The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Aug 03, 2011

Jambalaya, a crawfish pie and fillet gumbo…

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Jean-Marie Allion, Lead Writer for Home Water

Did you ever witness an argument between two cooks about what goes into an “authentic” jambalaya? The truth of the matter is… almost anything goes! What makes a jambalaya a jambalaya is the final bouquet resulting from a unique mix of flavors, textures and colors.


A few years ago, when Matrix Theatre tried to design an original type of workshop to gather stories in the community, we thought it would be appropriate to call it “jambalaya” to reflect the great diversity of the people we hoped to reach. In these jambalayas, you have a group of 20/25 people who meet in a public place (community center, library, senior citizen center) and are invited to share a personal story around a theme proposed by the organizers. Everyone will be able to express themselves in three different ways (or “circles”): story-telling, visual arts (collage, drawing, clay, etc.) and rhythm/movement. Most important: there is always some (healthy) food to share at the beginning and between the different activities. The whole thing lasts for about two and a half hours.

It’s always fascinating to see a group of strangers (we noticed that the less people know each other, the better it works) slowly gel together and share experiences and feelings they might have never expressed before.

We held three jambalayas during the writing of “Home Water”. They all dealt with emotions linked to water. I remember vividly one lady who, in the movement circle, confided that she had had several miscarriages and how she was afraid to lose her water, holding onto her stomach at all times and being even scared of using the bathroom. It was the first time that she could share that part of her life and the whole group felt intensely what she had been going through.

At a jambalaya held in a public library, the librarian dragged in a teenager that she had pulled out from his computer. He sat down, lowering his head. I knew we were in trouble when he refused to have any of the food displayed on a table. During the story-telling part, he kept his head down, apparently not wanting to be there. When I announced that we would move on to the next circle, he perked up: “But I haven’t told my story yet!” And he went on with a long, vivid and somewhat embarrassing tale. He had gone fishing with his aunt and her two daughters when he fell into the river. He was carried away by the current towards some dangerous rapids. Fighting for dear life, he grabbed some branches and was eventually able to get out. His aunt and cousins came towards him but, when they got near, the two girls ran away screaming: In his struggle, he had lost his shorts and stood butt naked. From that point on, the young man participated fully to the event.

It’s moments like these that make the jambalayas priceless for me. That evening, on my way home, I caught myself humming the famous Hank Williams song: “Son of a gun, we’ve had big fun on the bayou!”

Back to top