Coffee With Companion


Rhythms, with their grounding orientation, have a gravitational pull. Coffee is one such. Our go to, the Chemex (designed in 1941 by Peter Schlumbohm, a chemist) surely contains all ritual requirements, but has nothing on the Ethiopian coffee ceremony a former refugee friend from there, generously regularly offered me. 

To start, she (Emabet) roasted green beans, ground squatting on the front steps of her state house, then brewed over charcoal in the living room on a mat she covered with long grass & branches, in a ceramic vessel that I guess functioned somewhat like a stovetop. Inserted into the charcoal was an incense like substance. Within this perfumed smokey haze coffee then was performatively poured into shot size cups, strong / black / with what seemed at times about 50% sugar, the refills of which were constant. The assumption being you are not in a rush. You are here just to talk, & drink coffee of course.

My husband & I are working together on a company, Companion, where we collaboratively create furniture & textile items with migrants & former refugees. Emabet was contributor at the origin of such thinking. Her desire for work, but lack of English, her love of illustrating –– the subjects Ethiopian, coupled with enthusiastic narration…

Unbelievably though she died. So now this thing we are doing is in a way an apology for not starting it sooner so she could have had a bigger part, though her memory is integrated, & elements of her former work incorporated. These tea towels are one such item –– “clean & dry” embroidered in Arabic (one of the dialects of Pary who stitched them) & also Amharic, Emabet’s first language.

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- Written & photographed by Kareen Durbin for Self Practice,   June 2018.