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Piece of Home

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On the hearth in my family’s living room stands a big, ugly coffeepot. Not your everyday pot, this machination boasts an awkward, cone-shaped body made of brass that might have once gleamed proudly long ago but is now dulled from years of usage. Three supports around its dunce cap body wind their way up to the pointed top, forming a handle for easy transportation. On one of these supports is a small hook, on which classily hangs what appears to be a miniature brass pail but what is actually a cup meant for drinking coffee. An old friend of my dad’s gave this peculiar piece of junk to him, and when he first brought the oddity home and assigned it its seat of honor by the fireplace, I laughed aloud. Next to a cheery fire, I thought, the grungy pot was an absolute eyesore. My father, on the other hand, appeared to be blind to its apparent tackiness. He loved it.
Whenever anyone inquired about the tacky new addition to our home décor, he would say, “In Zanzibar, there used to be coffee vendors on the streets, and these were the pots they used. This is only a miniature. Theirs were much bigger, four times the size of this one. Imagine that! … You would pay them and they would pour your drink into that attached cup. I remember they used to walk up and down the streets…” and he would be lost in the memory, his eyes glazed over with the look that only reminiscing about his childhood could give him.
Still a skeptic of the pot’s decorative potential, I examine it once more. Surprisingly, I find that my father’s story casts the coffeepot into a completely different light. Looking at it now, it is not hard to picture the scene:
A crowded marketplace street, rife with vendors of various goods. The coffee peddler winding his way through the sea of people, his pot clanging with each step—a bell of sorts, announcing his presence. A teenage boy on his way home from school, hearing the clamoring of the coffee-bell and excitedly jostling his way to the vendor. Coins being exchanged; the older man unhooking the attached cup and pouring the beverage into it for the younger man, who receives his purchase eagerly. It doesn’t matter that one is drinking while the other is watching in silence. It doesn’t matter how many people used the same cup earlier that day. The moment isn’t awkward. They are united in that instant through the practice of an old custom in their community. Even though the custom’s long life will soon be ended by a revolution that will raid their peaceful island, even though the older man will be one of thousands murdered and the younger man will be one of the lucky who will flee, in this moment, they are there together, blissfully ignorant and still at home.
It is now easy to see why my father loves this ugly antique so much. When he fled a newly-Communist Zanzibar back in ’64, my dad left a lot of things behind—family, friends, childhood possessions, his own birthplace—things he did not know if or when he would ever see again. Although his entire immediate family immigrated to the States, and although he’s reunited with many of his old acquaintances through the Internet and “snail mail”, my father has never been back to Zanzibar. Because his escape from the island was illegal, he still doesn’t know if he can ever safely return to the place where he spent the first fourteen years of his life.
For my father, this coffeepot is not simply a reminder of a childhood pastime; it is a piece of the place he grew up, a place he was forced to leave and will probably never see again. It is a piece of his home. And I know now that this coffeepot is not just a piece of junk. It is a piece of my family, a piece of myself, and a piece of my home, too.





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