These are trying times, are they not? And yet, we continue to carve out moments of significance and joy as best we can, even when hard and unthinkable things are happening. Which brings me partly to my reason for writing about rooibos tea and Sibongile Pottery today.
My colleague and I took four social work students to South Africa in 2007 for study abroad. I had been traveling to South Africa since 2001, and this made my fifth trip, and third with students. At this point, I knew quite a few people, and those connections helped me to broaden the opportunities to work with and learn from people working in the communities to undo and repair the damage of apartheid. The J. L. Zwane Centre in Gugulethu was one of those places. At that time, the Sibongile Pottery enterprise was working out of a small workshop behind the center, doing the work of bettering the lives of the people in Gugulethu who were impacted by the hard and unthinkable things that were a legacy of apartheid.
Fast forward to my last trip in 2011, and Sibongile was working at the Green Market location in Cape Town to sell their pottery. I bought a number of pieces, not only to support their work, but because I genuinely love the art. My house is filled with weavings, textiles, pottery, jewelry, paintings, woodwork, and other forms of art that I have purchased over the years. Each is a treasure to me, because with only minor exceptions, they are the work of people bringing hope and employment and income to their communities. Every piece, every item, has connected with it a memory of the person from whom I purchased it, or the organization leading the work, or the shop that might have carried it. Some of those relationships became personal over the years of visits to study and learn and exchange. I learned to love rooibos (Afrikaans for “red bush”) after my first visit in 2001. I brought home a box of rooibos tea, and thereafter on every trip. It is quite common now to find it in various iterations worldwide.
Marcus Samuelsson is a chef, with a number of restaurants and books to his credit. I love his work because it represents his connection with his Ethiopian heritage and his Swedish heritage. Samuelsson’s Ambessa brand is carried through Harney and Sons Teas, and as you can see from the tin I still keep, I am a fan. His Safari Breakfast was a blend of rooibos and black tea. I currently use the tin to store Steven Smith’s No. 44 organic rooibos. I have not made it in a while though and see it is definitely time to reorder.
Rooibos is an herb tea, without caffeine, very smooth and fragrant. At times I enjoy it with milk and sugar, as it is commonly served in South Africa, but today I had it plain. This Sibongile tea cup is the one I use most often in daily tea drinking, and I can never drink from it without recalling the woman above who carefully wrapped it for me in order to survive the trip home–a woman who had endured hard and unthinkable things, and survived, and tried every day to make life better for the women and children and communities where she was still forced to live through no fault or failure of her own. We should remember that in times of the hard and unthinkable things that are occurring as a result of coronavirus, and keep compassion and generosity in ready supply.