“Do you want some tea?” asked Supriya, smiling as she poured a cup of hot chai, a milky and slightly spiced Indian beverage.
She gestured to two bowls of crunchy snacks, one sweet and one salty, and invited the visitor to scoop out a handful of each. “The sweet one has a little cardamom in it,” she said, handing over a small packet of spice to be sniffed. Nearby, a wooden table-top container held an array of additional packets of exotic-smelling spices.
An educator from India, Supriya is part of Perkins’ Educational Leadership Program’s (ELP) Class of 2015. The nine-month program gives educators from 12 countries advanced skills in multiple disability education they will take home and implement in their local schools and agencies. This International Celebration in late November was their opportunity to share a taste of their cultures with Perkins staff and students.
Each country was represented at one of the many tables lining both sides of the wide center hallway of the Howe Building, flanked by the museum artifacts that reside there year-round. The tables were resplendent with maps and photos, clothing and jewelry, toys and musical instruments. And food.
At the entrance to the hall, Amal from Egypt greeted visitors. She was dressed in white with gold trim, from her serpent-adorned headdress to her flowing skirt. Her kohl-lined eyes smiled warmly as she spooned koshari, a mix of rice, lentils and noodles into bowls and offered them to passersby. “This is popular food in Egypt,” she said, as Secondary student Chris, 19, took a helping.
“I’m taking this to eat in class,” he said with a smile, holding the bowl carefully while navigating with his white cane.
At the other end of the hall, Mirla from Chile offered empanadas, half-moon shaped pockets of dough filled with meat, egg and onion. The dough, she explained, takes a lot of time to roll out and get just right, but she was happy to do it to share her culture with her new friends.
Claxton from Antigua was wearing the vibrant orange-green-red plaid clothing of his Caribbean island country. His table boasted a wide array of jams, jellies and chutneys, made from the mangos, guavas and pineapples that grow on his island. The peppered guava jam was a spicy favorite of the teaching assistants traversing the hall.
Across the way, Ana Paola of Mexico had the requisite nacho chips and spicy salsa. They were balanced by tamarind water, a lightly sweet and cool drink the color of apple cider made by removing the tamarind seeds from their shell-like pod and boiling them. “It’s refreshing,” she said. “It’s like tea but it’s not hot.”
Ana Lilia of Costa Rica offered warm tortillas, a flat round of bread that was light and a little puffy. They were made with corn flour and water and an extra ingredient that Ana adds: cheese. She also supplied a drink of sugar cane and water – “we call it sweetwater” – as well as small wrapped candies with a smooth caramel flavor.
At a nearby table was a plate of dried fruits (sweet) and one of dried meats (salty). Ani from Armenia had also prepared a colorful platter of lentil keufteh. The somewhat soft doughy balls were made of lentils, cracked wheat, onions, oil and parsley, and garnished with red peppers and green pickles. A pomegranate was opened, displaying its ruby red seeds.
Perkins students and staffers wandering from table to table learned a lot about the ELP participants by asking questions, studying brightly colored maps and displays, and feeling the textures of fabrics and crafts. But they may have learned even more with every bite they took – which revealed the unique and delicious culinary personality of each country represented in the hall that day.