I love holiday market season. Not really because of the holiday part - but because finally, shopping is no longer confined to suburban strip malls filled with chain stores and fluorescent lights. The markets are the closest things to a bazaar you'd find in South Asia or the Middle East - where people sit side by side in the open air, selling handicrafts and foods, and are, most of the time, open to bargaining. It feels more natural. Isn't this how humans were meant to exchange goods?
Anyways, on Saturday, I had the chance to go to the Refuge Coffee holiday market in Clarkston, where over 60 vendors, with roots from all over the world from Egypt to Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Nepal, came together to showcase their creations.
Here are just a few of the people I met, what they were selling, and how you can support them.
This is Marzia. She moved to the U.S. with her mother and sister from Quetta, a city in northwest Pakistan. She said they had to leave because they were targeted for being Hazara, an ethnic minority in the region.
This is Mohamad Aly ("like the boxer" he told me "but with a Y"). He moved from Egypt to the U.S. in 1999, and ever since, has been working to support refugees and immigrants settle into their lives here. He now helps run Ethaar, a community based non profit that provides everything from driving classes to after school tutoring for new families. He was selling this amazing cookbook, Recipes of Home, that includes recipes from immigrants and refugees who have resettled in Georgia. You can buy it here (proceeds go to Ethaar!), and you can learn more about the organization here.
In the stall next to Mohamed, was Awad Awad ("yes, it's Awad twice" he said, smiling). He's a second generation Palestinian who moved here from Michigan and works with the Alif Institute, a non profit organization based in Atlanta dedicated to raising awareness of the Arab Middle East. His primary mission? Teach Arabic in the South, increase cultural competency, and address ignorance and Islamophobia, all at the same time. He handed me a cup of stew made with freekeh (an ancient green grain made from durum wheat), which was cooked from a recipe from the Recipes of Home book I just mentioned. Alif Institute has an online shop where you can buy spices, olive oil, and coffee mugs (though many items are out of stock at the moment!). You can also support them by registering for an upcoming cooking class - "Arab American Cuisine – A Taste of Christmas in the Arab World" - here.
I also had the chance to meet Frey - the owner of Frey's Handcraft. She designs scarves, pillow covers, and clothing in conjunction with a friend in Ethiopia. Her collection was dazzling. She pulled out a mirror for me when I tried on a beige scarf with a bright orange and green pattern. Contact information is on her Facebook page - here.
Tabling at a market is one thing, but having the infrastructure, money and training to market and sell products online is another. A lot of the vendors, like Aziza, aren't set up online at the moment. She moved here from Afghanistan 8 years ago (as you can see from the photo). Her mother taught her to sew when she was 13 years old and she said she's been making everything from kitchen towels to laptop cases from her home ever since.
That's all from me for now. I'll keep you all updated if I learn of any future markets or vendors who develop online shops.