This week in Egypt carries the weight of crisp white cotton shrouds and the shiny wooden caskets of those we lost.
Silence descends as I listen to the news, to the wailing of women at the morgue abruptly deserted in life by their sons. I, stunned by the recent events at Maspero, position my fingers on the keyboard to make my mark, pound out my thoughts into 140 characters on the internet. Three days in, it never comes and instead, a rising fear throttles my voice.
A Spanish proverb springs to mind, “Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.” I stay quiet but is the stagnantly comfortable Egypt I left behind three years ago gone or does it remain?
Throughout the past eight months, I have often become despondent — my faith slowly faltering until I could only see loss in the promotion of new ideas revolving around our cuisine, our food culture and in keeping our land clean, away from the chemical companies who, once producing agent orange and stain-resistant carpets, are now feeding us genetically modified foods and controlling a high percentage of American seed. Since almost complete domination of the American markets, these companies view Africa as an ideal spot to continue to bring close the complete control of the world’s food supply.
How can we protect ourselves let alone the well being of our farmers? How many of us are educated enough and more importantly, interested enough to be aware of the dangers concealing themselves behind the pretty picture of strong and vibrant cornfields? How many of us know about giant agri-business, corporate farming and how it’s run?
What I’m sure about is that we will start seeing many smaller farms looking to gain a place in the huge agricultural market instead of competing with the big boys. Our agriculture will be sold off and owned by others because of something as simple as selling the rights to our old seed to create a new genetically modified one.
And what of the homeless children? If they aren’t going to school or learning anything at public school for that matter, will we leave them to grow into glue-sniffing, prostitute-peddling adults or what we now like to call “thugs”? With the number of NGOs in Egypt, I’m surprised that not one has created a cooking school to teach homeless children and give them careers, turning them away from the grime of fixing cars for almost nothing or worse.
The kitchen will teach almost anyone work ethic — show up on time, stay sober, keep clean, overcome anger and you’re set. Sadly, we are not so concerned about our homeless just as we aren’t about our farmers. The Egyptian food industry plays no part in helping out the community, away from serving free food during Ramadan and if they are, no one knows about it.
The upcoming generations need skills or they’ll end up in the street, fighting for a mere semblance of a life and dying an untimely death. Again.
I, like many Egyptians, have ideas but don’t know what to do with them anymore or where to start so instead, I sharpen my own skills, hoping that one day I’ll be able to do more good with them than cook in my own kitchen and talk to anyone who’ll listen.
Trying, as ever, to come up with better ideas for the ingredients presented to us in Egypt, this pear recipe put a skip in my step until noticing, only two nights later, that most Egyptians won’t notice my pure and organic pear, steeped in deep red, just like they aren’t noticing the blood-stained sidewalks because they choose not to look. For what it’s worth, try this out and share in this week’s bitterness tinged with a sweet glimpse of hope.
Poached Pears in Spiced Karkadeh
2 medium sized pears
3 cups of pre-made karkadeh
1 cup of water
2 cinnamon sticks
3 star anise, whole
1.5 tablespoons of candied mixed peel
Ground nuts, optional
Vanilla ice cream, optional
Peel the pears leaving the stalk on. If you prefer, you can halve the pears through the center. Pour the karkadeh and water into a large pot. Add the cinnamon and star anise. Bring to a quick boil and reduce the heat immediately. Allow it to reach a gentle simmer. Plop your pears and candied peel into the simmering karkadeh. Cover the pot. Turn your pears occasionally to make sure they’re fully immersed in the liquid. Cook for 15-18 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove from the pot. Serve hot with warm karkadeh or cold with ground nuts and vanilla ice cream.
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