“Oh My Sweet Land”: Bringing Cross-Cultural Cooking and Conversation to GLIDE’s Kitchen

On Tuesday, October 17, GLIDE will host a free performance by Golden Thread theater company of Oh My Sweet Land, a play by Amir Nizar Zuabi that offers a personal take on the Syrian conflict and resulting refugee crisis from the perspective of its female protagonist (played by Nora El Samahy). Torange Yeghiazarian is the founding artistic director of Golden Thread, a San Francisco company devoted to plays written, directed and performed by artists of Middle Eastern heritage. Torange began the company a little over 20 years ago, and does the artistic programming, play selection, hiring of the artists and general running of the company along with two other full-time staff members. She kindly spoke to us about the play and her inspiration for having it performed here at GLIDE.

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What is Oh My Sweet Land about?

The play is about a woman who travels back to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon in search of a friend, a Syrian refugee, whom she had met and befriended in Paris. Through that journey she learns more about her own heritage and cultural background. She is half Syrian and she learns more about the political situation in Syria through meeting and speaking with lot of Syrian refugees. As a result, the audience encounters the reality in Syria through her eyes.

Can you tell us why you chose this particular project?

The story is timely, the writing is beautiful and poetic. It deals with a global catastrophe from a very intimate and personal perspective. And I think it’s a great way for public audiences to get a sense of what’s happening in Syria beyond what the news is telling us. The play really personalizes this global catastrophe.

What are some of the challenges and joys that you experienced while directing this play?

The performance takes place in a kitchen so we have been rehearsing this in Nora’s kitchen. Rehearsing in her home is nice and convenient but it also means that we rehearse with her son in the room sometimes. I found telling this story in the presence of a child particularly moving because it’s so much about our shortcomings as adults and as human beings; the things that we do to each other and how we forget what’s actually important. And for him to be sitting there quietly watching, I found that really moving.

The actor must memorize a one-hour long monologue, so that’s really challenging in itself. She has to prepare a meal while she’s performing, so that’s another layer of challenge. And it’s a very moving story; I think it’s emotionally draining so that’s also difficult.

On the production side, we are basically a traveling kitchen at the moment, so I think for our production staff that has been difficult—the setup, the cleanup, the packing…it requires a little bit more preparation and coordination than your average production, where you load into a single theatre and run the show for a month. We have 10 performances at 10 different venues, and each venue will have its own specific needs, so that’s really been time- consuming for all of us. We must anticipate the needs of each new venue and adjust our setup. It’s like performing in 10 different theatres!

I thought it’d be great to share this story with folks from the neighborhood, folks who are maybe going through hard times in their own lives. I’m curious about sharing the story with them and seeing how they respond to it, and what they have to add, their perspective.

What is the role of food in the show, particularly the Syrian dish kibbeh?

I think the playwright talks about this beautifully, about how food is important in community and in Middle Eastern culture. It’s a way for community to gather and open up to each other around a meal. Typically kibbeh is a kind of deep-fried meatball, so it has a soft, juicy meaty inside, and then the crust is hard and grainy. So basically the writer has chosen a food item that is simple enough to prepare—you can actually prepare it in an hour—and then it has these two different elements: the hard outer crust that is earthy and grainy and the juicy soft center that is meaty and nutty. This balance is metaphoric of how humans seem to be. The outer crust is referred to as “skin.” In the play she talks about having a “thick skin,” and the challenge in making kibbeh is making the skin as thin as possible. But in life you really need a thick skin to get through.

So food is an opportunity to gather, a metaphoric literary tool and at a practical level it gives her something to do while she’s telling her story. For the character it’s a way to find connection to her heritage because she recalls her aunt making it.

Why did you choose GLIDE as one of the venues?

I had never been to GLIDE until I came to visit the folks to talk about this project. I had always heard about what an inclusive community it is and how serving food to the needy is at the center of the organization. I thought it’d be great to share this story with folks from the neighborhood, folks who are maybe going through hard times in their own lives. I’m curious about sharing the story with them and seeing how they respond to it, and what they have to add, their perspective. And of course because food is central to GLIDE, I think it was important for us to perform in a food-space, and you all have that beautiful demo kitchen which is perfect for the performance so it really worked out well!

 

Oh My Sweet Land will be performed in Freedom Hall, on the ground floor of GLIDE’s main facility at 330 Ellis St., at 2:00 pm this Tuesday, October 17. The show lasts about an hour. Admission is free and all are welcome. Food and conversation will follow the performance.

 

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Today we’d like to honor Fredie. He’s been volunteering with GLIDE Harm Reduction for two years, helping to assemble safer injection and smoking kits and organizing other volunteers to help him in this important task. Considering he also works, volunteers at other orgs, practices yoga and tai chi and has four beloved great-grandchildren, we are amazed and grateful that he dedicates time every week to the health of our community. . “I’ve been with GLIDE for the last two years. I like what I do. I do a little bit of everything; I make [safer injection] kits, and I teach other volunteers how to make them… the team goes out tonight [Tuesday] with the kits to give them out. . I just like giving back, volunteering. I come every week. I would come two or three times a week, but I work six days. The only day I have off is Sunday, and I go to church on Sunday. Everything out in the street, I done did it — dealing, using, all of that. Now I don’t do any of it. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. The only thing I drink is coffee, and soda once in awhile. . I wait for these days. I wait for Tuesday. I have a lot of doctors’ appointments, but I make them early in the morning so that I can come to GLIDE.” . Thank you for all you do for GLIDE and the San Francisco community! We love you, Fredie! . #NVW2018 #nationalvolunteerweek #givingback #harmreduction #localheroes
It's #nationalvolunteerweek! Hats off to Emmett and Masumi, who served breakfast today. Emmett has been volunteering weekly at GLIDE for 15 years! He says that he enjoys starting the week in a positive manner. Thanks to you both! #NVW2018 #givingback #mondaymotivation #positivevibes
Today we want to show some love to our stellar volunteer, Roma! Roma started volunteering at GLIDE last year, and she is currently a sophomore at Lick Wilmerding High School. She had become a beloved fixture in our Meals Program, bringing a lot of energy, joy and kindness to the dining hall. We love and appreciate you, Roma! #VolunteerAppreciationMonth #Community #GivingBack . “Over the summer I was trying to find a place where I could volunteer for a week or so, and I knew Michael Lezak, who had just started working here. So I asked him about it and then came here. The experience made me love GLIDE; it’s just such a great community and there are so many different things you can do. On Thursdays I come to serve a meal, but I also like to volunteer in other areas. When I came here over the summer, I helped with the surveys for the Meals Program. I put those onto the computer, which was pretty intense! I also visited other programs, like the Women’s Center and Speak Out, and now I’m going to the meetings that lead up to the Alabama trip. . Of all the places that I’ve volunteered, GLIDE just seems like such a fun and open environment. There are so many different groups of people and vibes you get from different places. Down in the Meals hall it’s loud and crazy and fun. You meet people who are homeless, people who are housed and just coming for a meal, you get to meet other volunteers, and the staff who organize Meals like James Sampaga and Gucci and Joann. Also, there are people like James Lin who is very smart and thoughtful about everything he says. I feel like I learn so much when I come here, everyone has so much knowledge that I just don’t have!”
Every Monday and Tuesday night, GLIDE’s Ellis Street entrance becomes a one-stop shop for free #harmreduction supplies, such as syringe access, safe sex supplies, safer injection and smoking kits, community resources and more. We are very grateful to the volunteers who dedicate their evenings to the health and dignity of our neighbors. Pictured here is our Monday night crew: Evan Burke, Tad S., Deborah Yip, Jalen Benson, Melanie Regan, Chris D., Bella King and Matt Nussbaum. A heartfelt thanks to all of them. #VolunteerAppreciationMonth #volunteerSF #SyringeAccess #PublicHealth

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