Far from home, volunteers find hospitality on Habitat trip to Poland

One Saturday afternoon, the 14 Americans who had traveled to Poland as part of a Habitat for Humanity trip met a family in Warsaw to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Bekzhod Mamadzanov (right) showed the group, including Jake Wilkoff (center) and Cameron Wolf (left), how to prepare a dinner that is popular in Kyrgyzstan. CONTRIBUTED BY MARGARET WILKOFF

In a small apartment just south of Warsaw’s downtown, we were reminded that nothing forges friendships, bridges language barriers and brings people together like a hearty, home-cooked meal.

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That day, a group of 14 Americans who had traveled to Poland as part of a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip met the Mamadzanov family — husband and wife, Bekzhod and Gulasal; their two young sons, Makhmud and Salokhiddin; and Bekzhod’s mother, Khafiza.

Here are a few things you should know about the Mamadzanovs:

They came to Poland from Kyrgyzstan. They’ve been working with Habitat for Humanity Poland, which has helped them build a new life in a new country. And they’re the kind of people who will gladly open their home to a group of strangers.

In a small apartment just south of Warsaw’s downtown, the Habitat for Humanity group joined a family from Kyrgyzstan to prepare a home-cooked meal. The dining room table became an assembly line of sorts — the place where dumplings could be filled and folded. MARK A. WALIGORE / MARK.WALIGORE@AJC.COM

Here, in this apartment, these different people from different cultures worked together, slivering carrots, dicing onions, cutting radishes.

The dining room table became an assembly line of sorts — the place where dumplings could be filled and folded.

A small table in the kitchen, meanwhile, became a prep station for a slew of amateur chefs eager to show off their knife skills.

Hours later, everything came together just the way it should: The rice was just right, neither too mushy nor too sticky nor too creamy (think paella, not risotto). The onions were soft and sweet. The rump of one fat-tailed sheep was as tender as could be.

Heads of garlic had been roasted. Carrots has been transformed into soup. Pomegranates had become the base for a salad dressing.

In between courses, a drink concocted of Greek yogurt and carbonated water cleansed the palate. The Mamadzanovs served baklava and piping hot tea for dessert.

As we were getting ready to leave, Khafiza, Bekzhod’s mother, leaned back in the sofa. Beneath a framed black-and-white picture of the New York City skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge, she said: “We want to see America! We love America!”

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