Sugar and Bread – The Fundamentals 

We went to a Monday market I think I mentioned earlier. Just near the High Atlas Mountains in the Ourika valley which was heavily damaged by a flash flood years ago and never repaired.  There were goats and blacksmiths and donkeys and vegetables and all manner of Berber trading going on.

Mustapha found a cone of sugar in one of the stalls and he explained the importance of sugar. Its a sign of abundance. Of good things. Of prosperity. I think that is probably true in many cultures. Just think of the significance and scarcity to western culture during the wars. Same deal.

But in Berber culture you offer a cone of sugar for many occassions. You offer it to people who have had a baby, or who are celebrating a big life event. You cradle it in your arms and you go. Gao, gao, gao.

You also take sugar as an offering to the parents of prospective spouses for your children. Most of the marriages in Berber culture are arranged. Its just better that way. Family is so incredibly important to them that an arrangement is the most logical way forward because you are joining assets, and families, and workloads. So the mother will cradle her sugar and approach another mother and try to present her child in the best possible light. There are many things that can go wrong. It is said that if your sugar starts to look a little long in the tooth that you have been rejected too many times and there is really no hope. That’s just not cool.

Bread too plays an even more fundamental role in Berber culture. Women make up the dough, in smaller towns, to this very day, and take it to the baker who bakes it in his ovens, and then they go back and get it from him at the end of the day. The bread is always a disk shape about 3/4″ thick and 6″ across. It is served at every meal. It is used in place of cutlery when eating couscous or tagine.

Bread is never wasted. If there are scraps of bread found outside, someone will collect them and use it. No bread is left unwasted. Ever. Its simply not acceptable. If you go into a Moroccan family home, the whole family shares their meal from one large plate. Its why it is so common (and so damn endearing) for us to see Berbers sharing a meal. So many times we saw Mustapha sharing his meal with a colleague. “Sharing is caring”.

If you have a loaf of bread you have all you need. Its enough. Family is enough. Having something extra to share with others is enough. The need for fancy cars and giant houses and flashy jewelry does not prevade in this culture. Its enough to have sugar, and bread. And family. And Islam. That’s all that matters.

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