It’s been 10 days since I’ve been back from my Mediterranean sabbatical.
Folks ask about the trip. What did I do out there? What was the highlight? What did I learn? Truth is, it was a lot. And I’m still digesting it all..
I went to steep in the traditions of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle long celebrated in the preventative healthcare community. To learn about the food traditions, rich with heart healthy fats, fresh fruits and veggies, grains and legumes. To immerse in a lifestyle in which communities gather over food, a key factor, according to researchers, in promoting longevity and wellness.
It was a tremendous experience to be away for almost two months exploring and connecting in the region.
I worked and taught. I volunteered and wrote. I enjoyed the company of family and friends and complete strangers over incredible meals in beautiful places. I followed healers and foodies and mystics down rabbit holes and learned from their teachings and insight in the cultivation of a healthy eating practice & lifestyle. And dipped my toes in the sand and sea along the Mediterranean shores from Egypt to Lebanon to Israel and Palestine to Turkey to Spain.
I’ve come back with my kirsh- Arabic for that resilient part of a woman’s belly back in its full glory. Fattened with beautiful experiences and all of the rich Mediterranean meats and dairy and gluten.
But I was also visiting a really traumatized part of the world. I knew this of course going in.
My parents came from Egypt in the late 60s and early 70s. And I know there is a bit of a trauma there as my parents look back at the country of their youth that has become more and more unrecognizable with intense political instability.
And I spent some time working in international development and conflict work in the region until, well… I couldn’t.
And this violence and instability is what most people outside the region think of when they do think of the Middle East. But they don’t know the Middle East that I know. There’s always more to the story.
In my time traveling I indulged in everyday celebrations of heavy lunches in the late Mediterranean afternoon with fruits, cheeses, and olives and bright salads. And legumes and greens simmered in generous amounts of garlic, cumin, and olive oil with truly fresh aish baladi or village style pita bread. Served with sweetened hibiscus tea and other elixirs of dried apricots or tamarind or caroub. And the buzzing nights and sleepy days of Ramadan. And families and neighbors gathering to prepare mouneh, and meze, and pick mulukhiya.
And it was educational and humbling to say the least to to go back in this new capacity, as a healer and a seeker… And seeing and feeling the generational effects of violence and political insecurity and humiliation in entire communities.
But to immerse in a lifestyle in which families and villagers gather to prepare ingredients and meals and enjoy them together. In a rhythm or a ritual that is truly missing in the West. And how food tells the living, breathing stories of its communities.
And I’ve seen that while tradition can nourish communal or spiritual connections with food, I’ve also seen the weight of these traditions crush people and become a source of intense obsession and control.
I suppose what I’m saying is there is a lot to digest. Slowly digesting all that I have learned and applying it to my personal and professional practice.
The stories, the recipes, the teachings… they are coming. More soon.