Lara's speech in Belgrade

Lara's coffee cup reading Transcription

[Lara] I need to tell you this, because all the people will laugh now – I’m an introvert, so this is a huge effort from my side. 

Thank you, I feel the energy. So, I will tell you a bit about my story with the coffee cup so you know a bit about the healing journey I went through. I am Lara, and believe it or not, I was not born in Armenia. I’m an Armenian, I was born in Beirut, Lebanon, one of the most beautiful places in the world, near the beach, the best beach, which I miss, and oddly enough, now I am stranded among mountains. No beach at all for me in Armenia presently. And my story with the coffee cup started way back, when I was a little child, with my relationship with my grandmother. I used to call her Mima – she’s not with us today – she left a long time ago. But when I was a little child, I used to stay with her because my parents were working, and I used to spend most of my childhood in her kitchen, in Beirut, surrounded by her neighbors, during Sobhia. Sobhia is an Arabic word, which is like a breakfast where usually women gather in their neighbor’s house, eating, lot of manakish, labneh, all these Arabic foods, and also – reading a coffee cup to each other. 

So, my grandmother’s story is a complicated one. Because, she was not born in Lebanon, Beirut, she was born in Mardin, which is now in Anatolia. And, as probably many of you know, genocide happened during the Ottoman rule. She was one of the survivors of the genocide. She lost all of her family during the genocide except her mother and her younger sister, and she had to leave, with almost no clothes, no bags, nothing, not even her name, because she doesn’t remember her name. She doesn’t remember her real age. And somewhere between 1920 and 1925, she arrived to Tripoli, which is in Libya. And that’s how the Armenian refugees and survivors of the genocide used to arrive to Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries. That’s why you had more Armenians outside of Armenia and few Armenians inside Armenia, because our ancestors spread a bit everywhere. 

So what happens when women with children are exiled from their place of birth? Many of you know very well what happens. Many of you still continue working on this issue. It seems it’s never ending; it continues being present. So, my grandmother arrived with her mother to Tripoli and then Beirut, and she lived in this place called karantina. Karantina comes from quarantining people, you know, when people come from the outside, you need to keep them totally based in a place so they don’t spread germs, you know, to the other population. So, that area was called karantina because, afterwards, many other refugees from Palestine and other places who came to Lebanon have spent some time there, some even until today. 

So, they have nothing, almost no memories of what they’ve lost, so they came to this place, where they don’t fit that well with the Lebanese population, and they have been displaced, they lived as refugees for a longer time. And what they did, they tried to somehow build the normal life for themselves. And the only thing, one of the few things they were able to bring with themselves is this ritual of coffee cup reading. Because, coffee cup reading, besides being a fortune telling thing, it is also a mean to create a safe space for many communities, marginalized, communities who suffered violence, war, conflict. It is a very common thing not only among Armenians. Many people, many other regions have coffee cup reading. Greeks do it, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Arab world, they do it. And mostly, it’s among women. They gather, the women, because at that time, during my grandmother’s time, women were not outside in the world. They didn’t have a public space to gather. So they would gather in the kitchen and do something very innocent like reading the coffee cup. And we know that from innocent things a lot of very strong and transformative things happen, right? So, what my grandmother did after this change of place and always trying to find a new home – her mother, she learned this from her mother, gathered the women, refugees like her, in a small room. They had some kind of room because they were at a refugee camp at that time, and they would try to drink coffee together, as much as possible, and at the same time to talk about their issues. Because at that time we didn’t have psychologists, we didn’t have therapists, we didn’t have feminist humanitarian organizations, so they could give us money, heal our traumas, right? So, we used to heal ourselves, by simply talking to each other. And this is something we learned from our mothers, grandmothers, and it always worked, you know. It was always a possibility to read the coffee cups. 

As for myself, I’ve spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and I realized that these women were really very interesting, very courageous. They were talking some things that I would never imagine they would talk about. Of course, my grandmother had to keep me in my room because I was always a troublemaker. I used to sit under the kitchen table and listen what these women were talking about. And I would hear our neighbor talking about her relationship with her husband, how he was treating her badly, another was talking about her son, her daughters, about her workplace, where they were cleaners. They were talking about very sensitive issues they were experiencing in general. They would talk about money or the lack of it, so they were thinking what they could do to help each other, so they would use this Sabhia for exchange as well. For example, today as a refugee I received three eggs, I give you one egg, you give me a little bit of sugar, and then, you know, all ok. 

So this is how I grew up, listening to these stories, and eventually, when I myself have been through a war, our house was bombarded, and I was a refugee myself like my grandmother used to be. Displacement was always a part of our family. So, I had to leave Lebanon, to go to Larnaca first with a boat, as the refugees go, and then wait, and then be hopeful that Canada will accept us, and then go to Canada as a refugee, and face another culture shock. What did I bring? Some books, and my coffee cup. Because I thought: “Okay, maybe I can find a language with these new people in this very freezing country, and tell them – you know, I know how to read a coffee cup!” And it was very precious for me because it also brings the history of my grandparents and my grandmother. 

So, I went to very important universities in Canada, where coffee cup reading wasn’t in the scientific domain. I started self-education and I learned all the theories, and I tried to go and practice it with young people and mothers. At that point, I was doing my internship with mothers from lower class, poverty and migrant women etc. who were coming to Montreal at that time. I spoke Arabic and did my internship there, and my teacher, my professor was telling me: “You know you have to leave this approach, and you have to write everything, you know, everything should be quantifiable, and show that, you know, you’re doing progress – but none of this worked for me. None of it. I didn’t care about it, you know, when I talk to them about their relationship with their children, and about transiting trauma. So I said: “Let me try the coffee cup! Maybe it will work.” So I took my coffee cup. I was going to my internship with my jazzveh and coffee, and everybody was looking at me, “What is she doing?” Thanks God my professor wasn’t there, I would have failed that course. So I started making coffee, drinking it, and women started gathering around it. Because, first nobody wanted to talk to me. I was, like, this student doing her thesis and, you know, nobody really cared. It was about the real pain, real trauma they were facing and they didn’t see that I was understanding them, I was listening to them. So, when I started reading the coffee cup, a lot of women gathered and everybody started talking: “Ooh, this is what I see in the coffee cup, and this is what I’m living”, and I realized that this tool was more powerful than all the theories they were teaching me at the university. And it helped, because I was able to connect with women who had same types of sufferings, who felt unsafe, uncertain, violated and, you know, completely lost, living the life of injustice, unfairness, and suddenly, they found one place where they felt safe. It had nothing to do with the physical space. It was gathering around a coffee cup, which is something a lot of women from the Middle East and in my region do, and they finally said: “Oh, we know what this is. We don’t know these posters or this projection [presentation] and nice theories but we trust the coffee cup. So, that’s how my relationship with the coffee cup started. And later on, the coffee cup from that day started following me everywhere. And I had like, okay, my grandmother who taught me about the symbols but being a feminist and activist, I saw a very much feminist interpretation of these symbols, very important, you know, messages I could find. One thing that I remember very much from my grandmother is that she used to tell me: “You only tell the good stuff!” So, today I will tell you the good stuff because, the bad stuff – we all know it, we talked about it so much, it depresses us, you know, we lose faith, hope about the future, so, my grandma used to tell me: “Focus on the good stuff because that is what is needed.” That is what is needed for us as well to continue. 

So, now bear with me, I’m going for the coffee cup, I’ll give you some initial tips on how to read it. As you all saw, you all drank the coffee cup with intentions, so all of your spirits are here in this cup. Then we turned it three times, counter clock, I turned it, and then we waited until it’s dry. And here you see the nice patterns in the coffee cup. And, of course, you have to be observant, plus [to have] some artistic skills, some insights, a little bit of psychology – not a lot, not a university-degree psychology, just a little bit of psychology to read it.

So, in general, my grandmother used to tell me the bottom is about the past, so what you see in the bottom, it’s the past, it’s the pain, it’s the suffering, it’s everything you brought with you, the baggage, you know. What you see here in the bottom? You see a kind of, you know, a lot of ground which looks heavy, very heavy, like mountains. Because, mountains, you know, they’re difficult to climb but it’s not impossible. And what we see here behind the mountains, it’s like, you know, the sun coming up. Right, can you see it, all of you? Yes, the sun is coming up! It’s going to be a difficult ride, it’s not going to be easy. The mountain is there, there are two hills, one, two, we need to climb them together, and then it comes there. But of course, this is about the past, remember. So it means that we came from a long journey. Some of us worked their past traumas, past issues. Yesterday we talked about racism, injustice, things we need to take care of – personally – because there are a lot of internal issues we’re bringing with us. There are collective issues we’re bringing with us. A lot of prejudices. So, this is something that we worked on collectively but there is still some work to be done. This mountainous part, it means that’s the heavy part, and we need to do some more work together. Maybe doing it alone separately is not enough. It will help if we can gather and come to each other without being afraid to be wrong because sometimes we are going to be wrong. You know, we have to have permission from all of us to make mistakes because, in a safe space, it’s important to have a permission to make mistakes and think about it, and not being rejected – because that’s what patriarchal space is doing to us, right, as soon as we make mistakes. In this safe space, we are okay, safe enough to make mistakes, to say things we shouldn’t say, to talk about things we are not allowed [to talk about], and also to listen what we could change, what needs to be changed, and our mistakes. 

So, this is the bottom. Did you see anything else in the bottom? Waves? Waves! Very good, that’s waves, you see waves as well. So some things are up and down but also waves [are here] to connect. So something we do here can come in waves to another place, to another region. This is also an important part. Anything else in the bottom? 

[Somebody from the audience] There are two fingers touching. 

[Lara] Yes, fingers touching! They are little bit timid, just like we are now. We want to know more about the other region. We want to know more about Chile but we are a little bit timid. Plus, we don’t know how to address because we don’t know much and we are afraid if we don’t know much that we’ll look like a little bit… So, it’s okay. We will overcome our timidness because that will help us to strengthen, you know, the way. 

 So this is the past. Now, in the middle, we see the present. I don’t know if you see it well but the middle is so active. The present is so active. We are mobilizing, we are doing things, sometimes we are doing a lot of things, but separately, in parallel, without many connections, but we are doing it. So the only thing that we’re missing here is how we link the things. Because we practice it with intentions, and we are different regions. We see the difference in the regions. You have these lines, I don’t know if you can see the lines, four lines, three lines on the other side, these are different regions which are very active but a little bit off-connected. 

And what you see down is some kind of tips. It’s weaving. You talked here about us weaving, our friends here talked about this activity that they did, yes, so that’s what we need to do more of. Weaving our stories together. This time I came into space and learned about Magali. I never heard about her but I learned about her. I will never forget her now. I will forget a lot of things but I will not forget Magali because it’s a personal story, it’s a story that touched me, it’s a story in which I find similarities with my region. So this is one of the things we need to do more of. Let’s tell each other our stories. I want to know Ines’ stories, Galina’s stories, other stories that are here, very powerful, better, maybe stronger than all the strategies on the paper that we have because each one of us has a resilience story and we can learn much about it. And the coffee cup is showing this weaving of the stories. So, the only thing that will keep connecting us are these stories among women, among activists, among people who are active and fighting for social justice, who are fighting injustices, racial injustices, who are fighting against all kinds of displacements, war, conflict, all the things that we are experiencing, that my grandmother was experiencing, and trying to find hurt also. So, this is in the middle. In the middle, we see also a bird. I don’t know if you see it there. My grandmother used to say: “If you see a bird, it’s good, good news.” And it’s quite a big bird actually. So, a bird is awaiting us, and it’s standing on one side and trying to flee to the different sides. So, you see the bird? I see it here, I can show you afterwards. It’s a big bird. Kismet, I don’t know, those who know Turkish… It’s money, love, good news, all those are here! I see that the others are very happy with this bird! Let’s see what will happen. So this is in the middle. A lot of possibilities awaiting us. So, we are on the right track, and we need to keep sharing the personal stories, building friendships among ourselves, so we remember these people. We remember, aha, we remember Magali, we remember Ines, we remember Sonia, we remember Suzana, and all of us. So, these stories. 

And then, on the upper level, it’s the future. Right. And the future is on the higher level. What we are doing, what is awaiting us? Of course, we know – the anti-gender and all the other anti- movements are there. They have a good line. They are cutting among our roles and journeys. But, if we are close together, like, the lines – you know, these lines are trying to break, some lines are breaking these anti-gender, bad humans that we are facing. And, of course, it’s very important to understand that, during these times of uncertainties, injustice, where we feel the most vulnerable, it’s also during those times that we get more resilient, we get more determined to change things.

And, one important thing that these kinds of movements are doing to us, this is why my grandmother said: “Tell the good things”, we shouldn’t lose hope, it’s something that they try to break in us, making us believe that we don’t have hope. Whatever that we do, they’re there, you know, they’re going to destroy us anyway. So let’s gather together, so we give hope to each other, because it’s very easy to lose hope in these difficult times. It’s very easy to say: “Okay, I’m tired.” Most of us, we have activism fatigue, right? We are tired of fighting the same shit every day, you know, you see, there’s a lot of shit on the higher level [of the cup]. Because they’re shit. But shit, you can destroy it, it’s not indestructible. The most important thing is that we give hope to each other so we don’t stop fighting. Maybe we can take breaks, and help each other take breaks, but let’s not lose it. We’re already losing a lot of people. Some leave us, leave this world, because of the work they do, because they are tired, because it’s not easy to have the life of a fighter, fighting everyone at the same time, internally, with your immediate surroundings, and also globally. But one sure thing we have is we have each other, we can support each other, we have to be patient with each other, because some of us still have issues we are dealing with, and we need to be kind to each other, because this is what is missing sometimes in our movements. It’s the kindness, it’s keeping space, being kind towards each other. This anger that we feel should not be directed to each other, we can direct it towards the shit that you’ve seen now on the upper level. 

So, my grandma used to say, in order to end the coffee cup reading: “Put your finger somewhere with attention, and then don’t lick your finger afterwards, it’s not good.” Who wants to push the finger and open some space in the past? Here. Put it here. With a lot of passion! Push it, for all of us. Atina, push, push! Bravo, Atina! Sometimes we need to push each other to push further. So, Atina, thank you! You almost made one hill of the mountains disappear. There is hope for all of us!

Thank you, I really enjoyed every moment, and thank you for your stories, for Magali, for everyone else, and I hope we’ll see each other again.