illustration of Egyptian Molokhia Food

By Basmah Ahmed

“Egyptian Molokhia” Illustration by Yaansoon

I remember vines of tomatoes, cucumbers and baskets of eggplant but my favourite was always the Molokhia; a tall leafy green that grows on thick stalk. Although resembling spinach, when used by Arabs to make warm soup it is adored by children (the toughest food critics). 

I remember those stalks being brought into the backyard from the back of Amu’s (Uncle’s) truck after he visited the farm. They were almost as tall I was in 4 foot piles. I would help pull each leaf off, stem by stem for hours. My friends and I would compete with each other on who could remove the leaves the fastest before they’d be cut into even thinner pieces by our mothers’ knives that rocked back and forth at speeds that seemed too dangerous – even for adults. Some saved for now, and most stored for later. I remember this from my childhood, my mother and other families in our little Arab community in Hamilton growing food in the 4 months of the year that the weather here would allow. They would share vegetables and fruits that they had grown, swapping tips and humbly bragging about whose crops turned out the best. 

It mattered that I could watch and see how food grew, how it could be cut and torn and used in ways that would nourish our communities. That miracle is one that never gets old. You cannot tire of watching the magic of your people and the earth connecting together. 

In his book Divine Governance of the Human Kingson, Ibn Arabi, a Muslim poet, philosopher and scholar says the following: 

“As the whole universe is created from the primary elements of earth, water, fire, and air so is the body of persons. 

The Creator says: 

“They it is who created you from dust” (Quran 40:67) 

“We have created them from clay” (Quran 37: 11) 

“We have created the human being of formed dried mud” (Quran 15:26) 

The separation between us and the land is not one that is natural. It is not one that is sacred, and not one that is held in almost any ancient tradition especially not those of our indigenous land protectors. 

Yet colonial and capitalist policy will tell you that some bodies are made of matter that makes their belly unworthy of filling, that land belongs to some, and should be ripped away from others. Yet the land defies, and is dying to warn us that it is unsafe to continue this way. In the hands of capitalistic endeavors, white supremacy, and systems built off the backs of colonial theft, we were taught that plant beings are nothing but resources, water is nothing but a means of production, people are not worth much – you are not worth much. 

We know that under this model some life is preferred over others. Some bodies are preferred over others. Lightness over blackness. They have blocked, barred, pillaged, and destroyed. That clay matter did this, and yet it is only through a return to our essential being and our natural connection with the land,  that we can even begin to undo what we have been programmed to believe is right.  

We cannot mold this new story by shaping it off a model that has betrayed our most vulnerable.

In Arabic, the word for the people of Paradise is Muflihoon ( Moof – lee – hoon), which  comes from the root word Falah, which means farmer. This word is used to describe the winners who have achieved paradise It is the same word used to describe the farmer who tills the land; who waters it and harvests it only to see the fruits of their rewards after months of patience or who may only see it grow for generations to come.

 I know not everyone will agree that Paradise exists, or will even agree on how to get there but we can agree that gardens grow wherever seeds can find moisture, and can hold on to soil long enough to grow. If we are the earth as Ibn Arabi suggests, we must then also be the farmers. 

They cannot stop us from entering paradise despite continuing to build the gate that locks us from it. As farmers we can build paradise with our bare hands, extending ourselves into the dirt to excavate and create space for new. Remove the weeds, plant seeds collected from our ancestors and bury them firmly into the new soil that we’ve cleared. 

I know I am not just on the earth but I am of it, made of its same pieces, with all the nutrients I need to nourish my community. I am a pile of stalks  that will have young hands reaching for each leaf , mothers’ rocking them back and forth at speeds that seemed scary even for adults, yet transforming them into the meal that fills up a stomach that was told it was not worthy. Some saved for now, and most stored for generations to come. 

We’re not too different from those stalks of Molokhia. So I ask, what would it look like to know that the earth has enough to feed us? That we can put ourselves in the dirt and come out stalks that can nourish each other? What would it look like to believe the world can provide for us because we are it? I for one will be fighting to find out one garden at a time.  

Basmah is standing amongst forestry in a green long sleeve sweater and one-shoulder overalls on.

Basmah is a writer and poet who
is passionate about the urban food movement and loves getting her hands dirty in projects focused on access to food and connecting people with nature in unexpected places. She is most inspired by how spirituality/ancient traditions tie into the fight against climate change.

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