The Ceremony of the Roses
by Mary Coffey AMMM Ireland 22.07.2023
We have just had our annual literary festival in Kells and I was asked to put together an item about our refugee work of the last 5 years. One of the contributors was Andrea Martin, a relative of Mother Mary Martin, who had invited me to join her in her work with young Afghan women. My talk went well and, at times I, myself, was moved to tears. At the end I came down off the podium and said that I had one last, very important, story to tell, and I told the story of the roses. This is the story I told earlier of roses triggering happy memories for a family if Syrian refugees.
It is such a contrast with our images of refugee camps and bombed out cities. It is an understanding of the life, with its simple pleasures, that these people have left behind. The fact was that a not well-off mother rearing nine children, with her husband often away looking for work, had space in her life for the tending of roses and that she had beauty in her life.
If people had spotted that there were potted roses on the podium, they probably thought that they were part of the furniture, but when I finished my story of the roses, I called on Fedaa to come forward and to choose a rose to give to her mother. As Fedaa and I hugged you could hear a pin drop. It was a magical moment.
There was also a rose for Shafaq to give to his mother Begum. Shafaq is an Afghan lawyer and human rights activist, whom I welcomed to my home after the fall of Kabul, at the request of Andrea Martin. It was with great joy that, three months later, I brought Shafaq to Dublin Airport to welcome his mother Begum and his sister Arezo, who had been in a refugee camp in Abu Dhabi. We were a very happy little family in my home for a further three months before they found their own place to stay.
In 2018 I welcomed a young Syrian man, Belal, to my home under a Red Cross Pledge a Room scheme. He had travelled the hazardous boat journey from Turkey to Greece before being welcomed to Ireland as a programme refugee. Belal was afforded family reunification also, and we welcomed his parents, younger sister and older brother to Kells two years ago. Belal was also invited to choose a rose for his mother Malaka.
For Fedaa to give a rose to her mother was the inspiration for this Ceremony of the Roses, but she deserved a rose of her own, and so I invited Fedaa’s eldest daughter, Maysa, to give a rose to her mum.
There was still one rose on the podium. Andrea Martin is a woman of immense vision and compassion who is ‘mother’ to so many Afghans whom she was able to bring to Ireland in the aftermath of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Most are young women belonging to an organization called Ascend Athletics, that empowers young Afghan women through mountaineering. The rock in Andrea’s life is Paul. Paul was very taken aback to be called upon to present a rose to his beloved Andrea.
What was designed to be a presentation of our work with refugees was transformed by the Ceremony of the Roses into a celebration into which we had invited friends, neighbours, visitors and strangers. People were profoundly touched by it. Above all else it was a celebration of motherhood, of the glue that holds our societies and our families together both in wartime and in peacetime.
“Gentle woman, quiet light, morning star, so strong and bright.
Gentle Mother peaceful dove, teach us wisdom teach us love”