My young son’s class has been sharing breads from different cultures
My son clutches his Tupperware container. He is dressed in an Aran knit. Strikes mean we escaped World Book Day and find ourselves at an altogether more amenable replacement – Journey Day, in which each member of the class wears national dress and brings food from their own culture.
I’d heard of such things before, specifically the time my nephew Donncha had been tasked with the same, resulting in a now legendary photo of him beaming at his Tottenham school gates, sporting an Irish rugby shirt and a potato the size of his own head. Alas, we could not repeat this shot, as our heritage food offering was mandated to be bread. Limiting things to bread seemed oddly specific, and started me worrying about those children in my son’s class whose countries or cultures do not feature bread as a cornerstone of their diet. I needn’t have worried, as an hour on Google confirmed – and with a degree of certitude that seemed suspicious for such a strong claim – that there is not a country on earth which does not eat bread as some part of their culinary tradition or does not have a bread of their own. Our contribution was soda bread – made with flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk, topped with Irish butter – which my son distributed to his table, accepting Indian chapatis, French madeleines and Romanian pasca in return.
Each were delicious – I had to try them, of course, mindful of my role as my son’s ardent protector – but they made me feel moderately self-conscious about our own offering. The thing about cultural exchanges is that your own can seem pedestrian and boring compared to those you know less about. A weird side-effect of growing up within a monoculture like my own childhood, is that you find it hard to imagine anything within it seeming new or exciting to anyone else. So it was with great relief that I saw our bread being passed around with the self-same raised eyebrows prompted by anything else on offer.
The main attraction of the day, however, was being able to join him in his classroom for half an hour. It was like those visits I made to my dad’s office when I was a child, not least because I was getting a sense of what he does all day at the little job he goes to. He showed me around, pointing out paintings that were by him and, with an enthusiasm I quickly forgave, several that were clearly by others. I was delighted to see him mingle with the other kids with ease, banishing dark thoughts that he came every day to a place of isolation and friendlessness. So delighted in fact, it was some minutes before I realised I’d been ditched, the novelty of my presence quite emphatically erased.
I, too, mingled, circling the tables with other parents, where we chatted amiably about the necessity of more strikes the following week. Our teachers work tirelessly to create these little havens, to inform, educate and celebrate the most important people in our lives. As such, we agreed through bread-filled mouths, they are themselves some of the most important people in our lives, and they deserve much better than the crumbs they’re being offered.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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