GETTING HERITAGE IN WRITING: This Month’s Aramco World Cover Story

These are just some thoughts of mine after my third visit to Cape Town, this time to write this month’s cover story for Aramco World Magazine https://www.aramcoworld.com/en-US/Articles/March-2019/The-Handwritten-Heritage-of-South-Africa-s-Kitabs

Cape Town's Bo Kaap

Celebrating Heritage Day in Bo Kaap

The first time I saw the Western Cape, I thought “This looks just like Los Angeles,” and then I thought, “This looks just like Lebanon.”  I’m not just talking about the magnificent mountains and endless sea. The townships remind me of the camps in Lebanon, certain Cape Flats areas remind me of Compton, and Simons Town, with its dramatic cliff homes and a local museum hosting a meditation workshop with Tibetan chanters, reminds me of Santa Monica.  But South Africa’s landscape is all its own, mired in a history all its own. Historian Joline Young has been digging through Western Cape Archives for 20 years to recapture the town’s history, as the archives had been closed to non-whites during Apartheid. As we were walking through Simon’s Town one Saturday afternoon, “We have generations of trauma in our genes.” While that’s not biologically possible, you see a lot of people chasing their genes. That afternoon we ran into a 50-year old woman, Shirleen, whose mixed-race family was relocated (forcibly removed from Simon’s Town) during the Group Areas Act.  This was her first time here, and she and her husband were trying to figure out where her uncle’s fishing restaurant would have been.

Simon's Town

Simon’s Town’s Harbor

Zainab Davidson, better known as Auntie Patty, would have had an answer.  She literally mapped the whole town from memory, which inspired her to turn her family home, Amlay House, which was confiscated during the Group Areas Act, into the Simon’s Town Heritage Museum, dedicated to preserving the Muslim heritage of the town. She is part of the story in “The Written Heritage of South Africa.” She was 60-years old then.  She’s 84 today, and lives above the museum with her husband.

I sat down one day with a sheet of paper and I drew a map of Simon’s Town, all the roads, just to see if I still remembered who lived here.  I remember the old fisherman, and the old Dutch church, and I remembered lane by lane the cottages, and bigger houses over there.  And I took all lanes and went house by house until I had this whole map of our community here in Simon’s Town and it ended at Simons Town Station. Yeah.  And then I said to my husband, man I want to start our own museum. –Zainab Davidson (Auntie Patty), interviewed at Amlay House in September 2018

Full House for The Golden Harvest Debut at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival

fullsizeoutput_117e(March 14, 2019) The Golden Harvest (2019, 85 min) made its debut on March 4, 2019 at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival to a full house.  The screening was followed by a lively Q & A that continued onto the pier along the fabulous arthouse area of the city where the majority of the festival takes place.

Greeks have the highest consumption of olive oil in the world, so it is no surprise that the audience reacted with tears and laughter to The Golden Harvest, which weaves the 6,000-year old love story between the people of the Mediterranean and their olive trees through personal tales in Palestine, Greece, Italy, Spain and Israel, including that of the filmmaker’s father.

“We are delighted that the film debuted in Thessaloniki, one of the top 10 international film festivals, and in a country where part of the film was shot,” says Alia Yunis, the director/writer.

The Golden Harvest is not just a foodie film, although there is plenty for foodies to savor, including learning from one of the top tasters in the world how to evaluate oil. But through a unique cast of characters, the film tackles the social and political dimensions of olive trees, including environmental issues, war, globalization, the European Union, marketing and branding, and Fair Trade, all of which impact this genie in a bottle.

“After seeing this film, I changed my mind about selling my family’s olive trees,” one audience member announced during the Q & A.

Alia was joined on stage for the Q & A by Pavlos Georgiadis, who is the youngest farmer in Makkri, his village in the Thrace region of northeastern Greece.  His family is one of the many families that the film introduces to viewers.

“This film was inspired by my dad’s love of the olive tree, and I started noticing when talking to others with roots in the Mediterranean that the mention of olive oil opens up their souls and uncorks to their own heritage,” Alia says. “We shot over 80 hours of footage over four years, and the stories just kept coming.  This is just a taste of all this tree can tell us about ourselves.”

The film is next schedules to play at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival in April.

For further information, please contact info@goldenharvestfilm.org  and/or visit www.goldenharvestfilm.org

To contribute to the financing still needed for the marketing and distribution of the film, please visit the non-profit, UNESCO member NGO collecting funding for the film: https://www.heritage-activities.org/food-and-heritage  All individuals and institutions who donate receive a mention in the thanks, as well as their logo in the credits, if desired.58a06575-73ad-4593-96d9-d16c30aadec9

The Golden Harvest in Post Production

This morning I was walking along a street in Amman, Jordan and came across several

The Crew in Salento, Italy

The Crew in Salento, Italy. Photo by Fabio Fassone.

people parking plastic chairs near the olive trees planted inexplicably along the city’s public  sidewalks.  They’d climb onto the chairs and start picking the olives off by hand and putting into sacks. What I’ve learned making THE GOLDEN HARVEST is that they are picking too early.  The olives are still too green for oil.  But if they want them for table olives, they’ll do okay.

Seeing these people today reminded me of why we’re making this film and just how hard it is to make a film.  So I thought I’d give a little update.  We’re in post production now.

We’ve filmed in four countries, and have a couple more to go. Along the way we’ve sampled a tremendous amount of great (and sometimes not so great) olive oil. When I sample those oils at home now, they remind of the exact trees they come from, because they taste and smell of the wind and sea and soil of that spot. Maybe that is one of the reasons olive oil stirs up so many emotions. The idea for this film began several years ago when my father passed away, and I tried to think of the times where he was happiest. And it was around the time of the olive harvest,when people would come to him to taste the oil from their harvest. My father hadn’t lived among olive trees since his youth, and I’m not sure he knew what virgin and extra virgin olive pressing meant, but that passion for the oil—for great oil—never left him. How could it? It was in almost everything he ate, and sometimes he just had a straight shot of it as a pick me up. When I started mentioning some of the olive oil stories of mine to other people with Mediterranean roots, it inevitably formed led to them telling me their own stories, all with as much emotion as if they were telling me about their first loves.   And so the process began…it’s been a regional effort, with great co-producers in Italy, Greece, Spain and Palestine. And we’ve brought together just some of the stories of that people along the olive oil route, tales of love, faith, pain and triumph—not to mention science, medicine and needless to say, great food.  CU Fresh OilIn the coming months, I’ll start introducing you to the crew and the people we’ve met–along with their favorite olive oil recipes.

Question My Name, but Don’t Call Me Overweight

The latest Southwest fat incident, this time with an obese teen getting to keep her two seats, even though her parents didn’t pay for them, and the smaller person getting bumped off, reminded me that yes, I too have my own Southwest fat story, and quite frankly it was more frustrating and certainly more physically grueling than all the times I’ve been pulled aside for a “random security check.”  My story happened several years ago, when I flew from Albuquerque to LA on Southwest, squeezed between a hefty longshoreman and a nearly 400-pound prison chef.
When I got on that plane, I was the last person to board, a mistake I haven’t made since.  I went up and down the aisle, but couldn’t find a seat to sit in.  I told the flight attendant, and she walked up with me until we can to a row with the above-mentioned prison chef and longshoreman.
“This is the only seat left on the flight,” she said, although she couldn’t see a seat anymore than I could for the flesh overflowing on to Seat B.

“Seriously?” I told her and the two men, already crammed in with three seats between them, nodded in agreement with me.

“Well, it’s this or wait for the flight that leaves in five hours,” she said.  “Now gentlemen, if you could just help me shove her in.”

And so the prison chef at the window undid his seat belt and banged his head into the window as he reached to drag his rolls of fat as far away from Seat B as he could.  The longshoreman, who at around 200 pounds was relatively small, stood up while I sat down and then he put my backpack on my lap for me.  When he sat back down and the prison chef let his fat down, so it plopped onto my lap with my backpack.  Forget armrests. I could barely breath and we were all sweating from the body heat. The flight attendant turned on the fan above me.  “There, isn’t that better now,” she smiled as we all continued to break out in sweat.

“Well, this is a threesome I never dreamed up,” said the prison guard and introduced himself with an apology.  He was so friendly, you couldn’t be pissed off at him not being thinner, which is actually what the longshoreman told him.
When they announced that we would be taking off soon, I panicked, realizing I couldn’t reach for my seatbelt.  “Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’re not going anywhere,” the prison chef told me.  It was true, I was too trapped between blubber to even move my hands.  “And if we crash, I’m the most padded life vest you’ve ever flown with.”

“I guess I can’t read my book,” I mumbled politely, remembering that so many people in this world are afraid to travel next to people with names like mine.

“Well, then let’s make small talk so we don’t think about how friggin’ hot we are,” he said.

And so the two of them told me all about their jobs, and I learned that Butterball Turkey has less processing and chemicals in it than Butterball chicken slices.  That’s why the chef preferred to serve the inmates turkey and why I should stick with my hatred of chicken.  When we’d run out of small talk, the longshoreman placed a magazine on my lap and we all shared it, with him turning the pages when each of us was done, as I couldn’t move my hands–I have to say, it was a turbulent flight apparently, but I didn’t feel a bump.
At the end of the flight, the attendant gave me a $100 voucher, although it expired long before I had the courage to take a Southwest flight again or go to Albuquerque.  But at that moment, I had a solution to this whole overweight passenger thing that I wish someone would pay attention to.

I do not make fun of fat people because I know what it feels like for those who aren’t comfortable with being overweight—I was a fat teen that was so hounded and ridiculed and I was so scarred by it all that I have never stopped seeing a fat person in the mirror, so I don’t mean what I say next for purposes of chub-chub humor.  But I want to scream every time I go to check in for a flight, and the ticket agent declares, “You’re five pounds overweight.  Either you have to pay $100 or find a way to get five pounds into your carry on.”  Of course, I end up doing the latter, risking back and shoulder injury as I drag myself to the gate, and in the absurdity of it all,  I find myself far more upset by these incidents rather than when being pulled aside because of my Middle Eastern name—suspect me of being terrorist, okay, that is about national security, but calling me overweight, not okay.

First off, how am I taking any less on the flight, if I’ve taken the five pounds out of one bag and put it in another?  And why are they risking passenger backaches over such illogic?  But most importantly, why am I overweight while the person sitting next to me, often weighing a good 50 to 100 pounds more than me is not?  He and his carry on together are double my weight, and I’m the one being told I’m too heavy and need to pay $100?  What airlines need to do is set a goal weight:  Choose a number, say 220 1bs (because that makes an understandable even 100 kilos for foreign passengers), and everyone has to come in at less than 220 pounds, luggage included.  That’s logical and fuel efficient and it’s not fat discrimination, as people are now being asked to buy two tickets at a certain weight in any case, and it would promote people to travel lighter and who knows, might even help inspire some people to deal with the excess baggage they always carry with them.  But I really don’t want another airline employee telling me I’m overweight—that’s just false, judgmental and hypocritical.

THE NIGHT COUNTER’S MIDDLE EAST TOUR BEGINS

Six weeks after finishing the initial U.S. tour, The Night Counter and I are going to do a little tour of the Middle East.  Started out easy last night at the

The Night Counter at the Virgin Store in Abu Dhabi

The Night Counter at the Virgin Store in Abu Dhabi

American Women’s Network in Abu Dhabi, where, thanks to my friend Annette, many of the women had already read it and were fans.  Next is Bahrain, where I don’t know anyone.  I’ll wrap it  up in mid-December in Abu Dhabi with New York University’s international conference on the Arabian Nights.  Here’s a rundown:

Monday, October 19, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.
American Women’s Network (guest speaker)
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Saturday, October 24, 2009
Seef Mall at 10 am, City Centre at 5 pm
Jashansmal’s
Manama, Bahrain

Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 7 p.m.
Diwan Bookstore
159, 26th July Street, Zamalak
Cairo, Egypt

Saturday, November 7 -10, 2009
Arab-US Association for Communication Educators Conference
Cairo, Egypt
Presentation of paper with Dr. Gaelle Picherit-Duthler: “Tramps, Terrorists, and Teases: The Changing Image of American and Arab Women in Hollywood Films.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 7 p.m.
Virgin Store
Doha, Qatar

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Librarie Antoine
Hamra Branch
Beirut, Lebanon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
American Community School
Opening of New Library, 3 p.m.
Workshop, 2 p.m.

November 11 to 20, 2009
Sharjah International Book Fair
Sharjah, UAE

December 12-14, 2009
Arab and Muslim Literature in English Conference
University of Nizwa
Nizwa, Oman

Tuesday December 15, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.
New York University’s “Writers in Conversation with The Arabian Nights With Alia Yunis, Elias Khoury, Gamal Elgihitany, Githa Hariharan, and Amira El-Zein”
Intercontinental Hotel
Abu Dhabi, UAE

LIVING IN THE SOUND OF MUSIC:What Does A Small Alpine Village Have In Common With Abu Dhabi?

I’m in Obervellach in southern Austria, population 1,500, where the hills are alive with The Sound of Music—the movie that is.  Everywhere you turn, you’re waiting for Julie Andrews to come twirling down the mountain or the Von Tramp children to pop out of the bright flower boxes on the Alpine homes and break into song.  It is Sound of Music picture perfect.  Turns out the folks around here aren’t big fans of the movie, in the way Irish people don’t dig Frank McCourt’s Ireland.  They’d rather you go home talking about the amazing views from the alm—yes, just like Heidi’s alm– where the cows are sent for the summer and everyone can practice yodeling, hiking through waterfalls, swimming in the incredible lakes, embracing local gossip at one of the pubs along the river over lemon beers (not being a drinker is just one of the many ways I’m an obvious outsider here), eating ice cream sundaes the size of mini Christmas trees.

I’m not in Abu Dhabi for sure, but that’s not to say there aren’t some similarities between Abu Dhabi and a small Alpine village, and I’m sure that’s just not too much fresh air talking:

1.    In a small Alpine village, just like in Abu Dhabi, lots of families have little farms with goats and sheep.  In the small Alpine village, they usually also have cows, and in Abu Dhabi they have camels instead.
2.    In both places everybody is everybody’s cousin.  But in Abu Dhabi no one bothers to explain the relationship.  In a small Alpine village, they go through the whole family branch involved.
3.    Both the small Alpine village and Abu Dhabi, have a word that seems to pop up in every other sentence:  In the small Alpine village, it’s “super;” in Abu Dhabi, it’s inshallah.
4.    In the small Alpine village, you can literally smell the green around you.  Abu Dhabi does have a lot of green, but it’s mostly money.
5.    In both places, umbrellas are a necessity, in Abu Dhabi to stave off the sun that never gives you a break, and in the small Alpine village to hold off the rain that seems to come and go throughout the day as quickly as winter in Abu Dhabi. (Water is a topic of conversation in both, but in the small Alpine village it’s about too much water, and Abu Dhabi too little)
6.    In a small Alpine village and Abu Dhabi, people eat of a lot of meat.  In the small Alpine village, it is pork.  In Abu Dhabi it is not.
7.    Both places draw in tourists interested in hiking.  But in the small Alpine village it’s mountains, and in Abu Dhabi, it’s sand dunes.
8.     And in both places, Michael Jackson is playing on the radio now, and in both places I remember that I was planning on marrying him in seventh grade and looking like Farah Fawcett on that big day.

Living in the Sound of Music

Living in the Sound of Music

Abu Dhabi or the small Alpine village would have done fine for the occasion.  Weddings are a big deal in both.