Tea House of Understanding

The group Open Homes, Open Hearts US on Facebook has a steady stream of inspiring stories about refugees and other immigrants making contributions to their new homeland. Recently the Facebook page linked to an article about a Muslim American who started a tea house in Cleveland that helps to spread understanding and appreciation of differences.

Tea house owner Ayman Alkayali was born in Libya of Palestinian parents. He traveled to Vienna at age 16 to study German and architecture. Feeling alone and unwelcome there, he reached out to a cousin in Ohio.

Angelo Merendino writes at Al Jazeera that “upon arriving in the US, Ayman brushed up on his English at a centre for immigrants and then enrolled in the biomedical engineering programme at Case Western University.”

But much to his family’s surprise – and his own – he took an art class and fell in love with ceramic art.

“His father continued to stress the importance of an education, so Ayman decided to take courses at a community college. ‘I decided to go to business school, and be an artist,’ he says. Today, he's thankful for his father's advice. …

“Ayman [struggled at first] to show and sell his work. So he came up with the idea of opening a coffee house.”

But the expense of renovating a suitable space left him without enough money to purchase the critical cappuccino machine. Disappointed, he gave up the idea of a coffee house. Then, after he paid a visit to a stand serving exotic teas, inspiration struck.

“ ‘I can afford hot water. It will be a tea house.’ … Algebra Tea House opened its doors in August 2001. “

Characterized on the Web as a “quirky tea shop with beverages such as smoothies & shakes, plus Mediterranean-inspired nibbles,” Algebra Tea House has overcome initial neighborhood resistance to become a comfortable gathering place for all.

" ‘Our duty as Muslims is to do what we do here, which is to promote good before evil. We have businesses, we hire people, we are part of the economy. We don't do stuff that's illegal and wrong, we just show by our actions. … It comes down to this, “What are you doing? How did you improve the neighbourhood? Are you taking care of your neighbours? Are you helping a person if he's not from your faith? If you see something wrong, are you stopping it? If you see something right, are you promoting it?" ‘ “ Read more here.

Hooray for ecumenical tea houses! The Providence Granola Project is reminded once again that immigrants can use food and food businesses to smooth the path into the American mosaic. 

Caroline Ellis of www.suzannesmomsblog.com contributed this post.