Charity

Kind of totally cool that my Brookolie work is featured in a story on this new website focused on healing stories. Please give it a read.

Cathartic Posts

An excerpt from my work-in-progress YA novel insha’Allah, first published in Young Muslimah Magazine.

Charity

Brookollie earrings icySister, if you want to break into the market, you should do reclaimed stuff. I’m only buying this ’cause it’s for charity.” Her bracelets chink together as she rummages around in her pink sequinned bag. I check my display of handmade jewellery. Except for the necklace clasps, everything I’ve used is reclaimed – the metal, the jewels, the beads. But she didn’t ask me and I can’t advertise this fact because people will question my source.

She finds her purse: a tired pink leather that clashes with her hemp bag. “So, how much goes to charity, anyway?” she asks, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head down to me over her money.

All of it.” I answer, trying not to look at the protruding bank notes.

This charity?”

Half to…

View original post 719 more words

Advertisements

2 Horrid Ramadans & Moving Along w/ the Ramadan Battle Plan, Insha Allah

LBL_SISTERS_illus_long

I have been meaning to write a sort of sketch for my family of all the different ways we have done Ramadan: from just me and the new hubby sharing cream puffs out of a paper bag in front of an Italian bakery in Brooklyn to enjoying a break of a solitary iftar while the husband took our bunch of kids to the masijd, and then onto Ramadans with extended family in Morocco. I should still do that, but today I am going to write about my worst two Ramadans ever and more importantly how I hope, insha Allah, to bury that habit quick this year.

The last two Ramadans I have spent half the month alone with my six kids. I mean really alone. I have neighbors, but no friends or family within several hours of driving/flying to my home. My lifestyle is… maybe unusual. We unschool, I work from home, and our home is located in a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where life is very in touch with the land, clean-living and fairly hard work. Alhumdulillah, I am not out digging in the earth and tediously caring for farm animals, but I still do work (which can be long hours if I don’t watch myself), plus the homeschooling and lack of any help for half the month… you get the idea? Also, that forced ‘clean-living’ thing means no availability of processed foods, which I know you all are trying to avoid, but you do know how time consuming it can be to prepare suhoor and iftar with ZERO processed foods, except for roasted coffee beans and granulated sugar- thank God!

Anyway, where my last two Ramadans really fell apart was that I spent way too much of my already compromised time worry about and trying to get some cooperation from two of my six children. We’ve all missed a suhoor and know from experience how horrid that can be, right? Who would want that for their kids? Their hormone messed-up kids who sleep at odd intervals for unpredictable lengths? So with these two basically trying to sleep through Ramadan (and when they were awake bemoaning not having a dishwasher! Oh noes, they have to do dishes, but actually exert more energy fighting their mother about it than doing them!) that left me to deal with my other small children during the day, feeding them throughout and then maybe towards the end of the day I got some help with preparing iftar (fairly simple, but remember ALL from scratch except for our bread that I buy from my neighbor) or maybe not- it was just a mess, with my ibadah being heavily affected by my exhaustion and … anger. *Here is where you don’t bother to advise me about discipline measures and whatnot, because I have had enough of a headache with all of this and really thank you anyway, but I won’t bother with how you think I should maybe handle it, because I already tried many things and here is the conclusion I have come to:

This year I am bringing the focus back to ME (modeling behavior, they call this). Firstly, I am not going to bother myself with these manchildren who should know well enough how this Ramadan thing works. They are welcome to participate or not at their own paces. Don’t worry for them, they haven’t missed any fasts in years (or tarawih prayers) and I doubt they would start cheating now, but really let’s not bother directly with them. Secondly, I did FINALLY get some hired help, which I should have done long ago as I know logically I cannot do it all, but I guess I have some kind of glitch. So, alhumdulillah someone will be coming in for up to two hours a day to tidy the kitchen and help prep the food for me/us to cook later. I enjoy when hubby and kids come into the kitchen with me in that final hour of fasting to whip up a spontaneous iftar and again, all are welcome to join me, but no pressure, no extra exertion. RBP II

The most important thing I am doing is returning to making my ibadah come first, foremost and be nearly the only thing I see during Ramadan. I want to read the whole Quran and pray my tarawees everyday! Something I don’t remember doing at all the last two years. The main way I am doing this refocusing is that I got myself a copy of the Ramadan Battle Plan and am using it! Insha Allah.

Among some of the great getting-started things in the RBP is this goal setting and visualizing. Though I felt a bit cynical writing about my “Ideal Ramadan” after the last two, like the plan reminds: “And your Rabb says, “Call upon me; I will respond to you.” (Surah Al-Ghafir verse 60). And that’s it right there, that is my plan for Ramadan to call upon my Lord! Insha Allah.

I am doing The Plan along with a bunch of my cohorts from SISTERS Magazine, (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women) and you can read more about our experiences on the SISTER Family Blog or by following our SISTERS Team Does the Ramadan Battle Plan Facebook page.

Get your blessings! And me He accept our fasts, yours and mine, amen.

 

 

Antique Moroccon Coin and Glass Assemblage Necklace

BeadsLast month I spent a week in Essaouira on the southernish shore of Morocco. I went for the purposes of respite from the bulk of my kids (just took the 10 and 12 year old boys), to do some annual household shopping and especially to do some business related shopping, meaning beads! Essaouira is a great little town with lots of yummy places to eat and loads of traditional, artisanal boutiques. We stayed in a quiet little spot in the medina, only leaving it for a couple of brief trips to the beach and the grocery store, which had a really disappointing tea selection, but we thoroughly enjoyed their little bakery and cheese selection.

I hit up several jewelry shops finding a great selection of old and newer Moroccan silver beads, including some lovely inlay Tuareg beads and cute casted reproductions of old Amazigh (Berber) and Yemeni sterling charms, along with some of the ‘real deals’. I also found some very old and heavy silver beads from the Sahara which my oldest daughter was immediately drawn to and I have decided to keep in the family. Actually, I am meaning to make myself a necklace commemorating/celebrating TWELVE YEARS of breastfeeding my six babies and will likely use those in it. blog II

But my best finds came from a silversmith who let me dig through several buckets he had of old and sometimes broken bits and pieces. I got bits of necklaces, head dresses, earrings and even an old filigree bracelet. I’m hoping to make some assemblage necklaces with the findings like this one I have made for my mom, who I am pretty sure doesn’t read my blog. Mom, are you out there?

The pendant is the top portion of an old Moroccan coin and glass earring- real glass, not the commonly found plastic ones which are still pretty. I added the crystal briolettes and reshaped the earwire into a bale-loop (I couldn’t bring myself to trim it at all). Also from the trip are the old cloisonné beads at the sides. Not sure if they are Moroccan-made or rolled their way to here from some other starting point. My mom had some lovely cloisonné pieces when I was a kid and so I always think of her when I see some. I snagged these with her in mind.

The chain is partially some chain mom had given me a way too long for me necklace of, so I hacked some up to work into this and added my favorite textured slightly oxidized chain there at the bottom center. The faux-second/shorter strand is some tiny rolo and more of the handwrapped red and some blue crystals that I also used on the other strand. I love how the Karen Hill Tribe Thai ‘wrap’ or ‘swirl’ beads nearly blend in where they connect the two chains together- and they also blend into that one cloisonné that has huge openings.

blog IMy mom is a bit of a sneak who likes to dress up a solid colored t-shirt with some fancy adornment, like a silk hand-painted scarf, to wear to work on non-casual days- and she totally gets away with it! I am sure this piece will be another to distract people from realizing that she is wearing her Hanes For Women in the office 😉

These are a couple of the other pieces I am currently playing around with. I haven’t found out anything about how old or where that sweet turquoise inlay/cloisonné-ish comes from, but the other is a traditional  Serrouchen or Haddidhu neillo work piece usually worked into really elaborate necklaces or headdress pieces. I have a few other pieces from the trip already worked into necklaces and bracelets in my Etsy Brookolie shop as well as a collection of vintage Amazigh/Moroccan rings I will be adding to this week. mom 003

Adorn and make on!

~Brooke

 

Babbling Brookolie in Young Muslimah Magazine

Talking art and stuff over at the new Young Muslimah Magazine:

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Uh, well, I fit some of the artist-type of person stereotypes, such as being a little eccentric and messy 😉 I am also a little sensitive and empathetic, which are both good and challenging traits to have. As far as what kind of artist I am, presently I mostly make jewellery, but overall I think of myself as a conceptual artist, meaning that I like to explore and push ideas into imagery or events and then see how people relate (or not) to my ideas. I also have a degree in rhetoric, so effective communication is fairly important to me.

Can you give us a peek into your passions that describe your personality?

Recently I have come to recognise that I have a really strong appreciation/ passion for the natural world – Allah’s creations – and also I love the infinite ways that people positively recognize and use His creations. I am dazzled by how people cut gemstones and craft metal beads and other jewellery findings. Adornment can seem like such a trivial or superficial thing, but in good measure it can be a way to ponder, appreciate and even demonstrate Allah’s magnificence….

The rest of the interview and bunches of other great articles can be read here. Thanks YMM! Pretty Brookolie things can be seen here.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Uh, well, I fit some of the artist-type of person stereotypes, such as being a little eccentric and messy 😉 I am also a little sensitive and empathetic, which are both good and challenging traits to have. As far as what kind of artist I am, presently I mostly make jewellery, but overall I think of myself as a conceptual artist, meaning that I like to explore and push ideas into imagery or events and then see how people relate (or not) to my ideas. I also have a degree in rhetoric, so effective communication is fairly important to me.

Can you give us a peek into your passions that describe your personality?

Recently I have come to recognise that I have a really strong appreciation/ passion for the natural world – Allah’s creations – and also I love the infinite ways that people positively recognize and use His creations. I am dazzled by how people cut gemstones and craft metal beads and other jewellery findings. Adornment can seem like such a trivial or superficial thing, but in good measure it can be a way to ponder, appreciate and even demonstrate Allah’s magnificence.

– See more at: http://www.youngmuslimahmagazine.com/interview-with-brooke-benoit/#sthash.YXHs1tWp.dpuf

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Uh, well, I fit some of the artist-type of person stereotypes, such as being a little eccentric and messy 😉 I am also a little sensitive and empathetic, which are both good and challenging traits to have. As far as what kind of artist I am, presently I mostly make jewellery, but overall I think of myself as a conceptual artist, meaning that I like to explore and push ideas into imagery or events and then see how people relate (or not) to my ideas. I also have a degree in rhetoric, so effective communication is fairly important to me.

Can you give us a peek into your passions that describe your personality?

Recently I have come to recognise that I have a really strong appreciation/ passion for the natural world – Allah’s creations – and also I love the infinite ways that people positively recognize and use His creations. I am dazzled by how people cut gemstones and craft metal beads and other jewellery findings. Adornment can seem like such a trivial or superficial thing, but in good measure it can be a way to ponder, appreciate and even demonstrate Allah’s magnificence.

– See more at: http://www.youngmuslimahmagazine.com/interview-with-brooke-benoit/#sthash.YXHs1tWp.dpuf

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Uh, well, I fit some of the artist-type of person stereotypes, such as being a little eccentric and messy 😉 I am also a little sensitive and empathetic, which are both good and challenging traits to have. As far as what kind of artist I am, presently I mostly make jewellery, but overall I think of myself as a conceptual artist, meaning that I like to explore and push ideas into imagery or events and then see how people relate (or not) to my ideas. I also have a degree in rhetoric, so effective communication is fairly important to me.

Can you give us a peek into your passions that describe your personality?

Recently I have come to recognise that I have a really strong appreciation/ passion for the natural world – Allah’s creations – and also I love the infinite ways that people positively recognize and use His creations. I am dazzled by how people cut gemstones and craft metal beads and other jewellery findings. Adornment can seem like such a trivial or superficial thing, but in good measure it can be a way to ponder, appreciate and even demonstrate Allah’s magnificence.

– See more at: http://www.youngmuslimahmagazine.com/interview-with-brooke-benoit/#sthash.YXHs1tWp.dpuf

Tagine From The Heart In Marrakech: A Truly Great Place To Eat

Tagine from the heartMarrakech, Morocco, is one of the top vacation destinations in the world, hosting millions of visitors every year who, in turn, leave thousands of various online travel recommendations. With an economy built on tourism, restaurants, tour guides, shops, taxis, and beggars all vie for tourist dollars. It’s a bustling city with numerous gardens, museums, and souks to visit as well as being a center point for shooting of to innumerous excursions all over the beautiful country such as the sea, the desert, and the mountains. So if you are heading to Marrakech, please let me make one choice easy for you – you must enjoy at least one traditional Moroccan meal at Amal Restaurant and Training Center. Here’s why.

Unlike the commonly held beliefs about women who beg, these women did not have family to support them. On the contrary, it was their families who were often abusing them.

In my several years of living in Morocco I have learned that just as in my own hometown of San Francisco (another foodie paradise), many people here are skeptical of panhandlers (beggars). Whereas in Western countries most people assume panhandlers have social services to utilise and are therefore just trying to make ‘extra’ cash, here in Morocco many people believe beggars have their families to support them and must in some way be ‘bad’ people to have to resort to begging or else they are also just making ‘extra’ cash. Nora Fitzgerald, who was born and raised in Morocco, faced such beggars daily and one day decided to ignore the stereotypes, believing that there was no way a mother sitting on the concrete or dirt with small children in her lap would prefer to spend her days in such a way, completely lacking in dignity, just to make a little extra change. Nora decided to sponsor a woman so that her child could attend preschool and the woman could perhaps get a job.

I witnessed Nora and Amina’s* experiences some years ago via Nora’s blog. Soon other people were becoming involved, providing money, clothing, and other items to Amina and a few other women in need that Nora had also begun to work with. Unlike the commonly held beliefs about women who beg, these women did not have family to support them. On the contrary, it was their families who were often abusing them. For single mothers, the desire to protect their families from the shame of a child born out of wedlock or a woman abandoned drives them far from their hometowns and support systems. With no childcare and no employable skill set, begging is often their last and only recourse.

Nora began to better understand this dire dilemma and slowly her sponsorship evolved, trying to it the women’s needs. She opened a small bakery within her own family’s language center, training the women to make Western-style baked goods such as banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and lemon bars for the Moroccan students attending the centre. There were successes, but also a few failures with the program, as extracting oneself from toxic families and overcoming ingrained patterns of dysfunction is complicated. Nora’s commitment to be of service to some of Morocco’s most marginalised women and children was firm enough that she continually sought out realistic solutions to the complex problems they faced.

While visiting Casablanca one spring, Nora had a chance to eat at one of the locations of Restaurant Solidarité Féminine, a hugely successful 30-year-old not-for-profit organisation that provides single mothers with the knowledge and skills to ensure their own livelihoods. It was impossible for Nora not to see the possibilities for the little cottage not-for-profit venture she was building back home. She also realised she didn’t have to reinvent the wheel as there are similar models she could follow and that would even help the organisation to skip some of the growing pains that comes with being a revolutionary start-up. Nora found others with similarly interested hearts and hands willing to help, and soon the Amal Center was born, a space was rented and renovated, and the concept was taken to the next level.  The Amal Center now functions as a training center and also a restaurant that serves lunch daily to an average of 60 people.

In 2013 Amal received a grant to expand the business and training facility, and the centre now provides literacy and language classes, life coaching, and many other lectures and trainings by local professionals eager to volunteer some of their time. The Amal centre accepted 15 women into its internship program this year. The permanent staff has grown to 12, many of whom were among the first trainees and whose stories inspired the centre’s creation.  At the end of its training, Amal helps the interns find jobs in local hotels, restaurants, riads, and private homes. Professional job placement, economic stability, and personal transformation are the primary goals at Amal, which employs a social worker trained in psychology to accompany the women in their journey.

The women come from disadvantaged backgrounds, some are illiterate or have very little education, others were sent to work as child maids when they were as young as 12 years old, while a number of the trainees are recommended by a local association, Jamiat Kafalat Al-Yateem, which helps support widows and their children. Fitzgerald, who serves as Amal’s president, said, “It’s been amazing to watch these women’s transformations. When they first entered the program they were shy, insecure, were afraid to trust us and each other. They are now glowing with confidence and have acquired many skills. They are proud of their new profession.”

Naima, one of the trainees turned full-time staff, agrees. “The colour has come back to my cheeks. Before, wherever I worked I was taken advantage of. I am now supporting my three children on my own, and every day I am happy to come to work, I learn something new, I feel like I am given value.”

 Si Mohamed has trained with French masters, and thanks to him the trainees have learned signature French dishes such as salade nicoise, caesar salade, gratin dauphinois (a most satisfying potato and cream gratin), glazed chicken with sage, filet mignon, etc.

Last winter, when I finally had a chance to visit Marrakech, of course I had to eat at Amal, a truly lovely restaurant. Set in the busy Gueliz shopping district, Amal is down a quiet side street and the ample garden seating is secluded by lush, bougainvillea-covered walls and accented by fragrant citrus trees. Inside the restaurant is a comfortable and airy contrast to the sometimes overbearing Marrakech heat. On the day I visited the staff had made lemonade with crushed fresh mint, and it was so deliciously refreshing that I asked to take some home. I also took away a delicious assortment of briwats (savory fried pastry) and an impressive bastilla (savoury and slightly sweet chicken and almond pie with philo topping) which I had smartly ordered in advance to put off the moans of those left behind while I dined out. I have never had a bastilla I didn’t like, but my husband, who is slightly harder to please, was so impressed with the deftly seasoned dish that he ate the remainders cold – straight out of the fridge – a completely out-of-character action for him. And of course our children loved the briwats.

Back at Amal I enjoyed their tagine of the day – meatballs in a richly flavoured fresh tomato sauce cooked in a traditional clay cone-shaped pot. They were also test running a more Western-style chicken stir fry dish that day, and, admittedly, I ate more than my share. Amal’s dishes are lovingly made as if served out of a home kitchen. Because I have worked in many eateries and even owned a few myself (and I am nosey, but prefer to say ‘inquisitive’), I asked to see Amal’s kitchen. It is beautiful too, masha Allah! Nora completely gutted the kitchen of the riad Amal is located in and filled two-thirds of the walls with windows, making it a truly noor-filled place to work, a feature which is reflected in their dishes and ambience.

Throughout the week, Amal features a dish-of the-day, normally a tagine, with several side dishes. On Fridays, like most Moroccan kitchens, Amal serves heaping platters of couscous with lamb and seven vegetables. In January Amal hired a new chef, Si Mohamed, to expand the menu and bring in more of a “restaurant culture” for the trainees. They now learn basic sauces, vegetable chopping techniques, and foundational culinary know-how beyond simply reproducing a recipe. Si Mohamed has trained with French masters, and thanks to him the trainees have learned signature French dishes such as salade nicoise, caesar salade, gratin dauphinois (a most satisfying potato and cream gratin), glazed chicken with sage, filet mignon, etc. The moelleux au chocolat, a fallen chocolate cake with a liquid gooey center is the perfectly satisfying ending to all of Amal’s well balanced meals.

Amal is available to cater and for take-out orders, and I encourage using them for such when you are in Marrakech. If you happen to be in Marrakech during Ramadhan, Amal is the perfect place to break your fast with a traditional Moroccan iftar of harira soup, savory philo dough briwates, fresh smoothies and more. Amal Restaurant and Women’s Training Center is an exceptionally versatile organisation which, with advanced notice, can prepare specialty dishes such as vegan couscous and even offers private cooking classes. For families travelling with children, the specially designed play and craft space is a welcome break for both the kids and their parents.

If you don’t get the chance to dine at Amal, you may still consider donating to this exceptional organisation. It is a Moroccan registered non-profit, and donations are accepted through the website http://www.hope-amal.org And volunteer efforts from various fields are always welcome.

In Marrakech, please dine out or order from Amal located in Quartier Gueliz at the intersection of rues Allal ben Ahmad and Ibn Sina, between l’Hopital Ibn Tofail and the popular Patisserie Paul.  06 04 23 88 60 or 05 24 44 68 96 More information about how to donate or volunteer with Amal can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AmalNonProit

In Casablanca, please dine out or order from one of Restaurant Solidarité Féminine’s locations: Site Palmier: 10, rue Mignard 05 22 98 66 15/05 22 25 46 46 or Site Aïn Sebâa: 21, rue Tizli Ousli. 05 22 34 30 90 More information about their Opus award-winning organisation can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/solfempalmier

*Name changed.

Brooke Benoit aspires to being a lapsed foodie, but living in the culinary paradise of the North African Mediterranean and being married to a chef makes this pipe dream very unlikely. This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women.