Jamila Mohammed sits on the floor in her room preparing her Ethiopian black coffee on a traditional wood stove that she brought with her from her home country. It’s boiled in a pottery jug designed for this type of coffee.
Mohammed always likes to invite her friends to her “Ethiopian coffee room.”
Everything about the room reminds her of her home country — but the room is in her house in St. John’s.
“I like to invite my friends, especially those who don’t know much about Ethiopia,” says Mohammed.
She is Canadian and Ethiopian and arrived in Newfoundland 12 years ago with her five children. They came as refugees because of the conflicts happening at the time in their home country.
Traditional art pieces adorn the walls and an Ethiopian sofa furnishes the floor.
“These colourful handicrafts on the walls are the traditional gifts given to the bride from her mother at the wedding,” says Mohammed.
“We celebrate in this room on some occasions such as New Year or Muslim Eid, and sometimes we have special days as a family where we eat Ethiopian food, drink coffee, and listen to Ethiopian songs. We enjoy that time being together,” she said.
It’s also a place for Mohammed to take a break and recharge.
“When I come home tired after my work, I go to the coffee room to rest and relax. I feel so loved and happy, and I feel like my mom and dad are with me,” she said.
Her parents died many years ago before she came to Canada, but she still has family members in Ethiopia, like a one-year-old grandson, Imran. Mohammed is waiting to tell him stories about this room.
“I hope Imran will come when he is four or five years old and ask me about this room. I will be very happy to tell him about this room and our Ethiopian culture.”
Linking heritage and new beginnings
Many immigrants carry with them their original culture and their nostalgia for it. They try to build a bridge linking two cultures, between two homelands, and they work to preserve this cultural richness within them.
Rahma Ibrahim came from Ethiopia about five years ago — as a refugee — with her small family to St. John’s in 2018. She is originally from Eritrea and is a mother of three children.
She has a special corner in her house decorated with Eritrean handcrafts that her mother gifted to her at her wedding.
Ibrahim hung three handicrafts made up of natural leather and shells. On the small table, she’s neatly arranged pots and small cups made up of mud and dressed with coloured beads.
“The handicrafts on the wall were not for décor only,” she said.
“One was used as a holder of a mirror, the second one as a bag, and the last one as a pillow. But now I use them to decorate my room.”
She makes coffee with the traditional recipe her mother used to.
“This room gives me a feeling of happiness and freedom when remembering my wedding and all my beautiful memories, and sometimes it makes my tears come out because I miss my Mama and Papa and all my family,” Ibrahim said.
‘My comfort zone’
Constanza Safatle Ferrari is a newcomer entrepreneur who arrived from Chile to St. John’s six years ago, with her husband who studied for a master’s and Ph.D. in environmental sciences at MUN. She has two children who were both born in St. Johns.
Ferrari dedicated a wall in the living room of her house to hang illustrations that show off Santiago and Viña del Mar, Chile, which is where Ferrari and her husband are from, respectively.
“It is like a piece of my country in one wall and every time I saw it, really, I am feeling happy. It is my comfort zone,” Ferrari said.
“I will explain to my kids about my country where we are from, and where their grandparents and cousins live now, and this helps me to continue to speak Spanish at home and make my kids proud of our culture.”
‘New moments of happiness’
Shobhana Sariya is a Canadian who arrived in Newfoundland from India with her husband 17 years ago.
She is interested in cooking and painting, and says sitting in their dining room eating and chatting together is their favourite pastime.
“Every artifact has a significant meaning and emotional memory with my family in our house,” Sariya said.
“This special room in my house with coloured Indian art helps us as a family to build new moments of happiness.”
Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador