Syria juice vendor gears up for Ramadan as crisis bites

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Ishaaq Kremed, a tamarind juice seller, calls on customers in the covered Hamidiyah market in the old part of the capital Damascus on April 8, 2021. (AFP)
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Ishaaq Kremed, a tamarind juice seller, calls on customers in the covered Hamidiyah market in the old part of the capital Damascus on April 8, 2021. (AFP)
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Ishaaq Kremed, a tamarind juice seller, poses for a picture in the covered Hamidiyah market in the old part of the capital Damascus on April 8, 2021. (AFP)
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Ishaaq Kremed, a tamarind juice seller, presses soaked tamarin in order to extract the juice at his home in the capital Damascus on April 9, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 11 April 2021

Syria juice vendor gears up for Ramadan as crisis bites

  • The popular street vendor says he usually has more customers during Ramadan
  • On his daily rounds of the Hamidiyah covered market, dozens of customers approach him to quench their thirst

DAMASCUS: In a busy market in Syria’s capital, 53-year-old Ishaaq Kremed serenades customers and agilely pours tamarind juice from the ornate brass jug on his back ahead of Ramadan.
The popular street vendor says he usually has more customers during the Islamic holy month starting next week, during which many favor the drink to break their day-long fast at sundown.
But he says his trade of more than 40 years has also taken on new meaning since the war-torn country has been plunged into economic crisis.
“My main job is to make customers smile,” says the moustachioed father of 16, dressed in billowing trousers, a patterned waistcoat and red fez.
“What’s most important is that they leave me feeling happy — that whoever turns up stressed leaves feeling content,” adds the street vendor.
On his daily rounds of the Hamidiyah covered market, dozens of customers approach him to quench their thirst, often taking pictures of him and his traditional get-up with their cellphones.
As he nimbly pours juice in long streams into plastic cups, he distracts them for a while with a song.
A surgical face mask lowered under his chin, Kremed intones lyrics for a mother and her two young daughters, before handing her a cup of the dark brown beverage.
He takes his fez off to collect his payment, then places it back on the top of his head.
Another man, dressed in a long white robe, joins Kremed in a song then gives him a peck on the cheek as he leaves.
Syria’s economic crisis has sent prices soaring and caused the national currency to plummet in value against the dollar on the black market.
In a country where a large majority of people live in poverty, Syrians have also had to contend with several lockdowns to stem the spread of coronavirus.
“For three years, Ramadan has been different because of people’s financial worries,” Kremed says.
“When people come to the market, you see them bumping into each other as if they were in a daze.”
The Damascus government blames the economic crisis on Western sanctions, but economists say the conflict, the pandemic and the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon are also major factors.
Some state institutions have temporarily been closed over the pandemic and the economic crisis, but for now, markets remain open.
Although he does his best to keep up a cheery demeanour, Kremed says he too is feeling the effects of the economic crunch.
Tamarind and sugar are becoming increasingly costly, he says, and not everyone has enough spare cash for a refreshment.
“People’s priorities have become putting food and drink on the table, before tamarind juice,” he says.


Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari

Updated 14 May 2021

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari

  • Banarsi silk was a luxurious hand-woven fabric once made in the city of Khairpur, in Sindh
  • No official data exists on the history of the industry and the stories are told by the weavers themselves

SINDH: At the Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Colony in the city of Khairpur, in Sindh, 47-year-old merchant Zafar Abbas Ansari was waiting, hoping for a few additional orders of silk Banarsi saris as Eid Al-Fitr approached.
The sari is a garment native to South Asia, where a long piece of cloth is wrapped elaborately around the body — usually in cotton or silk — and worn with a matching blouse.
Although the city does not make Banarsi any longer — it is now made in Karachi, more than 400 km away — customers still come to the city to purchase the fabric.
Inside the deserted 70-year-old market — once a bustling place — Zafar’s shop is among the last three Banarsi shops left. His family is one of the 40 weaver families who brought the industry to Khairpur when they migrated from India in 1952.
“It is almost two decades since Khairpur stopped producing Banarsi saris after the industry’s collapse. However, even today, the brand is popular among customers. They keep demanding Khairpur’s brand,” Zafar told Arab News.
In its heyday, Khairpur’s Banarsi sari was synonymous with luxury, with vendors supplying the fabric not only locally but also exporting to Pakistani families living in the UK and other European countries.
Inside Zafar’s shop, unstitched pieces of colorful saris — the blouse, the petticoat and main sari fabric — are displayed. The shop shows off different varieties of saris, including the traditional katan — a plain woven fabric with pure silk threads — chiffon, as well as synthetic fabrics.
“Banarsi sari has distinction and standing,” Zafar said proudly. “It is worn by royal families because of its grace and elegance. In some families it is an essential part of the bridal trousseau.”


The price of a sari depends upon its type. The most expensive sari fabric available in the Khairpur market currently is worth Rs45,000 ($300) a piece
Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Colony is named after the city of Banaras in India (now Varanasi) because of the silk weavers who migrated from there.
There are no official records, and the story of the garment comes from the weavers themselves. They say the history of the Banaras sari industry in Khairpur is linked with Ghulam Saddiquah Begum — the wife of Khairpur state’s then ruler, Mir Ali Murad Khan Talpur of the Talpur dynasty.
Saddiquah Begum herself came from Bahawalpur state, and in 1949, the weavers said, during a visit to India’s Hyderabad Deccan, she offered Mohammed Yusuf Ansari — a sari trader from Banaras — the chance to start manufacturing in Khairpur.
She is said to have offered her state’s support for the establishment of the manufacturing units required.
In 1952, about 40 families of the Ansari clan migrated from Banaras to Khairpur and sari manufacturing began on handlooms. Later, the saris were exported to other countries.
Arab News could not independently verify this information.
According to Anjum Sajjad Ansari, grandson of Muhammad Yusuf Ansari and a representative of the Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Association Khairpur, at its peak there were 400 handlooms in Khairpur. Today, not a single handloom remains.
“At Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony today there are 16 houses of traditional weavers. However only three are involved in this business of selling Karachi-made fabric,” Anjum said.
Like elsewhere, the Banarsi brand was associated with pure silk thread work. Initially, Khairpur used silk imported from China, but later the silk came from Punjab’s Changa Manga as Pakistan developed hatching silkworms and silk fiber producing factories.
The whole family engaged in the manufacturing process, including silk weaving, dyeing, warping, and reeling. It took between two to three days’ work to complete a single sari.
The silk weaving industry was thriving into the 1960s.
“In 1965, Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan visited and gave incentives and subsidies that boosted the industry,” said Anjum.
“However, in the later years successive governments paid little heed to this industry, and manufacturing units were shifted to Karachi by 2000,” he said.
For Anjum, there is still a chance to revive the past glory of Khairpur.
“We have given proposals to the government at different forums. But nothing has been done yet. The Banarsi sari has become a trademark for Khairpur,” he said.
“Khairpur’s distinction was to produce only handmade silk fabric, unlike other areas where machines are involved. If the government is sincere, factories could be re-established and skilled laborers could be recalled once more from Karachi.”

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Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik takes to social media with touching pet plea

Model Shanina Shaik took to Instagram with a touching plea for help. Getty Images
Updated 03 May 2021

Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik takes to social media with touching pet plea

DUBAI:  Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik took to Instagram this week to ask fans to help reunite her with her pet dog Choppa. The Victoria’s Secret model recently moved back to the US from the UK, where she had spent the past year in quarantine with her beloved French bulldog. The 30-year-old disclosed that while she was able to make the trip across the Atlantic, her pet was unable to accompany her and now she is doing everything she can to bring her furry friend home.

“We’ve come to a few roadblocks,” she shared with her 2.2 million Instagram followers, adding it’s been “really difficult.”

She went on to ask if any of her friends or followers are traveling to the US from the UK and would be able to help her return her pet pooch home.

“I’m asking any of my friends who are flying private, or anyone who’s flying private from the UK and coming back to the USA if you could please contact me and DM me. I would be happy to pay for Choppa’s flight and seat on the plane,” Shaik said. “I’d be so appreciative if you did that for me,” she added.

It is unclear why Shaik cannot undertake the trip herself, but the model has had visa-related issues in recent history and only in February obtained a visa to enter America, thanks to US Immigration Attorney Carlos Rosas who helped her and made “the unimaginable happen,” according to an Instagram post.

In a past interview, Shaik revealed that she had left two dogs in Australia when she first moved to New York aged 17 to pursue her modeling career. After moving, she adopted Choppa.

The model, who is of Saudi, Pakistani, Australian and Lithuanian descent, regularly takes to social media to gush about her dog and even set up an Instagram account for her canine companion, which she has had for several years.

The dog is also ever-present on Shaik’s social media accounts and regularly travels with the jet-setting model, who has walked the Victoria’s Secret runway five times.

“My travel buddy,” she captioned an adorable snap of the canine during one of her trips last summer.

Indeed, Shaik’s beloved pet has been present for some of the most monumental milestones of the Melbourne-born model’s life.

Choppa accompanied Shaik at her legal marriage ceremony to her ex-husband DJ Ruckus (born Gregory Andrews) in the Bahamas in 2018.


What We Are Reading Today: Mom Genes by Abigail Tucker

Updated 30 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Mom Genes by Abigail Tucker

Mom Genes is an interesting mix of research and memoir with many fascinating facts for the reader.
“Part scientific odyssey, part memoir, Mom Genes weaves the latest research with Abigail Tucker’s personal experiences to create a delightful, surprising, and poignant portrait of motherhood,” said a review in Goodreads.com.
“It’s vital reading for anyone who has ever wondered what rocks the hand that rocks the cradle,” said the review.
It said the book “is amazing and interesting for Moms and anyone interested in genetics and motherhood.”
It added that the author “is herself a mother and uses the insight she has gained from motherhood to highlight and accent areas in this book.”
“The author does a wonderful job making the content relatable and interesting by using personal anecdote and humor,” said the review.
It said Tucker “explores countless studies that examine motherhood in the animal kingdom and the implications they have for our human parental experiences.
The research spans the globe and includes an intriguing variety of topics related to maternity.”


What We Are Eating Today: Grandma’s Jar

Updated 30 April 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Grandma’s Jar

Grandma’s Jar is a homemade Saudi brand that offers authentic jam recipes for sweet-toothed connoisseurs that will make you reminisce over your tasty childhood recipes.
The home business was inspired by a grandmother who used to offer freshly made jam for every family breakfast during Eid, which everyone was eager to enjoy.
The fresh fruits are the main components of the heavenly jars. The healthy, natural jars are filled with just three ingredients: Cane sugar, fruits and lemon, without any pectin or gelatin.
They are available in eight different flavors: Strawberry and rosemary, mixed berry, mango, apricot, orange, cherry, quince, and the brand’s signature fig jam mix with nuts, sesame and black seeds.
Fruits used in Grandma’s Jar jam are taken from the business owner’s backyard. Seasonally produced, their fresh and cold mango jam marks the arrival of summer.
Their jams can be used in plenty of dishes, such as desserts, sandwiches and cheesecakes.
If you were thinking of Eid Al-Fitr’s surprise or gifting to family and friends, the brand offers three choices of smartly packed boxes, ranging from two to six flavors of your choice.
They offer shipment around the Kingdom too. For more information visit their Instagram @grandmasjar or their website: https://salla.sa/grandmasjar


Why Nablus is known as Palestine's capital of sweet treats

Updated 29 April 2021

Why Nablus is known as Palestine's capital of sweet treats

  • “Qatayef is a dessert that we only prepare in the holy month, and customers travel from everywhere to buy it here at my shop,” said Al-Nimr
  • Halawa said: “Every household consumes these sweets during Ramadan. Nablus is known for its sweets, and their prices are reasonable”

NABLUS: Nablus, in the northern West Bank, is known as the capital of sweets in Palestine. The kunafa made in the city is popular in all Arab countries, as well as in the West.
During the month of fasting, kunafa is part of an authentic Palestinian Ramadan and becomes a special treat for the faithful, who have it for iftar.
From the early morning hours, Mohammed Al-Nimr is busy preparing qatayef dough for customers of his shop on Al-Nasr Street.
“Qatayef is a dessert that we only prepare in the holy month, and customers travel from everywhere to buy it here at my shop,” said Al-Nimr, while pouring the liquid dough onto a hot plate.
Mazen Halawa, 73, stands behind several large pots filled with Zainab’s fingers, cheese-stuffed pastries, and awama, or sweet doughnut balls, which he has been making for 50 years. During Ramadan, demand for these desserts increases greatly.
Halawa said: “Every household consumes these sweets during Ramadan. Nablus is known for its sweets, and their prices are reasonable.”
During the holy month, many restaurants also produce sweets to meet the huge demand. 
However, shop owners have had reason to complain of low sales due to the outbreak of the pandemic and the ensuing partial closures imposed in the West Bank.
Majdi Arafat, owner of a sweet shop in Nablus, said: “The number of buyers this year is much lower compared to previous years.”
Arafat attributes the decline in shoppers to the deteriorating economic situation caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.
The dessert culture of Nablus has spread to various other Palestinian cities and Arab and Islamic countries.
Taher Bakeer, a researcher specializing in the history of Nablus, said: “The Abaza sweet shop was the most famous in Nablus. A famous sweet maker in the Levant told me that Abaza was the one that taught us how to make kunafa. The Turks took it from the confectioners of the Levant after we brought it there from Nablus.” 
Historian and traveler Ibn Battuta wrote about Nablus in his book: “It is an industrial town, famous for making sweets and tahina, in addition to soap.”
In addition to the ones previously mentioned, the most popular sweet delicacies made in the city are cheese pies, cream pies, khudoud Al-sitt, kullaj, shafaef Al-sitt, aratis with milk, Al-burma, sira bint Al-malek, bin narayn, karakeesh, harisa, and qazza.

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