The twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth cups of nun chai

17.12.10

The nun chai had become cold sitting in the thermos but Idil said she didn’t mind. She said she often drank cold tea at home.

Despite being cold the nun chai was almost a perfect pink colour and Idil asked if I had used a special kind of milk. I hadn’t at all, but I told her how obsessed I was with non-homogenised milk and she began to tell me about the rich camel milk that was popular in her home country Somalia. Camel milk was a great source of energy and life in Somalia, and although it wasn’t available in Australia, camel meat was and Idil said the Somali community were going wild over it.

I was reminded of a cup of warm milk I was served when I first visited a home, belonging to someone who would remain a close friend, in north Kashmir. Much later I was told the reason we were initially served warm milk was because their mother had believed in two kinds of relations among people; one was a blood relation while the other formed when someone shared the same mother’s milk. They served us warm milk in their home as a gesture to bring us closer to the family.

Idil’s friend Danielle arrived and I poured her a cup of nun chai also. She had just visited Pakistan and come very close to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. She had also been working with Afghan refugees in Western Sydney and so she was interested to learn about the nun chai project. When I asked Danielle about Pakistan she said the city of Lahore had surprised her; she had imagined it to be a city like any other she had known, something akin to Sydney per se, but in actuality she had found it dramatically different – particularly the structure of the roads.

Three young women, with our experiences in different parts of the world and our common lives in Sydney, spoke about the different rhythms of life; we all found ourselves trying to balance this need to be “productive” and a desire, at the same time, to simply “be”. To spend the day, Idil said, chatting over the back fence with your neighbours.

Thinking about the lives lost in Kashmir this last Summer, we began to speak about countries and politics and the division of the world under the dark legacy of colonialism. Our collective experiences and memories moved across South and Central Asia to the Horn of Africa and back into the heart of Sydney. As I described Kashmir’s right to self-determination (what could also be described as the basic right to life) Idil explained how a place called Somaliland was also struggling for independence from larger Somalia. She described how the Somali/Somaliland conflict continued to permeate the Somali community in Sydney and heated discussions about these issues were rife.

Speaking of Afghanistan and Somalia, I was reminded of how a man in Kupwara district of Kashmir explained to me that the only active militants in the mountains of Kashmir today, were not local’s but rather a handful of men from Somalia and Afghanistan. Idil said that even here, in Australia, she had heard stories of a few young Somali men leaving their homes without telling their families to join jihad struggles in far off countries. Idil said we would never get anywhere if we continued to run around killing people. She spoke about this for a while, drifting off and looking down as words inevitably failed the immensity of what she described and of all that we discussed.

We spoke for a long time. Three young women with three cups of nun chai in western Sydney; our conversations flowed seamlessly from things as diverse as Bollywood to civil war in Somalia, from Henna to the absurdity of helicopters with bright search lights patrolling the streets of Auburn at night, from salwar kameez to the vastness of Sydney and of course to the history of Kashmir and all the people who should not have lost their lives in the valley this past Summer.

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