Beautiful Bounty, with Manuella Mavromichalis

I arrived in Cyprus in January 2019 ready to find the vibrancy I’d lost somewhere between war and heartache during a decade in the Middle East. I suspect that the Greek goddess Doris was smiling down on me when she put Manuella in my path. Doris was a sea goddess whose name means “bounty” in Greek. Manuella is nothing if not bountiful. We met over poetry, meditated over art, and buoyed by her laughter and sisterly support, I found myself alive again.

Reem to Manuella:

Your bosom, your beautiful bounty,
Enticingly embodies all that you are.
Warm, generous and nurturing,
Confident, vibrant and alluring,
Gracious, audacious and buoyant,
A mother, a lover, a woman.

Manuella to Reem:

“Queen Bee” is a little “patchwork quilt” made out of used teabags. Tea bags I brought over from Bahrain and/or England, because this particular type of tea isn’t available in Cyprus. I think it is fitting that the teabags hail from England and the Middle East because that is one of our connecting points Reem – our Britishness and Arabness. I know, I’m not truly an Arab, but I was raised in the Middle East since I was 5 and so it is a huge part of who I am regardless of the lack of documentation to prove it. My mother has a thing about tea. Everything in our family happened around a pot of tea, intimate conversations, decisions and healing. A pot of tea and some chocolate biscuits is the taste of happiness, the taste of cosiness and intimacy.

When I received the gift of your poem, all I wanted was to brew a pot of tea, infuse it with cinnamon and cloves and get to know you better. I collected my used teabags, stitched them together over and over again with multicoloured zigzag stitches thinking of how right it was that a piece of artwork made for you would consist of pieces of varying sizes and in different conditions. The teabags are diaphanous, torn at the edges and somewhat fragile. The stitching was meditative and time-consuming. As I stitched, I thought about your bravery in uprooting yourself and your daughter and choosing a new life, and how creative and resourceful you have been in creating this new life on your terms. Your ability to bring people together from all walks of life and weave them into your life is something I have watched with awe. The idea of the “quilt” comes from the American tradition that sees women come together to create quilts, and in this togetherness a community is born. You are that person building community.

Before the teabags came into mind, I knew your beautiful lips painted scarlet had to be part of whatever I created. Your lips are a declaration of sorts – sensual woman, sexy, alive, filled with passion. I pressed my painted lips to the used teabags and so my kisses and love are embedded in this artwork, which I think is apt. I thought of putting a butterfly in the quilt to represent you but then the idea of a bee came to me and it took residence. Definitely a Queen Bee, you are industrious, capable and a leader. Not only creative, you bring order, structure, symmetry and balance to all you do. The results of your labour, sweet and nutritious to yourself and others and so very tasty.  

Finally, the garden you created since coming to Cyprus came to mind. A healthy garden has roots, blossoms and nourishes, inviting more growth, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects to come share in the bounty. And this is my favourite part of you, Reem. Your generosity. 

If you’d like to engage in an exchange with me, contact me.