Scientists exploring a cold, polluted, and murky river mouth in southeastern Iraq were shocked to discover what is thought to be the country’s first coral reef.
Among nature’s most frail ecosystems, coral reefs usually thrive in clear water with ambient temperatures and little salinity, but the recent find by scientists from Germany’s Institute for Geology Scientific Diving Center suggests that some reefs are more resilient than previously thought.
Not only is the mouth to the Shatt al-Arab River cold, polluted and turbulent, conditions that are typically unfavorable to coral reefs, but it has also been the site of considerable political instability.
The only waterway in Iraq that empties into the Persian Gulf, the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers also forms a natural border with Iran, making it of critical strategic importance to both countries.
Wars have been fought over the river, and during the American invasion and subsequent years, it was particularly integral as a means to deliver humanitarian aid and munitions to the interior.
Under these conditions, even the most devout researcher would be forgiven for overlooking the area. But the group led by Thomas Pohl persisted and for their efforts they were rewarded with the discovery of a 2.5 by 4.4 mile Palinurs Rock Reef previously unknown to science, according to Discovery News.
“We were entirely surprised to find a living coral reef under such harsh conditions,” lead author Thomas Pohl of Germany’s Institute for Geology Scientific Diving Center and his colleagues wrote in the journal Scientific Reports.
While visibility was low at just three feet or less and the research team battled to study the reef, they found a fairly diverse ecosystem with a variety of hardy corals species and sponges.
“The authors identified a number of living stony corals and octocorals (which lack a stony skeleton),” writes Discovery News, “as well as sponges and aquatic mollusks that may compete with the corals for space on the reef — or that may cause the coral structure to erode.”
Like Nature Iraq, the group has struggled to mobilize the international community to take more interest in the region, which is consistently beset with political strife. They hope that this recent find will change that, Discovery reports.
“These habitats urgently need protection, conservation and research, especially given their location in areas of oil and gas exploration…”
More than 40 million people worldwide have been displaced from their homes and left to find shelter in strange lands. Maybe they find a tarp, or a tent, but their quality of life almost always remains dismal. To close this gap in need, Abeer Seikaly designed a new kind of shelter that allows refugees to rebuild their lives with dignity.
The Kuwaiti designer is well poised to design a dwelling for refugees given that his ancestors toggled between nomadic and sheltered life in the desert for centuries.
“The movement of people across the earth led to the discovery of new territories as well as the creation of new communities among strangers forming towns, cities, and nations,” writes Seikaly in his design brief. ”Navigating this duality between exploration and settlement, movement and stillness is a fundamental essence of what it means to be human.”
But today, a great deal of migration is no longer voluntary, as wars and climate change force people out of their homes – often with very little money. The collapsible woven shelters, which are conceptual but proven to work, would allow these people to carry their homes with them.
Comprised of a structural woven fabric that “blurs the distinction between structure and fabric,” the shelter expands to create a private enclosure and contracts “for mobility.” It also comes with some fundamental amenities required by modern people, including water and renewable electricity.
The outer solar-powered skin absorbs solar energy that is then converted into usable electricity, while the inner skin provides pockets for storage – particularly at the lower half of the shelters. And a water storage tank on the top of the tent allows people to take quick showers. Water rises to the storage tank via a thermosiphoning system and a drainage system ensures that the tent is not flooded.
Well ventilated and lit, the shelter opens up in the summer and huddles down during cold winters. But most importantly, it allows refugees to have some semblance of security, some semblance of home.
“This lightweight, mobile, structural fabric could potentially close the gap between need and desire as people metaphorically weave their lives back together, physically weaving their built environment into a place both new and familiar, transient and rooted, private and connected,” says Seikaly.
“In this space, the refugees find a place to pause from their turbulent worlds, a place to weave the tapestry of their new lives. They weave their shelter into home.”
To sleep at Dar Ben Gacem is to spend a night in a bygone era. Located deep in the warren of alleyways and vendors that make up Tunis’ labyrinthian medina, this newly renovated artsy boutique hotel offers a tasteful glimpse of Ottoman period architecture and art.
Originally built as a hotel by wealthy merchants in the 17th century and occupied for 300 years by a family who sold perfume, the building eventually fell into disrepair.
Leila Ben Gacem and her family eventually bought the building and spent three years working with local heritage specialists, the Association de Sauvegarde de la Médina de Tunis, and architect Zoubeir Mouhli to restore the building to its original incarnation.
It was important to them that they preserve the historic detailing that contributes so richly to the medina’s unique architectural legacy, while still providing a modern setting that would appeal to tourists.
“I love staying in a place where you really feel its spirit and heritage,” Gacem told Brownbook Magazine.
“I really want to bring out what Tunisian artists have made, and whoever stays there, I want them to really feel the medina. And that’s the fascinating thing. You’re living in this little micro-palace and there’s a whole medina around you. You’re right there near the kasbah and souk.”
Seven rooms are organized over two levels and around a central courtyard that is so typical of homes in the region – a feature that contributes to what Mouhli describes as “domestic introversion.” Each is adorned with colored wall tiles, carved plaster panels, and painted wooden ceilings.
The owners have made an effort to source their furnishings locally.
“Even the choice of furnishings reflects the local setting,” Brownbook reports. “If the detail wasn’t already present in the building, it was procured from one of the overstuffed antiques dealers which line the souk district of the medina, or made especially by local artisans.”
Not only does this lend an air of authenticity to their small boutique hotel, but it also promotes cottage industries and local Tunisians.
“We are social entrepreneurs,” writes Dar Ben Gacem on their website, “as we want to encourage tourism with a socio-economic edge by creating opportunities for micro and small businesses based in the medina; artisans, traders, tour guides, and chefs (mothers) that mastered their ‘cuisine’ by cooking for their families.”
Images via Dar Ben Gacem
Last Monday, Orthodox Christians across the Middle East kicked off the 40-day Lenten season with a wonderful food-based tradition called Green Monday, when folks tuck into a delicious (and usually outdoor) luncheon of greens, olives, potatoes and seafood.
Technically, Lent began the previous Sunday, but Monday’s popular picnicking marks the run-up to Easter for the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.
This is a holy-day holiday everyone can sign up to!
As a Catholic-raised American living in the Middle East I’m always doing a calendar doubletake – orthodox versions of our western religions adopt different holiday start dates. Lent here started Monday – whereas back home it begins two days later, on Ash Wednesday.
I know this not because I’m observant, but because I’ve been Twitter-tracking my firstborn as he eats his way through Mardi Gras – the annual bacchanalian that culminates today, Fat Tuesday, the last day of over-consumption before Lent’s ritual fasting begins. (Nick’s not religious either – unless you consider his devotion to po’boys, gumbo and beignets.)
Meat, eggs and dairy products are off-limits to Orthodox Christians throughout Lent, and fish is only eaten on major feast days – far more restrictive than fasting in the West. I’ve stumbled on this in my Amman workplace, cluelessly bringing in cookies and cakes which only the Muslims could tuck into.
Where Christian orthodoxy is in the majority, Green Monday goes large. It’s a public holiday in Cyprus; thousands flock to open areas, parks and beaches for picnics.
The day is also called Clean Monday, your last chance to indulge in dicey behaviors and non-fasting foods. The idea is to start Lent with a clean slate (and plate!). It’s also customary to go to Confession this week, and to thoroughly scrub the house.
The theme of Clean Monday is explained in the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:16-18) which says:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
The happy vibe of Clean Monday may seem at odds with Lenten repentance and self-denial, a last flash before austerity sets in. But the tenets of the day rise above religiosity; there’s a positive take-away in Green Monday for everyone that can be easily implemented year-round – no matter whom you pray to.
Image of Easter eggs from Shutterstock
In Beijing the air pollution is so bad that you sometimes can’t see your hand in front of your face. Above the charts bad, cities of the world are now coming to terms with their own local air pollution.
Sharjah, a coastal city in the United Arab Emirates has air pollution reaching dangerous peaks like Mexico City, Beijing and Tokyo, researchers now find.
Among the pollution in the air is ethane, propane, benzene, butane and toluene. Benzene, a known carcinogen was found to range from 0.34 parts per billion to 3.2 ppb. Compare this to the averages in other polluted cities: for Mexico city it is 0.6ppb, for Beijing it is 2ppb and for Tokyo it is 4ppb.
The survey of Sharjah air pollution was done at the American University of Sharjah. Like we always say, it is usually the west that brings attention to the environmental woes our planet faces –– especially in the Middle East where awareness and concern is low.
The study looked at what compounds form smog. It is usually caused by combustion engines (read cars) when the exhaust reacts with other compounds in the atmosphere.
At first smog can agitate asthma and bronchitis. After longer exposure expect increased rates of cancer, decreased reproductivity and birth defects.
Sharjah readings are complicated because on some days Sharjah air is quite clean. But on others the level of pollution skyrockets to levels seen in the worst cities.
One of the scientists thinks that a majority of the pollution may be produced abroad and then is carried by wind to the city. The pollution may be coming from the petrochemical industries in Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
But Sharjah has other local problems to contend with, like indoor mould and fungus (read here).
Readings of air pollution, meanwhile, will carry on into the summer.
Man at the sea at Sharjah, from Shuttertsock
Saudi Arabia is building the world’s largest botanical gardens on nearly 2.5 million square meters of desert land near Riyadh. A stellar environmental initiative to educate the public on climate change, or a tourism-boosting novelty? However you dice it, it’s amazing.
The enormous facility – five times larger than the UK’s Eden Project – focuses on the history of local plants in the Arabian Peninsula, then peers forward to a more sustainable future (it will use renewable energy for power and plant irrigation).
King Abdullah International Gardens (KAIG) is an enormous desert park; 150 hectares of the 160 hectare site will be planted with indigenous species, mostly contained within two giant domes – crescent-shaped structures that resemble a swirling galaxy.
Appropriate imagery for gardens that look back to the origins of life on earth – KAIG will contain a detailed time line that portrays the great paleobotanical ages that have swept across the region.
Siteworks began in 2008. The final project includes several botanical gardens, split in two sections. One will display historical plant evolution in the Arabian Peninsula, including a museum of animals contemporary with those times. This section will be fully contained under the domes.
An open-air section will contain indigenous plants current to today, a desert park, rock gardens, and a garden featuring different styles of landscaping from across the world.
The project also includes a flower garden, a physics garden, geological park, and separate sections for birds, fish, butterflies and reptiles.
Irrigation will use 100% recycled greywater obtained by treated sewage effluent generated on site. Renewable energy will fully power the place, 93% of the landscaping materials will be sourced from the original site (soil, rock, stone, gravel, soil), and waste will be recycled.
Visitor and worker transport will be restricted to electric vehicles charged from the on-site solar array.
Designed by UK-based planning and design consultants Barton Willmore, KAIG aims to become a world-leader in the study of climate change. Emphasis has been placed on special parks for children where they can interact with different environmental ecosystems.
While the project will include research institutes, it also houses a water park, theater, restaurants, mosques, camping areas, gift shops, and…a snow park?
A stellar environmental initiative or a tourism-boosting novelty? Like I said, however you dice it, it’s amazing.
Images of KAIG from Barton Willmore
Saudi Bin Ladin Group (SBG) recently commissioned a Lebanese consulting firm to test the materials necessary to build the world’s next tallest building in Jeddah. Among other things, Advanced Construction Technology Services (ACTS) has to figure out how to pump 500,000 cubic meters of concrete 1km into the sky.
The 1km high Kingdom Tower, if it is ever actually built, will be 173 meters (568 feet) taller than the world’s current tallest building in Dubai – the Burj Khalifa.
As one might imagine, building such a tall structure comes with a suite of engineering challenges – especially given its location along the Red Sea. With a tremendous footprint of 530,000 square meters (5.7 million square feet), the 200 story tower is expected to cost at least US$ 1.23 billion.
ACTS has worked in Saudi Arabia in the past, so they were a good fit for this quality control position, and they are devoting a lot of manpower to the project. Their chief task will be to find concrete that is strong enough to pump 1,000 meters high.
Oh, and the project will require a measly 80,000 tons of steel.
“The appointment of ACTS as an independent testing agency for one of the most challenging engineering structures in the world, is a vote of trust in ACTS’ capabilities and extensive experience in materials testing and engineering,” ACTS Chairman Khaled Awad told Saudi Gazette.
“We will be investing our experience and knowledge to provide accurate, traceable and reliable test information in the largest megatall building in the world.”
Now that we’re done with the facts, we have to ask – what is the point of such a flagrant misuse of natural resources?
An additional 160 floors of residential apartments could be used to provide housing for Jeddah’s expanding population, but at a time when species are going extinct, sea levels are rising, weather systems are changing, and water and food are scarce, surely the Saudis can come up with a more humble way of providing for their people?
But this isn’t about housing. If the Burj is any indicator, living in the tower will be extraordinarily expensive, and therefore reserved for the elite. No, we have to think this is about pride – the scourge of our planet.
Saudi wants to be the best, better than the Emiratis, better than the West, and better than Asia, where soaring skyscrapers seem to be built every other week. Even if this bombastic project requires great engineering prowess, it has no redeeming qualities.
Not only will all that steel and all that concrete require untold quantities of precious energy and water, but that money could be so much better spent. Think Syrian refugees, for example.
More than one million people a couple of countries over barely have shoes for their feet or blankets to keep them warm, much less a penthouse apartment 1,000 meters up in the sky.
Israelis are renowned not only for their clean tech innovation, but also smart, savvy and water-efficient agriculture. This genius will be on display at the 2015 Milan Expo with a living pavilion designed by Knafo Klimor Architects.
The 40,000 or so Jews who flocked to Palestine in the early 20th century to escape European pogroms and establish the “Land of Israel” found themselves with very little water and a lot of desert, but that didn’t deter them from pursuing their long held dream.
Instead, these hard working families were among the first Israelis to turn an immense natural challenge into an innovation opportunity, something for which the nation, despite all its political controversies and troubles, has since received great recognition.
Contemporary agricultural developments, which are shared ubiquitously through academic programs and small startups to help developing countries and other modern nations meet their own resource challenges, will be on display at the 2015 Milan Expo with a fabulous living pavilion called Fields of Tomorrow.
Knafo Klimor Architects worked with an Italian firm PRR Architetti to design the 995 square meter pavilion. In addition to showcasing the agricultural history described above, it boasts a living wall planted with Israeli cereals and produce.
This unique vertical garden is comprised of a series of modular tiles planted with various crops that are then fixed to a slanted steel frame. In order to irrigate the plants, the team have integrated a computer-controlled drop watering system that demonstrates another Israeli specialty – water conservation.
“The cultivation of rocky land, the growth of vegetables in the desert, the invention of new methods of irrigation, the upgrading of seed quality are part of the inception of modern agriculture marked by creativity, dare and achievements,” the architects told World Architecture News.
Consistent with the 2015 expo’s theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” the pavilion will showcase other innovations to an estimated two million visitors from the beginning of May to the end of October, next year.
Open Restaurants was scheduled to run until March 1 at 70 different venues in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Writing for ISRAEL21c, I got a “taste” of what’s expected to become a global sensation.
Starting at Popina, one of Tel Aviv’s most celebrated new restaurants, our three-hour workshop began with shopping for local supplies. We met chefs Amir Tourgeman and Orel Kimchi, winner of the 2011 San Pellegrino World’s Best Chef Under 30 award.
They escorted our group to the nearby Carmel Market to buy spices and choice cuts of aged beef. They demonstrated how to select the finest fish, the sea drum – musar – caught that day.
Kimchi shared some market secrets: In the culinary world, the wild baladi eggplant variety found in the Arab communities in Israel is superior in taste to the common supermarket eggplant. Foreign workers from East Asia cultivated a local market in Israel for products like papaya and hot peppers. And Israel’s once tough kosher meat, salted and drained of blood, is now on par with tastes, textures and quality of some of the best meat in the world.
He showed us at the Meat Market, a hip new butcher shop run by an ex-lawyer, that locals understand and can now buy great cuts of meat. This wasn’t always the case.
Get fishy with it
Over at Shabtai’s Fish, which stocks fish from local fishermen, Kimchi showed the group how to spot a winning catch every time.
“Look at the skin. Is it shining? Are the eyes clear and unglazed? But most important is the smell. If it smells like a fish, it’s fishy. A fresh fish should smell like the sea,” he says, taking a deep whiff.
With a couple of 10-pound fish in hand, we headed back to the restaurant to start cooking. The menu of the day called for five ways of preparing our fish. It would be cured, baked, steamed, slow-cooked and roasted, and we would learn all the tips for each variety.
After showing us how to debone the fish with a set of knives more complex than a heart surgeon’s, Kimchi proceeded to dice up small slices of fresh fish into one of his signature dishes, “Gin Tonica” — or Gin and Tonic Tartare, as it appears on the menu.
The complicated dish starts with pea-sized pieces of sea drum tossed into a bowl with tiny cubes of Israeli cucumber, chives, red shallots, lemon, salt, pepper and olive oil. Tablespoons of this mixture are heaped onto a plate and topped with wasabi-flavored and lime-colored fish eggs.
Add to this cubes of gin jelly, solidified with kosher agar, and then crown it with a cucumber mousse given body with lecithin, and it only takes some slow-dried and crunchy black olive chips to make this masterpiece complete.
For some of us flies on the wall, the complexity was daunting, and note-taking declined precipitously as the red wine flowed. We may have given up on preparing these meals for our families, but learned that fish can have an infinite variety of tastes and surprises.
Slow cooking an idea
Open Restaurants was started by Meirav Oren, an events management specialist. Just after radiation treatments for breast cancer in 2012, she spent downtime with her husband at restaurants.
“We would sit down and look at this pretty plate, and I wondered: How did it get this way? I wanted to be a fly on a wall and understand [what goes on behind the scenes]. Now we are opening the doors of some of the city’s most interesting kitchens.”
Oren partnered with the organizers of Israel’s Houses from Within to understand how the franchise concept works. She wants eventually to branch the idea out into the world.
After details of Open Restaurants were publicized, spaces filled up fast. Some venues with tiny kitchens, explains Oren, can only host five people at a time. So they were the first to fill.
But the sheer variety of the Israeli cuisine will certainly keep the foodie’s curiosity inspired.
Local restaurants like Haj Kahil in Jaffa, for instance, will be sharing secrets about traditional Arab cuisine, while pizzeria Tony Vespa will host a pizza marathon. Ice-cream makers, cafés and some of the most loved restaurants in Tel Aviv signed on for the event.
Now is the time to be that fly on the wall.
This story was reprinted from ISRAEL21c – www.israel21c.org
Amit Savaia (left), now 28, went to Africa for three months to volunteer after finishing his first degree in science. With four other Israeli students from Beersheva’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, he helped build a computer platform to connect African farmers with their neighbors.
What tugged at his heartstrings, though, was the problem of schistosomiasis, the “snail fever” caused by ingesting parasites. This disease causes the characteristic swollen bellies in African children.
While mortality rates are low from snail fever, it is the second most socioeconomically devastating disease in Africa, after malaria. The chronic illness can damage internal organs and can lead to slowed growth and cognitive development. In adults, it carries an increased risk of bladder cancer.
Savaia vowed to help Africa beat this problem. Today, earning a master’s degree, he is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded organization Project Crevette to develop a natural way to stop schistosomiasis in Senegal — using cultured prawns based on research from Ben-Gurion University.
He is concentrating his efforts on the local watering hole in the Lampsar Village in Senegal. Savaia tells ISRAEL21c that it’s next to impossible to get the villagers to stop swimming and urinating in the water, which keeps the parasitic cycle going.
This watering hole in Senegal is a breeding ground for snail fever.
Says an impassioned Savaia, now looking for funding to take his research to the final stages: “Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, has no sustainable cure or treatment. The only drug used today to heal the people is an old drug called Praziquantal (PZQ), which kills the mature worms inside the body. There is no vaccine, even though a lot of companies are trying to make one.”
The back story is that a river in Senegal was dammed, and consequently female prawns – natural predators of snails — were blocked from laying their eggs. The parasite-carrying snail population in the watering hole skyrocketed, and the snail-fever parasite grew with it.
Working on the project since 2012, Savaia proposes using advanced breeding methods to reintroduce prawns to the river. The catch is, these prawns are particularly delicate and hard to grow, especially in captivity. “Not many people have done it before and we had only one reference on how to do it,” he says.
But he has much hope for the approach. It is innovative, sustainable, and creates a triple winning situation for the farmers, villagers and fisherman, he says.
When he is able to prove the concept, “it could be applied in many more countries. These prawns are distributed almost all over the west coast of Africa. Senegal isn’t the only place where a dam started such a problem.”
Savaia’s academic supervisor, Prof. Amir Sagi, has done decades of research on prawns and crustaceans. Savaia also works with Prof. Dina Zilberg, Ben-Gurion’s expert on aquatic animal health.
They have learned that the larvae of this prawn species need to be reared in saline water for two months. After that, the crustacean goes through 14 cycles, or 15 molts, to become post-larvae of a small adult prawn.
Up until this point, “The animals are very delicate,” he says.
When they are reintroduced in the dammed river, they successfully eat the snails that harbor the parasite. A negative cycle is stopped. The question is how to turn this basic research into a project that Africa can do for itself.
Savaia has been strongly affected by seeing, first hand, the damage that the parasites do.
“I must say when we go to the villages you don’t see those awful pictures of children with big stomachs, and extremely sick people, because they stay at home or in hospitals,” he says.
“But when you take their urine and you filter it in order to know how sick they are [by counting how many eggs are in the sample], we find urine as red as blood. This comes from the eggs sitting on their kidneys and intestines.”
Savaia’s dream is big, but he’s unstoppable. “We want to make farms to teach farmers how to produce the prawns so they can sell some for the markets as a crop, because they are delicious, and the rest will be released in the river with an agreement of the health ministry.
“This way, everyone will be happy,” concludes Savaia.
To contact Amit Savaia, see http://www.linkedin.com/pub/amit-alkalay-savaia/25/2b2/24.
There are evolutionary reasons why Tarzan is bigger than Jane. Most males of any species –– birds, bugs and prawns included –– grow bigger than their female counterparts. The phenomenon is called sexual dimorphism.
A new Israeli-American company, Enzootic, is taking sexual dimorphism and the ability to control it to the dinner table.
Based on research from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the company developed a one-time, non-chemical, non-genetic treatment method that allows hatcheries and aquaculture farmers to control and rear these crustaceans by gender.
This has big environmental and commercial payoffs, says Assaf Shechter, the CEO of Enzootic.
“We are directing their energy to growth,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
In some cases, it makes sense to grow males in artificial pools and in others just females, says Shechter.
But in all cases, it makes more sense and cents to grow the males apart from the females. When grown with females, males become more aggressive and the dominant males suppress the growth of the inferior ones. The bottom line is that there is less to harvest come time to go to market.
The technique is based on research by Prof. Amir Sagi, Shechter’s former PhD adviser. He is cofounder and CTO of the company.
Sagi’s team previously produced a cutting-edge biotechnological tool for crustacean sex reversal and mono-sex progeny production that was licensed to the Tiran Group, an Israeli shipping company with aquaculture farms in China. Tiran also signed an agreement to advance aquaculture in Vietnam using Sagi’s technology. This is a completely separate venture from Enzootic.
For the boys
Growing males only could mean a 60 percent increase in income for the prawn farmer, and a 45% increase for biomass producers. There are rewards for the hatcheries, too –– they could fetch heftier prices for the prized immature mono-sex prawn, says Shechter.
Where labor is cheap, like in Southeast Asia where the majority of freshwater prawns are grown and frozen for export, some farmers hand-select the males from the females, but this process is time-consuming and not practical.
Shechter is hoping to take this technology to the United States to provide tastier, fresher, more ethical prawn farming opportunities for a stagnant production market, in a society hungry for seafood.
Only one percent of the seafood harvest is actually produced in the United States and the Caribbean, says Shechter, because fish farmers could not compete with Southeast Asia’s labor and fuel prices.
Freshwater male prawns.
But with a growing awareness of food miles, the importance of knowing what goes into your food, a desire for freshness and buying American –– Shechter hopes to be able to start a new revolution with Enzootic, pronounced en-zoo-tic.
“We are targeting the US, because the United States is such a huge consumer of prawns and shrimps, and we want to encourage farmers in the region to grow locally.”
He believes this biotech solution can make the business of crustacean aquaculture a booming business all over the United States, and especially in states that have mild winters. Shechter is also targeting regions within a one-hour plane ride of the United States.
How the technology works
Just after the Macrobrachium rosenbergii get past their larval stage, when they about the size of sea monkeys, Enzootic specialists inject them with an RNA-based material that allows them to “choose” the sex of future progeny.
Methods using hormones, for instance, are applied for sex selection in fish, but this is the first non-hormone treatment of its kind for freshwater prawns, and it may prove to be the safest for human consumption and to alleviate any fears associated with genetically modified foods.
“We use temporary gene silencing to create a generation of mono-sex freshwater prawns using RNAi,” says Shechter.
One prawn changed this way can lead to 100,000 offspring.
In the long term, the company hopes to use its technology as a biocontrol agent. The “treated” prawns sent out with no available mates could ingest invasive species, without any risk of invading the natural environment themselves.
“Defending the cost-effectiveness of a mono-sex culture isn’t a new idea. But until now there wasn’t a technology that can enable 100% all-male prawns,” says Shechter.
As world leaders scramble to look for more secure sources of protein for our world’s nine billion people and counting, Enzootic may be a logical choice. Freshwater prawns constitute about a $2.5 billion business.
Enzootic is based in both Irvine, California, and in Beersheva, Israel. The company employs six people and was founded in 2012, although it based on at least 30 years of research from Sagi’s lab.
The young company is already partnering with others, including an Israeli company called Vecoy that makes viruses commit suicide. Enzootic hopes to be able to create environmentally friendly treatments against aquaculture viruses with this partnership.
The company is current in a pilot phase, and is partnering with hatcheries in North America to produce mono-sex females for livestock.
This story first appeared on ISRAEL21c – www.israel21c.org
Ask any African who lives off the land, and they’ll tell you that water is life. But when the wells and rivers dry up, or become so polluted or full of disease that it kills their children and livestock, water can also be a great cause of sorrow.
Finding her mission in water, former Israeli diplomat Ornit Avidar (pictured above and below on the left) is taking Israel’s “soft” water technology solutions — decentralized, simple to use and maintain, consuming little energy — and applying them all around Africa. Letters of intent are signed, companies have been chosen and projects are just beginning to roll out.
Avidar built connections and experience as a diplomat for Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, and in high-tech when she was the CEO at Delta Three Israel, the first Internet telephony company later traded on NASDAQ.
Her current company, Waterways, is a channel for Africans to access Israeli technology and make it work for their lives. While she recognizes the importance of non-profits in Africa, she thinks it is time to update the model with sustainable businesses focused on the bottom line.
One of the companies she is working with is SunDWater, which cleans water in off-grid locations using condensation made from solar rays. Africans in remote locations know about the technology and are asking for it, she says.
Where have all the water-tech projects gone?
Around six years ago, Avidar started researching clean-tech and water, and saw that water solutions for rural areas have gone missing.
“When we started looking at the issue of water in rural areas, the most confounding statistics popped up,” she says.
“We found that some 50 percent of water projects in rural areas simply don’t exist after one year. For me, this is dollars going down the drain. If for each million dollars of funding, a year later half of that is gone, then there is no way that we are going to see results. This is not economical and not acceptable, and I thought, what we can do about that?”
She then started devising a comprehensive methodology that can help project managers not only get projects, but keep their projects working and running from day one. “We integrate the appropriate technological solutions with social ones,” she says.
And this is the launching pad she calls Waterways. Her models include VIC, or Village Income Center, which is a way to integrate soft water and support technologies into the livelihoods of villagers.
Life and Water Development Group Cameroon, a non-governmental organization that does water projects with groups like Engineers Without Borders, is cooperating with Waterways on the VIC, which has already started its pilot stage and is in a feasibility study now.
Another key partnership is with Water and Sanitation in Africa (WSA), which has never before partnered with any country outside of Africa. The Pan-African WSA represents 36 governments, and is already doing “fantastic projects,” Avidar says. So far, WSA has worked with five Israeli companies, totaling some $5 billion in transactions.
“They loved our concept in Israel as we went from water scarcity to over-capacity. ‘If you want it too, we can do it,’” Avidar told them.
“We found that some 50 percent of water projects in rural areas simply don’t exist after one year,” says Avidar.
“We found that some 50 percent of water projects in rural areas simply don’t exist after one year,” says Avidar.
She has 12 letters of intent signed by various governments in Africa. Israeli companies to be involved in deal flows, in addition to SunDWater, will include water resources management company Tahal and Anyway Solutions, a global leader in providing soil stabilization products to the infrastructure and development sectors.
She recognizes that in Africa, deals proceed more slowly than in the West: “There is a process in Africa. Things take time. You can’t get around it,” she says.
Waterways is based in Shoresh, west of Jerusalem, and employs four people. Founded in 2010, it is bootstrapping its way into Africa. “Obviously, we would love to get funding. Some see the use of soft solutions as not fundable, but that doesn’t deter us. We’re there,” says Avidar.
For more about Waterways, see http://www.water-ws.com/.
This story was first published on ISRAEL21c - www.israel21c.org
Yosef Abramowitz is always up to something good. The Israeli-American solar energy pioneer and cofounder of Arava Power Company in Israel, has begun making inroads into solar-powering Africa. I interviewed him about some new progress in Africa.
Abramowitz and his companies Gigawatt Global and Energiya Global announced that they have secured $23 million in financing and about $710,000 in grants for an 8.5-megawatt solar energy plant in Rwanda.
The deal was announced in Jerusalem at a press briefing. An international consortium of investors has connected to underwrite and then build what is being hailed as East Africa’s first utility-scale solar field.
Abramowitz is the president of Gigawatt Global Coöperatief and is currently the CEO of Energiya Global, Gigawatt’s Israeli affiliate that provided seed money and strategic guidance for the African project.
Together the companies closed financing from the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund Norfund, Dutch development bank FMO, Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF) and the Norwegian engineering and procurement contractor Scatec.
The project, to be built on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, will provide training for orphans raised there, and is expected to supply about eight percent of Rwanda’s energy needs.
The photovoltaic power project will include sun trackers to optimize collection, and is expected to help Rwanda wean itself from polluting diesel oil, which also has devastating health effects.
Abramowitz tells ISRAEL21c that Energiya Global is following the triple bottom line formula: “It’s a social impact model of how for-profit green energy business can bring humanitarian and environmental benefits,” he told us in an exclusive interview shortly before the international press conference in Jerusalem.
A wonderful place to do business
Grants for expenses include $400,000 from US President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative, and an EU grant of $310,000 from the Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP), a partnership of the British, Finnish and Austrian governments.
Energiya Global installed the first two kilowatts of solar energy for Rwanda in February last year in a trial run at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. This refuge for orphans from the 1994 Rwandan genocide was founded on the model of Yemin Orde, a successful program in Israel that began by caring for child refugees of the Holocaust.
Abramowitz says the project will be online this summer and will connect to the country’s electricity grid. Rwanda has agreed to buy the power created in this first deal over the next 25 years.
The initial site will be also a testing ground for planning and developing future projects in Rwanda and East Africa. “We are hoping to deploy a billion dollars worth of solar energy in the next three to five years in developing countries to kill diesel use,” Abramowitz tells ISRAEL21c.
He emphasizes that the current project is good for investors.
“It’s phenomenal for Rwanda because our energy is much cheaper than diesel. And then obviously we will get support from the youth village in charitable fundraising to give them the benefit of training. This way, graduates of the village will be able to spread the knowledge of bringing solar power all over Rwanda and then East Africa.”
Agahozo-Shalom has been key in orchestrating this deal, says Abramowitz. “We have an amazing partner in this youth village. It was formed in the aftermath of genocide and the government there has been trying to take their people from darkness to light, like the Jewish people had to do after the Holocaust. It is also a wonderful place to do business.”
This complex project, completed in record time, was developed from concept stage to financial close by Chaim Motzen, Managing Director of Gigawatt Global. “Recognizing the energy imperative in Rwanda, we worked closely with the Government of Rwanda to execute quickly and effectively,” said Motzen.
“We hope this initiative serves as a catalyst for future sustainable energy projects in the region. This could not have been completed without our project partners including Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Norton Rose Fulbright, Norfund, Scatec Solar, FMO and EAIF. SEDI Labs, led by Raffi Mardirosian, served as a key project development partner from the project’s inception.”
Learning from experience
Abramowitz is a cofounder of the Arava Power Company, which he helped start in 2006. Arava built a utility-scale solar energy field in Israel, the first of its kind in the country, at Kibbutz Ketura.
It was uphill every step of the way for Abramowitz, who had to coordinate –– and trail blaze –– among no fewer than 24 Israeli ministries.
“Israel was unfortunately a perfect training ground to overcome obstacles. I had to work between 24 government offices and waged 100 political statutory battles. In turns out that in Africa there are far fewer government offices,” he relates.
On top of that, “we developed a robust toolkit to overcome all objections and obstacles because of the difficulties and successes in Israel. This makes us qualified for East Africa,” he adds.
Rwanda is still recovering from the 1994 genocide and urgently needs power to fuel its economic growth. This will mark the first utility-scale solar PV project in the country. Another 20 megawatts are planned for a later stage.
Today, only 15 percent of the population has access to electricity, but the country aims to have 50% connected by 2017. A substantial part of that will be provided by renewable energy, like solar.
Ambitious? Not if you ask this solar energy pioneer.
“It takes a global village to raise a solar revolution,” said Abramowitz later at the press conference in Jerusalem. “There are 550 million people in Africa without electricity. Economic growth in developing markets depends on access to affordable, green power.
“The human race bears a moral and practical imperative to provide power for all, while also transitioning from burning fossil fuels to harnessing renewables. The Rwanda solar field serves as a proof-of-concept to successfully develop and finance commercial-scale solar fields throughout Africa and in the developing world.
“It is a game-changer for humanity and the environment.”
This story first appeared on ISRAEL21c - www.israel21c.org
When I interviewed CEO Shalom Nachshon, he told me that in a perfect world, his new Israeli company would go out of business. But as the world’s population expands, with more hungry mouths to feed, Catalyst Agtech is trying to make the best out of an imperfect world.
Using scientific research from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, Catalyst Agtech has developed a novel way to detoxify pesticides and herbicides. There are hundreds, even thousands, of chemicals that could be rendered safe to use from this Israeli technology.
Nachshon uses the example of atrazine, a widely used herbicide. Already banned in Europe and possibly next in America, atrazine is effective at killing weeds in crop fields, but after use it migrates down to the water table and lingers for a long time. Atrazine is suspected of contaminating drinking water, and by doing so can cause serious side effects, like cancer.
Serving hundreds of persistent pesticides
Catalyst Agtech has developed a solution that may let atrazine and similar commonly used chemicals stay on the shelves in America: a catalyst that, when added as pesticide or herbicides, renders them inactive once they reach the water table.
Catalysts speed up chemical reactions that would otherwise happen at very slow rates — years, decades, even centuries.
The effects kick in once the chemicals start migrating downward together to the aquifer. In anaerobic conditions (those without oxygen), the Catalyst Agtech material works its magic so that chemicals like atrazine will no longer persist, or at least not in great quantities.
Atrazine, says Nachshon, is just one of many chemicals that can be neutralized with Catalyst Agtech.
“Everybody knows that there is an ongoing demand for more food in the world, and there is not a question — only technology will solve this demand,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
“We know the most significant factor for improved growth is pesticides. Using them, we can double the crop yield and prevent diseases on the crops. Pesticides are great in this sense, but the dark side is that they are very persistent. After they do their job of killing herbs or nematodes, the stable molecule does not break down.”
Therein lies the conflict: the pesticide is helping but hurting us at the same time. “On one hand, we need the pesticides to get the yield but on the other hand, we are facing environmental threats,” Nachshon points out. “If you take pesticides out, the yield will be decreased by 60 or 70 percent. It is not marginal. It is the heart of the matter, so we must use pesticides.”
Catalyst Agtech does not affect the mechanism of the chemical in the field. “After the job is done and the problematic molecules start migrating down to the groundwater, the trigger that we added starts a chemical reaction that breaks down the problematic molecule to something that’s harmless,” explains Nachshon.
This story first appeared on ISRAEL21c – www.israe21c.org
We love grandmothers and we love what they do, especially when they know how to cook well using traditional recipes. While we like to support the food and lifestyle of yore, we do not think that not everything fast is bad for you. Especially in Saudi Arabia where people like to show off in restaurants by severely over-ordering to impress their friends.
Where I live in the Middle East, delivery options are poor and non-existent. Even when I want to order a good salad. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to cook, but little shops don’t dare enter my neighborhood, known in the past to be violent. Or the restaurants are just to small to bother with delivery service.
I end up resorting to eating worse junk from the corner store when I am Jonesing for a snack. What’s a girl used to delivery-style service from the west to do? Enter: Hellofood.
Whether it’s American-style pizza, a health sandwich from a local favorite in Beirut or a local shwarma, Hellofood has it in the bag in new locations in the Middle East.
Hellofood has just opened locations in Lebanon (which seems to have the healthiest food options on its plate); Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Egypt is already good with delivery, and delivering anything so it will probably be harder to break into that market.
The food delivery service now makes it easier to eat out. What you choose to eat, is up to you: You can go for tacos, Chinese or a healthy Lebanese sandwich in Beirut without having to get into your gold-plated Mercedes and burn up a lot of gas miles getting there. Be careful Saudis, eating out may be dangerous for your waistline.
Hellofood typically delivers by low-energy scooters. Maybe they can go one step further and use the new bike courier service started in Beirut. Something to think about.
An Australian woman was killed by her pet camel this week after the animal tried to mate with her. Usually linked to the Middle East, dromedary camels are also prolific in Australia where a population of 1.2 million wild ones are considered as costly pests.
The Aussie government encourages hunters to knock off feral herds. But have tables turned – are camels now killers?
The 340-pound camel was given to the woman as a pet, an unusual 60th birthday gift from her husband and daughter, according to localkpolice. Her husband discovered her lifeless body at the family’s ranch near Mitchell, 350 miles west of Brisbane. The camel was found wandering nearby and police suspect he had knocked the woman to the ground, then laid on top of her, exhibiting classic mating behavior. The camel was less than a year old.
“I’d say it’d probably been playing, or it may be even a sexual sort of thing,” Detective Senior Constable Craig Gregory told The Daily Mail, “She had a love of exotic pets.”
“What happened is characteristic of a bull in season,” said camel expert Paddy McHugh, adding, “That’s how they kill their opposition – they pull their legs out from underneath and then sit on them”, he added, “but I can count on one hand the number of people that have been killed by camels in Australia in the past 100 years.”
The camel had previously attacked other farm animals and had tried several times to suffocate the family’s pet goat.
Camels have long been revered for their indefatigable endurance as working animals in challenging climates. Use of the animals for meat has been on the upswing, and the “ships of the desert” have been enjoying a renaissance as a healthy alternative to traditional dairy animals.
They rank alongside monkeys, koalas, and sheep for their “awww look how cute” characteristics. But recent links between the species and MERS disease, coupled with this Australian tragedy, may prompt some revisionist thinking.
Image of woman leading a camel from Shutterstock
With its oversized ears and soft brown eyes, the world’s smallest canid is also probably the cutest. But being adorable has turned out to be lethal for the Fennec Fox in Tunisia, where both locals and tourists are loving the species to death.
Life is rough for desert dwellers in North Africa, where the sun beats down on the sand year round, and water and food are scarce. But the Fennec Fox has developed numerous traits over the years that have allowed its populations to flourish throughout the Sahara and on towards Sinai.
Relatively little is known about the nocturnal Fennec’s biology, except that its disproportionately large ears not only allow it to root out food, but also help to regulate body temperature. It also burrows itself in the sand – either to escape from predators or to hide from the Saharan sun.
While the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Vulpes zerda as of least concern on their red list of threatened species, photographer Bruno D’Amicis discovered a disturbing trend that threatens the species during the two years he spent photographing the animal in Tunisia with support from National Geographic.
He found that nomadic people frequently capture the fox both as pets and to make a few dinar off tourists. D’Amicis won first prize for a single photograph in the Nature category of the 2014 World Press photography competition for an image of a captive Fennec he discovered that was kept as a pet for a small child.
The image depicts a petrified animal chained to a wheel rim in a sheep pen that appears to be absolutely petrified. Thanks to his efforts, the owners eventually freed the animal, but it is unlikely to have survived.
In the comment section of a blog post that National Geographic published about his work, D’Amicis laments the Fennec’s plight but urges readers to think about the problem’s roots.
“The story of this unlucky fox is unfortunately just one among many that suffer from the same conditions, and so many other species are facing a similar situation!” he wrote. “One could surely release all of them, a few perhaps will survive, but the main problem will remain: what should be really done is addressing the primary cause.”
The primary cause, according to him, is lack of education and financial security. In 2009, Maureen McKamey, then a Drake University student, relayed a similar story that suggests that D’Amicis may be right.
She tells the story of a nomadic woman who appeared from behind a dune dragging a small Fennec attached to a chain. The old woman asked Maureen and her team if they would like to photograph the fox for a single dinar. Of course the tourists were mortified, and debated buying the Fennec so that they could release it back into the wild, but the guide cautioned against it, since that is exactly what the old woman was hoping would happen.
D’Amicis says that he refused to pay to photograph the captive fox he photographed and urges other travelers to the region to do the same.
Long aware of the problem, the Tunisian government aired a television program that appealed to the population’s sympathy for the small desert creature. The star was Labib the Fennec Fox. Sadly, they eventually declared the program a failure.
About 36 million people have died from AIDS around the world, with about the same number of people living with the disease. In a desperate attempt to regain the public’s confidence, the Egyptian military says it has invented a “kebab” like machine to cure AIDS. Oh, and hepatitis C.
Gen. Dr. Ibrahim Abdel-Atti, chief of the medical branch has announced on Youtube. “We defeated AIDS, and rest assured, we defeated AIDS,” he said at a press conference last week. “And indeed, I conquered AIDS with the blessings of my Lord, glory to him, with a rate of 100%.”
The pioneering method extracts the disease and breaks it down into amino acids, killing the virus in 20 days, “so that the virus becomes nutrition for the body instead of disease. This is a miracle in scientific research.”
He continues: “I take AIDS from the patient, and feed the patient on AIDS, I give it to him as a kebab skewer to feed on. I take the disease, and I give it to him as food, and this is the top of scientific miracles.”
“And I conquered the ‘C,’” Abdel-Atti added, referring to the Hepatitis C disease. “You will never find a patient suffering from the Hepatitis C virus after today, God willing!”
Some 8 million people in Egypt are living with Hepatitis C.
“This is the first jump, God willing. Conquering AIDS worldwide, conquering AIDS worldwide, God willing.”
Most people would find a cure within the prescribed 20 days, but for others it would take up to six months. Presumably time enough for the military to gain better control of the country, and to attract those seeking medical tourism in the faltering economy.
In a CCTV Africa report Abdel-Atti telling a patient, “Your lab report says you had AIDS. And now you don’t. You are cured.”
“We thought that until today, there was no cure for the disease,” said Dr. Nadia Ragab at a press conference. “But the research was so strong that our medical consultants gave us the green light for the human trial. We precisely followed the patients every three months. The results were astonishing to the extent that we had to repeat the lab work in different locations just to be sure.”
The device is called the Complete Cure and it works like a dialysis machine.
Meanwhile the science community in the rest of the world haven’t been impressed by Egypt’s bold medical claims.
University of Glasgow infectious disease specialist Emma Thomson told the BBC: “I can find no evidence to support the claims that this device detects hepatitis C or any other viruses as mentioned in the patent, nor any clear theoretical rationale for how it would work.”
Maison Edouard François designed a colorful new mixed-used residential master plan for Casablanca, a cosmopolitan Moroccan city made famous by a movie with the same name.
The Moroccan government is spending a lot of money to bring Casablanca up to the standards of a European city and attract more foreign investors.
A spiffy new tramway system is currently being developed, and Moroccans from a variety of demographics are flocking to the city to find work. As the population grows, it is essential to ensure there is sufficient housing – which is where the Gardens of Anfa come in.
A new mixed-use residential complex planned for construction in 2017, the master plan includes three mid-rise residential towers, one low-rise office tower, and a series of residential blocks that will be connected by lushly vegetated piazzas.
The towers are shaped to have an “organic” aesthetic, in contrast with the sharp angular skyscrapers that have so polluted Arabian Gulf skylines, and trellised facades on each are specifically designed to foster growth of bougainvilleas and jasmine.
As the vertical garden and green roof movement gains speed in the West, and in some parts of the Middle East and North Africa, Maison Edouard François appears to be mindful of bringing in vegetation that will actually flourish in a region that sees a great deal of sunshine and little rain.
In addition to providing some solar resistance, which would keep the towers cooler in the summertime and thereby reduce the amount of energy required to run air-conditioners, the flowering facades blur the boundary of the garden – and add a brilliant burst of color to a city that is rapidly losing its green space.
That being said, this development is designed for a very specific, wealthier market, a trend that displaces Moroccans who have lived in the city for decades – if not longer. Hopefully government planners will remain loyal to residents who bring immeasurable cultural and traditional value to this magnificent coastal city.
:: Arch Daily
Nomads of the Caucasus Mountains attribute their long, vigorous lives to a natural diet, plenty of outdoor exercise – and kefir. Kefir is fermented milk, something like yogurt. Its taste ranges from mildly sour to cheeselike, depending on how long the milk ferments. It has lots of probiotics and proven anti-bacterial power.
As Kombucha tea does, kefir helps the body to metabolize foods, and also raises immunities. Studies show that drinking kefir every day regulates blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
And like Kombucha, the origins of the “mother” substance are lost in ancient history. Legend has it that Mohammed himself gifted the nomad community with the yellowish-white kefir culture “grains,” and taught them how to ferment milk with them. We posted about black cumin, another legendary gift from Mohammed, here.
Science says, according to Wikipedia, that kefir is a combination of ” lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix, or (SCOBY) forms “grains” that resemble cauliflower. For this reason, a complex and highly variable community of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can be found in these grains.”
The nomads jealously guarded kefir’s secret for centuries, but eventually the fame of the magic milk reached Russian society.
Small quantities of kefir became available, made cottage-industry fashion in a few people’s homes. Doctors prescribed it for digestive troubles and tuberculosis. In the late 19th century, Moscow physicians published studies attesting to kefir’s medicinal properties. Convinced, the All Russian Physician’s Society determined to produce kefir on a large scale.
But “mother” grains were scarce, and the people of the Caucasus wouldn’t yield the secret.
In 1908, the Physician’s Society approached the Blandov brothers, owners of a big Moscow dairy, and asked for help in obtaining kefir grains. The Blandovs agreed to send an emissary to the Caucasus, on condition of receiving exclusive rights to manufacturing kefir. The agent was an employee of their dairy, a beautiful young woman named Irina Sakharov.
Irina traveled north and met with the ruling prince of the region. He wouldn’t give her kefir grains. Instead, he kidnapped her on her return journey home, and demanded that she marry him. But all ended well for Irina, for the men who had accompanied her from Moscow rescued her and brought the case before the prince’s father.
To avert conflict with the powers in Moscow, the king granted Irina enough grains to start large-scale manufacture of kefir. Some say it was a cup of grains, some say it was a sheepskin-full. What’s known is that the grains Irina brought home from her adventures are the mothers of just about all the kefir that’s drunk in Russia, Eastern and Western Europe, Australia and the USA today.
Today, commercial kefir drinks are even sold in supermarkets. But you won’t know if you’re getting just a pleasantly yogurt-like drink without real health benefits. It’s worth fermenting your own kefir at home. And it’s ridiculously easy.
In spite of the huge mystique made around kefir, all you have to do is place a mother grain or two in the bottom of a clean glass jar and fill the jar with milk. Stir gently, with a wooden or plastic spoon, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Leave out overnight.
By morning, you’ll have thick, white kefir. It may have a little fizz, which is fine.
Pour off a glass and enjoy, or make a smoothie from it. Just don’t drink down the mother, or you’ll have to get another one! The longer you leave the milk to ferment, the thicker and more sour the kefir. The mother grains will continue growing if left in milk.
Eventually “baby” buds will break off that will continuing growing and become mothers in turn. You may find your jar crowded with grains after a while.Then you might want to distribute some among your friends. Or you may join the international kefir lovers who mail out grains, enclosed with a little milk in zip-locked bags, only for the price of shipping.
I wrote about kefir in my own blog, several years ago, and ever since then, have had to fend off strangers asking me for grains. I usually reply, grumpily, that I had bought my original mother via eBay for about $4 and that they can do the same.
My own kefir grains don’t reproduce much. They make one or two new mothers over a year’s time. I don’t know why. Apparently kefir grains respond individually to their particular environment: the type of milk used, and how or where they’re stored. In someone elses’ kitchen, maybe they would make many more babies. But I’m fine with what I have. I don’t like being regarded as a source for kefir grains.
This week, a different sort of request for kefir grains appeared in my Inbox. It’s for a little girl, I read.
Something in me gave way. Alright, for a child, I’ll go through the bother of receiving a stranger into my home, explaining about kefir and how to store it in between fermentations (covered with fresh milk, in the refrigerator), and how it has to be kept cool. Kefir has its conditions for optimal life, just like any other fresh, living thing. I sighed.
Okay, I wrote back, Come over.
The little girl’s mother knocked on my door that evening. “Why does your daughter need kefir?” I asked, showing her in.
The lady turned haunted eyes to me. “Her name is Noa. She’s only a year and four months old. She has cancer. They’ve already removed her ovaries. We’re hoping to avoid chemotherapy and manage it with surgery. But she needs everything she can get to stay strong.”
I swallowed, and tears came to my eyes. An innocent little girl, with such a terrible thing. God willing, she’ll survive, but she’ll never bear children.
And I was humbled. You just never know what might come of things you do, say, or write. Maybe my post, written four years before Noa was even born, came out of my computer for no other reason than to help her in the end.
I explained the health benefits of kefir and advised how to feed Noa with it. I told her mother that while my mothers never reproduce much, hers may very well make lots of baby grains. Her face brightened.
“If I see that it really helps, and it makes more mothers, I’ll give kefir grains out to everyone in the oncology ward,” she exclaimed. “I’ll get so many mitzvas that way!”
I hope so. I hope that many little zip-locked bags containing new kefir grains will go out of Noa’s house to help other sick children. May Noa bat Revital will have a complete healing of body and spirit. May she go on to a good life.
There’s lots of online information about kefir. Just google it and you’ll get full instructions on here to obtain grains, how to make it, and recipe.
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