What do you get when you take a British-American and Egyptian and put them in a French grocery store? This sounds like the opening to a joke; in reality, it was the start of a nearly nine-hour struggle to bake feeter, a kind of Arabic bread, pastry, or pie (depending on who you ask).
This past Thursday’s theme for our English event at the university center was Arabian Night (cue the song from Aladdin). The day before, I met with Saher, my teammate who lead the event, at the grocery store to buy the supplies. One hour later we were still languishing in Geant, the larger of the two grocery stores in our area, bemoaning the fact that France is extremely flour specific. There are definitely more types of flour than are strictly necessary. T45, T55, T65, T80, T110, T170, Blé, Rye, Brioche, Allemand, liquid(?) and all versions can be bio or regular. Plus, some seem to have eggs added in for...funzies? Not to mention that translating words about food from Arabic to English to French then trying to locate them in a store that organizes in such a bizarre way that the aluminum is by the cleaning products is like the language and culture equivalent of blindfolded gymnastics. I’m still uncertain what spreadable milk is. I do know that if you’ve not seen someone sit on the ground in despair next to the section of soft cheese, you haven’t stayed long enough in the store.
After over an hour later, we set off to start kneading and baking. Although you might think I’d know my way around bread since I’ve been baking since I could push on dough, feeter in another animal entirely. The dough was first too hard then way too watery. We weren’t really sure what we were doing wrong, and I’m not sure we would have been successful as we were if it weren’t for ten or so skype calls to Saher’s mother. Though one hour and several countries away, she saved the project. All in all, it was about nine hours of stretching dough, spreading oil, layering each piece, and navigating an oven that bakes extremely unevenly.
Though very tired the next day for our respective 8 am obligations, it was a success. The long hours of pounding out dough were absolutely worth it. Saher transformed the FEU into a cozy space with blankets, pillows, and candles, we read and acted out Arabic folktales, and people were fed. Actually, from my perspective, the work that went into the feeter made it even better. There’s something incredibly satisfying about watching people enjoy something you’ve worked hard to produce, and feeding people is one of the things I enjoy the most, not to mention it’s very Biblical.
Sharing a meal, especially one that involves bread, brings people together. Bread, whether feeter, baguette, or a regular rye or wheat loaf, is a way we invite people in. It is also a way to be the hands of Christ. Sometimes it takes nine hours, but it’s worth it. It’s why one of my favorite ministries here is our food distribution project and why I volunteered to cook for the French Bible study. When we invite people in and tend to their needs of food and company, we are inviting them to not just hear the gospel but experience it. Food lets us love people. I think that’s why a good deal of Jesus's ministry involved food. Jesus fed people; he sat at their tables. He was aware of the power of a meal, even if it’s just bread and fish or bread and wine. From Moses and manna to Jesus as the bread of life, bread in the Bible is a physical expression of a larger truth: God loves us. In turn, we can reflect that love to others. We can and should bake and break bread together.
Although I doubt I’ll make feeter again, nine hours is a bit too much, I’m sure I’ll bake bread again. What good is knowing the gospel if I don’t share it; what good is having a table if I offer no bread to eat?