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.

evil eye evil eye 2

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.

Nov 27 EU_Cappadocia (Turkey)_Evil Eye Tree_Kate Sternstein

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.

evil eye il_fullxfull.383254642_g1l8

Advertisements

Abdu Hafid

My friend, Phil Murphy, filmed this video of Abdu Hafid, the man who made svinj (Moroccan donuts) just outside of Phil’s house in the Fez Medina. Abdu Hafid explains that he recites verses from the Quran while making his svinj because he hopes to bestow blessings upon anyone who eats them.

Phil is getting his PhD in Ethnomusicology from UCSB, and spent a year in Fez on a Fulbright scholarship, learning Moroccan Arabic as well as traditional Moroccan music. He has a great blog as well, full of beautiful photography and music. Check it out: http://philinfez.tumblr.com/

Bedouins

The term “Bedouin” literally means “those in the desert,” which is an entirely apt appellation for a group of desert nomads.  Throughout history, the Bedouins have herded sheep and camel through the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen), Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel.  They earned income by transporting goods and people across the desert.  Surviving and thriving in such a hostile desert environment engendered a strong kinship network and a profuse sense of hospitality.  Any stranger encountered in the desert could be assured meals and a place to sleep for as long as they needed; survival was a team effort.

bedouin bedouin2

Bedouins traditionally lived in desert tents, made from hand-woven carpets.  These tents were dismantled and transported at each rest stop along the route.  Nowadays, it is harder for Bedouins to maintain their traditional lifestyles.  Many find themselves working in the tourism industry, taking visitors on camel rides through the desert, and offering them a meal and a night’s rest in a traditional tent.  I did this in the Sahara in Morocco and in Wadi Rum in Jordan.  It’s wonderful and conflicting and sad.  I love feeling like Nicole of Arabia, traipsing through the desert sands, but I hate seeing these people with such a rich culture scraping a living by serving me.  I suppose that’s the duality you grapple with when you travel.  The Bedouins are a truly kind and welcoming people, though, and it’s worth a trip to the Middle East just to meet them.

bedouinz tent

Bedouin Tea

Bedouin Tea, boiling on the sands

Read this book if you want to learn more about Bedouins:  Married to a Bedouin

Bedouin Hospitality

The Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, has some of the world’s best diving.  The Sinai is a fascinating place to visit for other reasons too.  It is the home to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments, and beheld the burning bush, and to Saint Catherine’s Monastery.

sinai-karte-en

It is also stunningly beautiful, it’s landscape craggy and reddish, and covered in sand.  I guess that’s what happens when two continents come crashing together.  The Sinai has traditionally been inhabited by Bedouins, a nomadic people who live in portable tents in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula.  They are renowned for their generous hospitality, which I can personally attest to.

IMG_7693

Bedouin276

I found myself slightly stranded on the Sinai last November while I was attempting to bus it (solo) from Cairo to Israel.  Due to several unforeseen challenges, I landed in Sharm al-Sheikh, the southern tip of the Sinai, at about 9 pm, only about halfway to Israel.  There I met a Spanish dive instructor, an Egyptian diver, and a Bedouin man who was offering to drive the three of us about 60 miles north to Dahab.  The Spanish woman promised me she had some Bedouin friends who owned a hostel on the beach, and she would take me there.  OK, I said, slightly annoyed that it would take me 2 full days to go 260 miles (ended up being 450 with previously mentioned unforeseen detours).  When I got to Dahab, the Bedouins were waiting for me with mint tea, conversation, cushions on the beach, and a HUGE plate of freshly caught fish.  When I woke up the next morning, I could not believe how beautiful the view was

IMG_7688

I left the next morning to continue my trek to Israel, severely regretting not having realized how amazing the Sinai was.  I really want to go back, it is basically at the top of my list.  I would love to dive in Ras Mohammed National Park, climb Mount Sinai, and see St. Catherine’s.  I would also just like to spend more time with the Bedouins, a group of people I find fascinating and warm and strong.  They certainly taught me a lesson in serendipity and kindness when I could not have been more annoyed:  slow down, enjoy the ride, and eat some fish on the beach with some nice, new people.

IMG_7696

The Israeli side of the Sinai, Eilat

And with this post, I am giving myself homework.  Two more posts: one on diving in Egypt, and one on Bedouins.  Due: this week.  Stay tuned.

English Words of Arabic Origin

You may not realize it, but many English words have their origins in Arabic language.  Here are some pretty common ones whose backgrounds I think are particularly interesting:

Alcohol (الكحل) – Originally meaning a finely ground or sifted material, and eventually meaning  a purified material or “quintessence,” achieved through a distillation process.

Algebra (الجبر) – Meaning “completing or restoring broken parts.”  The mathematical meaning derives from a 9th century book that was not translated into Latin until the 12th century.  The origins of Algebra can be dated back to the Babylonians, who developed advanced mathematical systems which included algorithms.

ImagePage from the 9th century algebra book, “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing”

Candy (قندي) – Stemming from the word, “qand,” meaning sugar cane, which was cultivated with artificial irrigation by the medieval Arabs and exported to the Latins.

Coffee (قهوة) – Coffee was first cultivated in Yemen in the 15th century, and quickly spread throughout the region, becoming particularly popular in Turkey.  Cafe Mocha was named after the Yemeni port and coffee exporting city of Mocha.

Turkish-Coffee2

Turkish Coffee

Ghoul (غهول) – Ghouls are a staple of Arabic folklore, and were first introduced to the Western world in a French translation of 1,001 Nights.

ghoul

Giraffe (جرافة) – Giraffes and their distinctive appearance were discussed by medieval Arab writers.  The animal was first introduced to Italy from a zoo in Cairo in the late 13th century.

giraffe

Mattress (مطرح) – Stemmed from the Arabic verb “tarah,” to throw, and became known as a padded blanket to lie upon.

Sugar (سكر) – Cane sugar originated in India but was produced by medieval Arabs on a larger scale.  The modern words for sugar in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German all stem from Arabic.

There are dozens of other examples like these.  I think they all serve as an important reminder of how interconnected different cultures are, whether or not we realize it.

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)

Pomegranates

The streets of the Middle East and North Africa are abound with stalls selling fresh juice of all sorts.  You can stop for a moment, pay a few cents, and enjoy a glass of fresh-pressed-just-about-anything.  There is something a little extra regal about pomegranate juice, though, and whenever I see it available, I always stop for a glass.

Image

Image

The pomegranate, which originated in Persia, is now abundant throughout the Middle East.  It is a nutrient dense, and antioxidant-rich fruit, which carries much symbolism in Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures.  Throughout history, it has symbolized prosperity, ambition, abundance, fertility, resurrection, and good luck.  It is often offered as a wedding or a housewarming gift, and is featured prominently throughout art history.

2739481652_54cffbf204_z

Persephone

53c6edf5f72b2a8b9287414c96f642f0

Boticelli’s “Madonna of the Pomegranate”

Girl_with_a_pomegranate,_by_William_Bouguereau

Bouguereau’s “Girl with a Pomegranate”

Pomegranates are also quite versatile in the kitchen.  Try this recipe with pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses: Pan-fried heloumi with figs and pomegranate!