all here to talk about migrants, but I don’t see one in the room.”

Roger telling us about Congo

Roger telling us about Congo

We still continue to organize dinners in Athens, so if you are interested, get in touch by writing to us: