Outreach to preschoolers begins

These 4 year olds continue their learning with coloring books that show Arab cultures.

These 4 year olds continue their learning with coloring books that show Arab cultures.


The kids are very serious about their work.

The kids are very serious about their work.

Spring 2014 brought part of our traveling display to Wisconsin’s 4 year-old kindergartens. I was surprised by this opportunity since we have not offered programming to preschoolers in the past. Still, when opportunity knocks, here we come.  Although most of these young students do not read, they were able to see our picture stories of “Children in the Arab World display. Many of these delightful kids were willing to try on traditional Arab clothing and they liked what they saw. Finally, most took a seat and a coloring book and began their work of coloring and relating to children far from their own schools and homes.

One of the most popular items in the Habiba Foundation's traveling display is trying on traditional Arab clothing.

One of the most popular items in the Habiba Foundation’s traveling display is trying on traditional Arab clothing.

Condolences, Tunisian style

It was late Tuesday (Feb. 25, 2014) night when my mother, Helen Moran Bond, passed away. She was two days short of 98 years and her passing was quite expected.  Two of us were at her bedside.

Our immediate family was notified, but not friends and neighbors. Still, before the crack of dawn we had a condolence call — from Tunisia. I do remember that condolence calls are very important in the Tunisian culture. I recall making some of those kinds of calls myself on the passing of wonderful people.

The occasion of that call was sad, yet the peace and love behind that call warmed my heart.  The call was short, but the message was sweet. Amazing that in such a short amount of time the message came from the other side of the world.

I wish all the people of the world could just come together like that for peace and hope for the future. Thank you Tunisian friends for your friendship and hope.


Learning about new friends

One of my favorite stories that high lights the misconceptions we all have about different cultures comes from one visit with young people in Tunisia.

In the summer of 2006, in a peacemaking trip funded by the Lyman Fund, we met a charming young man, Mohammed, who was about 14 at the time. Mohammed followed us around all day long with continuous questions about our family and our life. He was so curious about “America.”  We told him about our family, Gordy’s teaching young people, some of our customs and we learned about him and his work with the Tunisian Boy Scouts.

Deep into the conversation he was trying to understand where we live. Mohammed knew about New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. How could I describe how very big our country is (compared to Tunisia?)  As if the air in front of me was a large paper, I drew an outline of our country in the air. With my right hand I pointed out where New York would be on the map. With my left hand I dotted an area for Los Angeles and Los Vegas. I told Mohammed that about in the middle of our country is a very big city called Chicago. While most Wisconsinites don’t consider themselves very connected to that metropolitan area, it is the largest super city anywhere near us. I told Mohammed that we live about two hours out of Chicago and into the farmland area of the Midwest.

It was as if the lights went on for Mohammed. He became delighted and excited at the same time. He knew just where we live. He said “Superman from farmland.”

We often smile when we think of Mohammed and his understanding of this country. To us it is a bit humorous. At the same time, it points out how little we know about the lands of each other, Tunisians, Americans, Egyptians, Syrians and more. Our Tunisian friends would chuckle at the misconceptions of Americans, at least when it is funny. More often the misinformation that we all have about each other leads to disaster or very bad relations between countries and people.  We continue to reach out to others in Arab countries to listen and to respond to lessen the confusion around us all. Please join us as we continue to listen and to reach out in friendship.


Martin Luther King Day Food Fest 1/11/14

Moroccan food at Food Fest with Habiba Chaouch Foundation

Moroccan stew with couscous


“It even looks Moroccan!”

At the end of the MLKD program the Food Fest opened to a crowd of hungry and interested folks. We featured food from Morocco, a North African country on the northeastern side of Africa.

Moroccan stew with couscous is a whole meal in one dish, several vegetables, beans and potatoes served on top of a generous pile of couscous. The meal is topped off with a Coconut Ghribas, a perfect way to end any meal.

I was delighted to hear people say that our table “even looks like Morocco.” We served about 150 people. A nice number of folks even picked up our recipes handouts.

Pdf files for recipes:      Moroccan Stew    Coconut Ghribas

Delicious! Pomegranates and Pine Nuts by Bethany Khedry

Bethany Khedry Pomegranites and Pine Nuts

Its alluring cover beckoned from the Museum of Fine Arts gift shop. Doesn’t that salad look delicious? Don’t you love that raised font? Its magnetic force called, and I couldn’t resist. Tempted to brush the pistachio crumbs from its cover, Pomegranates and Pine Nuts by Bethany Khedry was not to be left behind.

For a week or so, it graced my bedside table, feeding sweet dreams spiced with Morroccan, Lebanese and Persian culture. Bethany Khedry is a multicultural soul who tells us the story and experiences that led to this collection of recipes crossing traditions and cultures. A cook book that caters to vegetarian and omnivore tendencies, the medley includes meze (also known as starters, antipasti or tapas), salads, meats and seafood. There’s also a tantalizing list of desserts and drinks. For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, the book introduces key ingredients of the North African and Middle Eastern pantry, and includes recipes for basic dishes. Thanks to this section, I open a pomegranate in a completely different way! With its fabulous food styling and photography, I considered jumping out of bed and to start cooking.

A large, ripe pomegranate wandered into my house this week, so it was time to test a few recipes. I made the pomegranate and cucumber salad, mujadarah and white cabbage salad on a grey Sunday afternoon.  The salads reminded me of a leisurely meal our family enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the Chouf mountains in Lebanon. Mujadarah is a lentil salad with allspice and carmelised onions. All were delicious and appreciated by everyone at the table (a rare family feat, especially with guests in the house!). Except for the pomegranate, the ingredients were items you could find at almost every grocery store.  If you live near a Whole Foods,  everything would be easily available (even dried chili peppers for harissa). Never fear,  Pomegranates and Pine Nuts includes an appendix of online suppliers makes the recipes accessible to those far from urban areas.

At this point, I hit the web, wondering who else enjoyed this culinary voyage across the Middle East. Pomegranates and Pine Nuts is the American title of the book, which is available world wide as The Bejewelled Kitchen. Turns out there’s even a video where Bethany talks about the book.

I’m looking forward to trying more recipes from Pomegranates and Pine Nuts. Any of you found this cook book just as sunny and irresistible?  I’d love to hear what you try.

Alanna Nelson is a long time board member of the Habiba Chaouch Foundation, textilphiliac and marketing consultant. Connect with her @Tactile_Travel or Google+

Begin 2014 with a Blog

Happy 2014!

After more than 20 years of building bridges between Arab and U.S. cultures, we at the Habiba Chaouch Foundation thought it might finally be time to jump on the blog wagon. We look forward to sharing tidbits, events and stories that come our way, and to hearing from you.

Wishing you a year of peace and prosperity!

P.S. Leave it to Dubai to take on another world record. Did you hear about their amazing fireworks display last night?