Keeping Palestinian food culture alive
Discover the inspiring story of Aisha Azzam, a Palestinian refugee keeping her community’s food culture alive and establishing food security in a region rocked by climate change, water scarcity and humanitarian crisis.
Aisha’s story is the focus of a documentary film currently being produced by UVic historian Elizabeth Vibert as part of the SSHRC-funded, UVic-based, transnational Four Stories about Food Sovereignty project. Watch now to see behind the scenes footage and learn more about this incredible documentary.
// Featuring //
Elizabeth Vibert, co-director, Aisha’s Story; Professor of History, University of Victoria
Guochen Wang, co-director and cinematographer, Aisha’s Story; Writing Master’s student, UVic
Salam Guenette, assistant director, cultural consultant, interpreter, Aisha’s Story; History alumna, UVic
Aisha Azzam, owner & operator, Azzam family grain mill (Baqa’a, Jordan)
// Production //
Video producer: Philip Cox, Humanities, University of Victoria
Video editor & videographer: Dave Wallace, Riptide productions (https://riptidevideo.com/)
Select moments from the Four Stories workshop, September 1-7 2019
This is a short film of moments from the Four Stories About Food Sovereignty workshop held in T'sou-ke traditional territory in British Columbia, Canada, from September 1-7 2019.
These excerpts come from a virtual lecture by Dr. Elizabeth Vibert (University of Victoria) on the Hleketani Garden oral history project in rural South Africa and experiences of women farmers pre- and post-1970.
Climate Change, Food (In)security, and Community-Led Change
On Wednesday, April 28, 2021 the Grandmothers Advocacy Network gathered via Zoom for a 70-minute presentation on food sovereignty with Dr. Elizabeth Vibert of the University of Victoria. She shared both the bad -- rising rates of extreme poverty and malnutrition around the world -- and the good -- stories of resilience from sub-Saharan Africa, where local indigenous knowledge and regenerative farming methods are being harnessed to respond to the climate crisis.
Za’atar spice mix by Fatima Obeidat
The video features Four Stories Project community partner Fatima Obeidat in Irbid, Jordan. She is founder of Kananah Women’s Organization, which assists Syrian refugee women and low-income Jordanian women to develop food-based livelihoods.
The jars contain ground za'atar that was prepared for export to the US. Za’atar is the name for both an herb (Origanicum syriacum, related to thyme) and an archetypal Palestinian spice blend, which combines the herb with sesame seeds, sumac and other spices.
The video starts with two bags, one with dried za’atar (Origanum syriacum) and the other with the same product but ground. No spices added yet. The za’atar spice mix is in the containers (it is called Dukkah in Arabic, with a hard k in the middle). It is also called za’atar baladi (original zaatar) and its ingredients are simple: the thyme-like herb mixed with sumac, roasted sesame, and salt.
Fatimah says that za’atar when eaten with olive oil on bread – a favourite snack through Palestine – provides a complete meal, with added health benefits from the herb. (The other voice in the video is just reminding her of her steps, including tasting the product.)
A little online research indicates that za’atar has some impressive health benefits: boosting the immune system and skin health, building strong bones, increasing circulation, clearing the respiratory tracts, soothing inflammation, boosting energy, improving mood, aiding memory, and treat chronic diseases. (We can’t vouch for all these benefits!)
Fatima with makdous
Fatima talks about makdous, the contents of the metal cans prepared for export to the US. It is a preserved/ pickled eggplant that is usually eaten for smaller meals (breakfast and dinner) or as a side dish with lunch (the main meal). Makdous is almost always part of a mezzeh platter.
Fatima describes the process:
blanched small eggplant
diced sweet and chili peppers (some people use fresh and others powder)
Once the eggplant is blanched, make a slit on the side and stuff it with a mix of the other ingredients. Preserve in olive oil. Fatima mentions that between the nuts, garlic and vegetable, makdous is a very healthy meal addition at any time.
Fatima hopes that her export project will be successful and that people of Arab descent living in diaspora will be able to find both products in America and thus eat something from "home." She praises all the children who are living and working away from home in order to help their families.
Dr. Elizabeth Vibert: "Apartheid, Dispossession and Legacies in Jopi Village, South Africa"
As part of a lecture series on Decolonizing Settler Societies, Dr. Vibert gives a presentation on the history of apartheid and dispossession in Jopi Village, South Africa and the lasting legacies from that history. This lecture was originally presented to an undergraduate seminar class in the History Department at the University of Victoria
Elizabeth Vibert on Food Sovereignty in the Era of Climate Crisis, IdeaFest 2020
Participant-created short films from Jordan
Even if my voice has gone, your throats are still here.
My eyes are looking forward to the future and my heart is with you.
Even if the singer has gone, songs are still here, gathering broken and suffering hearts [repeated x 5]
[2:08] Maftool or Maftoul is one of the most popular Palestinian dishes. It consists of Maftool pearls (sometimes called Palestinian couscous) that are hand-rolled from sun-dried bulgur wheat.
[2:17] This dish is prepared for grassroots events in Palestine since it is such a popular dish.
[2:23] It is usually presented for holidays and special events, and its ingredients vary from one region to another.
[2:30] Mostly, the dish consists of burghul (bulgur wheat), white and brown flour, meat or chicken, pepper, cumin, and salt.
[2:39] Stew consists of pumpkin, onion, tomatoes, carrots, chickpeas, meat broth, salt, and pepper.
[2:55] Diced or juiced tomatoes are added after steaming the Maftool.
“You can move to Mars, but do not sell the land.”
This is what my dad said to me when I was seven years old. I did not understand what he said at that time, but those words were humming in my head when I was crossing [to Palestine] and sitting in this land by my father’s tree, the olive tree. It was a remarkable day. It was a lesson, a lifetime, and an age. But it is now once upon a time.
Wish I knew what was happening at that time
Wish I helped my father before he sat down beside me near the olive tree
I was asking him to leave his axe to come and eat as I was hungry
[1:00] Wish I hugged him before he sat down, as this was the last time I was able to smell his kaffieh instead of smelling the scent of his blood
I did not know this land already contained an enemy, and I was not aware of what my father said until after his death
I did not know there was a bomb awaiting my dad, but it was [there] with the olive tree that my mom planted
[1:28] Your love, your mind, your common sense, and everything
I was happy while I was asking him to leave his axe. “Dad, I have good news.”
My dad has gone but the land is still here. “You can go to Mars but do not sell your land”
“Dad, I have grown up and I did not betray your will”
“I have missed you for sixty-four years, in addition to six years and one year, it will be seventy-one. The same as Nakba’s age, and the same as my birthdate and the land’s birthdate”
“Do not worry, I replanted olive trees on the land, but the land misses its owners”
[2:13] We love our homeland as nobody does. Morning, evening, in between, and even Sunday. Even if they killed us as they did, even if they displaced us as they did, we will come back to our homeland and take back the land. Trees will come back to our homeland as well. Moon will come back to our night. Martyr will salute. We love our homeland, as nobody loves it. Even if they killed us and displaced us, we will return and take back the land.
[2:46] “Dad, we love our homeland as it is our last day of our lives.” Our love exceeds all borders and barriers.
Participant-created short films from South Africa
Happening to Us, a documentary filmed by 7 youth from Tuktoyaktuk on climate change in the Arctic
Select Scenes from The Thinking Garden
This is a film about resilience - three generations of older women in a village in South Africa came together in the dying days of apartheid to create a community garden. Filmed against the backdrop of an epic drought gripping southern Africa, The Thinking Garden tells the remarkable story of what can happen when women take matters into their own hands, and shows how local action in food production can give even the most vulnerable peope a measure of control over their food and their futures.
In 3 minutes: How the mining companies are destroying the indigenous cultures in la Guajira and Cesar departments of Colombia
Synopsis: For our cultures in la Guajira and Cesar departments of Colombia, water is life. It is the source for our lives, our herds’ lives, our agriculture and our spiritual life. We have always had year-round access to some source of clean water in our communities. Since the arrival of the mining companies, we have been displaced, and our water sources have been diverted, have dried up. The air and what water is left are contaminated now. We have lost our culture, we are sick, our herds are poisoned, the land is unproductive, and water is a privilege available only to the companies, and rarely to us. This is the tragic reality we are now experiencing in la Guajira.
There has always been ample water in the Guajira and Cesar departments of Colombia to support the flourishing of the indigenous cultures.
Year-round there was always some source of water for the people, the animals and agriculture.
Water is our culture - we birthed our children in the water, and water is the gathering place of the whole community, from children to grandparents.
It is at the water sources that we learn the stories and the ways of caring for our territory.
We collected medicinal plants by the water’s edge.
Water is sacred to us - it is in water that our guiding spirits are manifest.
The arrival of the mining companies changed everything.
We used to be self-sufficient.
Now we must buy what we once produced.
The mining companies diverted our rivers and streams to extract coal.
They promised the river would stay the same, but with time, our water sources began to dry up, the land became sterile, and they monopolized and appropriated huge amounts of water to wash the coal they had extracted.
Water was a privilege available only to the companies, and our access continued to decrease.
Furthermore, with the arrival of these companies, we lost much of our ancestral territory, and we were displaced.
We lost many aspects of our culture.
The water became contaminated; the air and water filled with particulate dust from their explosions, and our animals and our lungs were poisoned.
Water is our source of life - it is our life.
Yet the companies have converted it into yet another economic product.
For them, water is only worth what it can earn economically.
This is the reality that we are living in the Guajira now.