Evil Eye

Evil eye talismans are very prevalent throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.  The evil eye is an envious or hateful look that is believed to cause harm on whomever meets its gaze.  Certain people are thought to wield especially potent powers when it comes to inflicting the curse of the evil eye on others. This bad luck often stems from envy and the “overlooking” associated with a fixation on or the coveting of another person.

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Belief in the evil eye is strongest in the Mediterranean region.  Muslims often ward off the evil eye by answering any complements with “mashallah,” (God has willed it).  In the Aegean region, where light-colored eyes are rare, those with green, and especially blue eyes, are thought to wield the power of the evil eye.  This belief may have arisen after people from cultures not used to the evil eye unintentionally transgressed local customs by staring or offering praise.  Thus, evil eye amulets in Greece and Turkey take the form of a blue eye.  In Israel, observant Jews believe that the 10th commandment “thou shalt not covet” is a law against inflicting the evil eye on another person.

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Apotropaic (protective) talismans have arisen in many cultures to ward off the evil eye.  They take the form of hanging discs, or small beads, and are often found in cars, on doorways, and on people’s bodies.

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Rai Music

Rai is a form of folk music that originated from Bedouin tribes in Algeria.  It is influenced by Spanish, French, African, and Arabic music, and today also incorporates hip hop, reggae, and funk.  Rai, meaning “opinion” in Arabic, can be considered the Arab equivalent to the blues.  Rai lyrics often address the social issues facing native populations as a result of colonization.  The genre became popular among young people, seeking to modernize traditional Islamic values and attitudes. It has been controversial throughout Algeria and there have been many attempts to censor it.  Rai singers are called “cheb,” coming from “shabaab” for “young,” in contrast to “sheikh,” denoting age and respect.

Cheb Hasni – Chira Li Nebghiha

Cheb Khaled – Ouelli El Darek (come back to your home)

Cheb Tarik- L’Histoire (The Story)

Olive Oil Soap

Olive oil soap, made from olive oil and lye, is a Middle Eastern handicraft that dates back over a thousand years.  It is traditionally made in the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Jordan) from 100% natural materials.  Essential oils and traditional herbs are often added to remedy skin ailments such as dandruff, rosacea, eczema, and acme, as well as to heal wounds and sooth insect bites.  Olive oil has long been known to serve as a deep moisturizer, regenerating and softening skin cells.  Olive oil soap can be found today in suqqs and in apothecary shops, and is still commonly made at home.

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Check out Canaan Fair Trade to find out more info on olive oil soap, as well as other goods produced in Palestine.

Buy olive oil soap and support local artisans here.

Mint Lemonade and Mint Tea

Mint, an herb long cultivated across the Middle East and North Africa, is renowned for its cooling and healing properties.  Its modern name came from an ancient Greek myth.  Persephone, the jealous wife of Pluto, transformed the object of her husband’s lust, the lovely young nymph, Minthe into a plant so all could trample her.  Unable to reverse the spell, Pluto instead gave Minthe a pleasant scent that intensified when she was tread on.  The name Minthe eventually evolved into Mint.  The versatile plant was used by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans in aromatic baths, as a salve for sports injuries, and as an appetite stimulant.  In Rome, Pliny the Elder advised his students to wear wreaths of mint to sharpen their minds, and senators wore mint sprigs in the hope of enhancing their oratory skills and suppressing their tempers.  It has long been known to serve as a digestive aid, as an antiemetic, and as a cough suppressant.  It is refreshing when served cold and soothing when served warm.

Historically, mint is a symbol of hospitality.  The Greeks and Romans would rub mint on banquet tables to greet their guests,  and today, Moroccans are quick to offer a glass of mint tea as a gesture of friendship.

Both mint lemonade and mint tea are widely drunk throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  They are both easy to make, healthy (as long as you are much more conservative with the sugar than they are in the Middle East), and de-licious!

Moroccan Mint Tea:

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Mint Lemonade:

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