Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Perhaps No More

Did you know that Baraka Robama means Perhaps No More? No, this is not a play on words. In Darija, baraka = no more and robama = perhaps. Kinda fitting for our new President, yak? So why did I just figure this out? Because until now, I would have said “ymkn safi” to mean perhaps no more (and why would I say that phrase anyway…), and that would also have been correct. Yes, the vocabulary continues to build. Aren’t you glad?

Just realizing that another month is behind us. How could that happen so quickly? Been in Morocco 10 months already. Wow. Feeling like I’ll never get everything done, so this week talked w/Zahra about starting a bi-weekly workshop series for the women of the Coop. Talk about different aspects of the business of the Coop, to get them thinking about it as a business, their roles, what needs to be done, what they can do to further the goals of the Coop. Inshallah this will help them also talk about topics that they never discuss-they’re things that Zahra and Fatima take care of, but they need to get help-can’t continue to do it all themselves-that’s just not sustainable.

Interesting morning in Fes. Transit gods smiling on me-every taxi I approached had 5 people just waiting for a 6th to take off. Hamdullah. Got to the Artisana guy to negotiate for delivery of tables and chairs for Workshop/Craft Fair. Inshallah. Got to American Language Center to talk thru the program dates again. They have the challenge of getting 10 weeks of class (incl. 10 Saturdays) in between the Islamic calendar holidays, incl. Leid sgir, Leid kbir and the Islamic New Year. No easy task. We think we’ve got new dates for the event that straddles class terms. Inshallah. Go across the street to plead my case to the private school to let the artisans “bunk” (sleep on the floor) in their school during the Workshop/Craft Fair. Talked to the owner and the mudir. Told they can’t make a decision alone (really?). Everyone else on vacation and closed in August, so won’t know until September. That’s a Moroccan “Inshallah” which translates to “NO WAY”. Oh well. Then off to the equip rental guy to negotiate 2 days of tent rental for one. Got it done. Good ROI. Just 50DH transit fare to Fes and back for the day and saved us 1500DH. If only it was out of the same pocket. All of this done before noon when everything shuts down. Learning how to get things done, Morocco-style.

So I’ve decided that it’s about time I added another lesson in Moroccan Culture to my ramblings…. today’s topic is Argon Oil-exclusively from Morocco. See this interesting overview that comes from .......<<>>.......

Argan oil is an oil produced from the kernels of the endemic argan tree, that is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties. The tree, a relict species from the Tertiary age, is extremely well adapted to drought and other environmentally difficult conditions of southwestern Morocco. The species Argania once covered North Africa and is now endangered and under protection of UNESCO.[1] The Argan tree grows wild in semi-desert soil, its deep root system helping to protect against soil erosion and the northern advance of the Sahara.[2] This biosphere reserve, the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve, covers a vast intramontane plain of more than 2,560,000 hectares, bordered by the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains and open to the Atlantic in the west. Argan oil remains one of the rarest oils in the world due the small and very specific growing area.

Centuries before modern times, the Berbers (indigenous people of Morocco) of this area would collect undigested argan pits from the waste of goats which climb the trees to eat their fruit. The pits were then ground and pressed to make the nutty oil used in cooking and cosmetics. However, the oil used in cosmetic and culinary products available for sale today has most likely been harvested and processed with machines in a verifiably clean and sanitary way.

The oil was sold in Moroccan markets even before the Phoenicians arrived, yet the hardy argan tree has been slowly disappearing. Overgrazing by goats and a growing, wood-hungry local population have whittled the number of surviving trees down to less than half of what it was 50 years ago.

The tree is a relic of the earth's Tertiary Period, which ended about 1.6 million years ago, and it grows in only a few other places in the world. It is tenacious, withering and fruitless during extended droughts, and it lives as long as 200 years. So there was alarm that the Argania spinosa, as the tree is properly called, was headed for extinction, along with its precious goat-related oil.

Unesco, and people excited by the oil's reputed anti-aging qualities have helped by creating a global market for the exotic oil, the unlikely alliance hopes to raise awareness about the inherent value of the trees, encouraging more careful grazing and stopping the local population from chopping the trees down for firewood. The people in the area are poor, as they now understand the value of the tree, they are protecting it.

Unesco declared a 25,900-square-kilometer of land between the Atlantic and the Atlas Mountains and provided money to manage the trees' preservation. Chefs and society matrons took up the cause, praising the culinary qualities of the oil and its anti-aging effect on the skin. There is also a ban against grazing in the trees from May to August, when the fruit ripens to a bright yellow and eventually the goats climb the trees, eat the fruit and expel the pits, which locals continue to collect.

At the Cooperative in Tiout, Berber women sit on the floor with rough rectangular stones between their knees cracking pits with rounded rocks. Each smooth pit contains one to three kernels, which look like sliced almonds and are rich in oil. The kernels are then removed and gently roasted. This roasting accounts for part of the oil's distinctive, nutty flavour. It takes several days and about 32 kilograms of fruit - roughly one season's produce from a single tree - to make only one liter of oil. The cosmetic oil, rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids, is used for massage, facials and as an ingredient in anti-aging cream. The edible oil is extracted from roasted kernels.

Most of the oil is bottled pure for cooking, as a dressing on salads, meat or fish or simply as a dip for bread. The Tiout cooperative produces about 5,000 250-milliliter bottles of the edible oil a year. 250 ml of oil sells for as much as $30 a bottle. The oil can be purchased at the Cooperative in Tiout but the neighbouring city of Agadir sells the oil for a fair price as well.

Argan oil is exceptionally rich in natural tocopherols (vitamin E), rich in phenols and phenolic acid, rich in carotenes, rich in squalene, rich in essential fatty acids, 80% unsaturated fatty acids[3] and depending on extraction method more resistant to oxidation than olive oil.

Argan oil is used for dipping bread, on couscous, salads and similar uses. The residue from traditional oil extraction is a thick chocolate-coloured paste called "amlou" which is sweetened and served as a dip for bread at breakfast time. It has a flavour similar to that of peanut butter.

Yeah, yeah, Baraka Robama to you too.

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