Coffee and Community

2 Oct 2017

‘Peace to you my neighbor, the coffee is ground, the incense is bringing forth its fragrance.’ My neighbours sing this song in Arabic as one beats the coffee rhythmically with the mortar and pestle and the others clap or beat what ever else they can find unison.

This coffee ceremony is called ‘Jebena’. It is a common part of our daily life here.

I have learnt from being part of many Jebena gatherings that this kind of coffee is not just a quick fix for the daily weariness, but it is a time for remembering who they are and celebrating their community.

For refugees in a foreign land, war not only divides families and devastates homelands, but it threatens to take away important parts of culture and community that bind them together. Here in Yida refugee camp, people have been forced to flee from their homes due to bombings which have destroyed homes, stripped fields and caused food shortages. Access to healthcare and opportunity for education has been taken away. In the midst of these hardships Jebena has been a very important way for community to remember what they share and take a moment out of the harsh heat to find shelter in the company of one another.

I remember the first time I celebrated Jebena at my home. I had to borrow so many items from my neighbours – specific roasting pans and pots and the little cups to drink from called ‘fingal’. They gave me very careful instructions on what spices I was to buy from the market and helped me to sweep the ground and prepare everything nicely.

My friends arrived with their colourful topes (a large decorative wrap that women here wear) and with singing and laughter. We drank too much very sweet coffee.  When they arrived they each put 50 pounds (then the equivalent of 50 cents – half a day wages) in a small pot in the middle of the table. This is also often a part of Jebena – money is brought by individuals and then the group decides at the end who is in most need or should be blessed amongst the women and gives all of it to that person.

At the end of the ceremony they decided that I needed the money. My first response was ‘No no no, I don’t need the money’, but I stopped myself and received with thankfulness. I learnt something in that moment: Jebena is also about belonging and acceptance. These women had already helped me so much to set up my home and learn how to do life in this challenging environment. However this act of generosity was the first time I really felt that our family had been accepted as part of their community.

Jebena. It reminds me of the table of communion.

A time for togetherness and sharing.

A time for giving and receiving.

A time for remembering and belonging.

It is such an important part of Nuba culture and a very special part of our lives in community here.

So, just in case you want to take Jebena in your community…

The recipe for Jebena


  • Coffee beans
  • Cloves
  • Cardamon
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Sugar

You also need

  • ‘Bahur’ – locally made incense to put on the charcoals as the coffee is enjoyed
  • ‘Jebena’ – a small silver pot with a spout from which to pour the coffee out of
  • Small charcoal stove and frying pan
  • Fingal – the small little cups to take the coffee shots

To consider adding

  • Peanuts
  • Sesame biscuits


  • Roast the coffee over the charcoal, being careful to not burn the beans
  • Grind the coffee in the mortar and pestle
  • Grind the cardamom, cinnamon and ginger
  • Boil the coffee in small pot on the stove and add ginger and the other spices according to your personal preference. Then pour this dark liquid into the Jebena
  • Fill the fingal half full with sugar and fill the rest of the cup with the coffee and spice mix from the Jebena

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