Once upon a time, in a faraway land a United States Peace Corps trainee (me) spent the night with her Macedonian host family at a table sorting beans from their garden. They were not just ordinary beans, they were magic. The beans represented food and income for a family of four. You see, this hard-working, always-generous and friendly family had dug the earth, plowed the fields, planted the seeds, watered and weeded the plants, and then harvested the tiny beans to provide sustenance for their family. And, that is only part of their magic.
The final step of the process was to sort the beans – to discard the bad, select the best for sale and store the remaining beans for meals during the winter months ahead. The beans were the main focus of the evening, and were piled high on the dining room table on a clean worn cloth used for this and many other cooking purposes. I quickly learned that sorting them was serious business, but not so serious as to inhibit the magic powers of the beans as they transported me back in time . . .
Suddenly, instead of being a woman in a faraway land with grown children of my own back in the States, I was a 10-year-old girl in a bedroom suburb of Cleveland, Ohio enjoying the company of my family around a small kitchen table that – in shifts – presented food for nine boisterous kids and their parents. Instead of a tablecloth and beans, our white Formica table was covered with playing cards as we trumped and Rummied our way through many a night. On occasion the competition got the best of a younger sibling and tears were shed, but most often laughter and fun filled the evening. It was there at that table, and at the larger (still formica, but darker) one in our dining room that I learned about winning and losing, fair play, math and the magic of being with family and friends. Although the settings were very different and were separated by time and distance the warm feeling of being with family and friends was exactly the same.
Today, I find myself in a new country, the Republic of Georgia, and I am again living with a wonderful host family. Yesterday evening I walked into the kitchen and my host Mom, who is much younger than me, was sitting at the kitchen table with her older sister, who is also younger than me, and they were talking and sorting beans that another family member had grown and shared. The tiny room was cozy and warm and overflowing with people laughing and carrying on different conversations, and the beans worked their magic again – I was 10 years old and felt completely at home.
I hope you find time in the busy days ahead to share some activities with family and friends around a table, whether you are preparing a meal, making crafts, playing cards or board games or simply counting beans!
And, I hope that when you find yourself table-side, you will look around at the faces of the people you are with and pause to savor the moment. Let it sink in from your head to your toes as you realize how lucky you are, because spending time with the people you love is where the magic truly begins.
As part of creating the life she really wants, Patrice Koerper is currently living in Tbilisi, the capital
of the Republic of Georgia with a wonderful host family on a 3-month Peace Corps Response Volunteer assignment.