When dinner stories fill your stomach, heart, and soul

MIAMI—Too often we focus on what makes us different, but we’re actually more alike than we think. Our differences don’t have to divide us; we should embrace them—and what better way to do that than over food.

For the past year and a half I’ve been looking for Syrian refugees in Miami. I’ve heard of a couple of families who were resettled in South Florida, but couldn’t find a way to connect with them until I met Nour, a Syrian student studying in Miami.

In March, Nour sent me an e-invite for The Syrian Supper Club. I had no clue what that was, but assumed it was an event for Syrians to meet and connect in Miami. So I RSVP’d, paid the $50 fee, and I got an email with directions to the host’s address in a very nice neighborhood in Miami.

When I attended my first dinner I was surprised to find out the The Syrian Supper Club is a network of Miami-based women who have created the event for Syrian refugee families to cook and share their culture with anyone interested in a dinner filled with yummy food and good cheer.

Connecting around foodMark Lima

Connecting around food

I was blown away by the amount of support and care these American women showed to the Syrian refugee mothers at the dinner. It was a group of 25 Miami women who genuinely care about making these newcomers feel welcome in the community and learning about what’s happening in Syria.

One Syrian mom, following a dinner discussion about her struggles and long journey to America, was asked what she most needs help with to feel welcomed in Miami. With tears in her eyes she said she needs help finding an apartment close to public transportation and potential jobs. To my surprise, one of the other attendees at the dinner stepped forward and offered the Syrian woman rent-free use of a vacant apartment for an entire year!

As I looked around the dinner table that night, I knew I had to bring #TheFeed’s team with me to the next Syrian Supper. I wanted to showcase on Fusion how this great community in Miami is working to help Syrian refugees feel home in a foreign land. And as a Syrian American myself, I wanted to show off how delicious authentic Syrian food is!

The Fusion Feed team about to get their eat onMark Lima

The Fusion Feed team about to get their eat on

Joined by my Fusion colleagues Kim and Ryan, I had the opportunity to meet with two Syrian refugee families who have been resettled in Miami during the past year. Each family has four kids between the ages of 7 and 19.

As the women were busy preparing the food, we connected with the kids. We talked to them about living in Miami and how their daily lives have changed since moving here. Ismael, 7, said he loves living in Miami and his favorite song is “Despacito”. Ismael told us he’s looking forward to going to summer camp for the first time in his life, thanks to a fundraising effort by dinner hosts Phyllis and Maya, who collected enough money to send 15 Syrian refugee kids to summer camp in Miami.

In the kitchen, the women were motioning to the cameraman to not take video of them. Using hand gestures, they told our cameraman to not film their faces. With slight frustration and innocence, I asked the women in Arabic why they were refusing to be on camera when they knew we would be filming the dinner beforehand? That’s when their 17-year-old daughter giggled and said, “We have to get ready and put makeup on first!”

I laughed so hard. I was forgetting glamor first; these ladies care just as much about dressing up and looking good as the rest of us. As well they should. Refugee status, after all, is a legal classification, not a fashion choice.

As the women got ready, we gathered in the kitchen with Ismael and the rest of the kids learning the steps to Syria’s famous Dabbkeh line dance. We failed miserably, which provided Ismael with endless laughs. I was extremely happy and proud to see my Fusion Feed team laugh, eat, dance, and enjoy time with the Syrian families who were in need of some friendly fellowship.

The team that eats together, Feeds togetherMark Lima

The team that eats together, Feeds together

We have to remember that these families were handed plane tickets by refugee resettlement agencies in Turkey and Jordan, then put on flights to Miami to start a new life. That is a terribly difficult thing to do. Just think about if you were put on a plane to Amman and told to start a new life there!?

These families don’t know the language, are entirely unfamiliar with the local culture, traditions, and the pace of life here in Miami. Their struggles are real. But I can assure you that these types of interactions with community members engaged in outreach efforts such as the Syrian Supper Club are vitally important. It makes these families feel welcome—and that gives a hope.

Watch The Fusion Feed, Thursdays @9:30 PM on FUSION TV. Channel listings here.