Connecting, Inspiring & Supporting Women from Around the World through Play & Meal Sharing
A woman from Egypt, head covered in a hijab, bursts into a big smile as she enters the Little Five Points (L5P) Community Center Café in Atlanta, Georgia, for a morning of InterPlay and meal sharing. She sees a roomful of women, many wearing hijabs – and until this moment – she has felt isolated in this metropolitan city of five million from women like her. Although these other women in hijabs are Turkish, there is a visible commonality signaled by the scarves covering their heads. Likewise, a woman from Mexico, softens as she steps into the room filled with international women – she is not the “different one” as the only “foreigner” present.
Sharing Stories Across Turkish & Egyptian CulturesOver the next 30 minutes, close to thirty women arrive. They are asylum seekers, American citizens, internationals working or studying abroad. They differ in age, nationality, education, and professions. But they have come together out of curiosity and desire to meet one another. Who are we?
Women from South Korea, Bulgaria, Mexico, UK, Turkey, Egypt & the US “Sustaining International Sisters” (SIS) is a new InterPlay Atlanta monthly offering and social group. Launched in October 2018, SIS was created to connect, inspire, and offer support to a community of women from all over the world. Co-founders Canan Arikan, from Turkey, and Ruth Schowalter (me) from the United States, are using InterPlay as the foundation for our SIS gatherings. As women, we are finding ways through InterPlay – an active creative way to unlock the wisdom of the body – to enter each other’s lives, share our cultures and dreams, and support each other whether we were born in the U.S., immigrated here, or are seeking refuge.
On this cold Saturday in November 2018, the heat is blasting in the L5P Café, a former elementary school cafeteria, but the 30 plus women who have gathered are staying warm. Instead of being bound to one chair in one place, they are actively moving around the room, greeting and meeting different women one at a time, sharing their lives in short “tellings” or stories lasting 30 and 60 seconds. Yes, it is noisy and joyous and crazy fun!
We sisters have developed a way to quiet the din from lots of talking and laughing. “Rain Fall” we call out, moving our hands from above our heads and lowering them to our knees, allowing our fingers to be rain pouring down across our bodies. “Shhhhh” we say several times along with the movement before the room quiets! Imagine the delight of standing in silence after such great chatter! Then changing partners and getting to meet yet another a new sister from some other place in the world! So much magical energy!
Incrementally during our 90 minutes of InterPlay, the women are led into increasing movement, warming up their bodyspirits. InterPlay forms offer gentle ways to engage with ourselves and others while respecting our own individual needs. Step by step, the sisters move and discover new ways to express themselves as well as tell their stories and witness each other.
At intervals, we “notice” what we are experiencing physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and share our “noticings” with a partner or the whole group. As an InterPlay facilitator, I love noticings. These moments of sharing experiences give me insights into each person and often they mirror not only my own experience but that of others in the group.
In this November gathering, the shared noticings expressed relaxation, joy, relief, and connection. This connection is especially important to the asylum seekers from Turkey who are finding SIS to be a space to be witnessed, heard, and embraced with respect. We have a practice in InterPlay of “witnessing;” that is, we listen in respectful silence while the other person speaks without interruption. The kind of act of being listened to is more than a gift – it is often restorative to the whole being – medicine in these chaotic times.
I am noticing now how satisfying I find it to see American women intermingle with the women from around the world both during the InterPlay and the meal sharing afterwards. This intermingling is a new experience for me after close to 30 years of teaching almost solely internationals. Invariably in these international-only classes there is a hunger, a longing, to meet and know an American. And many of the American women I have known long for meeting and getting to know the international women living in our communities. There is so much to learn! Voila – Sustaining International Sisters!