There are set rules to the person you try to become after you go through a trauma, the person that somehow, outside the realms of everyone else’s thought, you believe you can and should become. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, the indefinable element that separates the spectacular from the boring. In my experience, it is the people that refuse to be quiet, that end up achieving the most.
Originally, I am a writer. I’ve always known that I can express myself through writing in a way that talking never did for me. Expressions through music, dance, creative imagination – that’s where I park day in day out. I believe it forces us as humans to bring out our best form of inner selves, reflecting our soul (so to speak) which talking out loud- most of the time-doesn’t offer. I once read something that said, “yoga, because we could all use a little sit-down and shut the f*** up”. Indeed, we could.
People ask me why I opened up this cafe all the time, usually, I would tell them my story of how I fell severely unwell in my 20’s. I left my advertising/marketing career, healed myself, struggled, found my purpose and emerged as the Certified Gluten-free Baker I am today and Founder of Sea Salt Bakery and Cafe (SSB). I offer a solution to a social health issue that is rising fast, more importantly, I offer a solution to a lifestyle that is so hard to stick to in a city like Cairo, and even around the world. There are lots I can touch on with Gluten intolerance, food allergies, dairy sensitivity, but it’s the stories of others that I want to share with you.
The people of SSB, the reason why what I do is so important to me. Every day, I see people at the cafe that open my eyes to what’s happening in our world, in our society, how they live, how they behave and what factors affect their decision to stay as healthy as they possibly can.
So, in this self-expressive context mixed in with my social responsibility of helping people eat and live better, I’d like you to take a deeper look into your life, your health and hopefully start a conversation of how you can improve your own lifestyle- including your personal life. I’ll paint a mental picture of what is happening around me right now at the cafe as I write this, allow your imagination to wonder and we’ll meet at the take away in the end.
I’m sitting at SSB in Zamalek, the cafe window is open, it’s a warm day, but there’s just enough wind blowing which assures me the temperature will drop once the sky turns into pastels of pink/orange. The cafe setting is cozy with six tables and a communal bench table allowing smokers to sit outdoors. There are three guests seated at separate tables. One is a young Algerian man at work with his laptop open in front of him, steadily quarreling over the phone about a deal he’s been trying to close for three consecutive days; today is day three. It’s quiet enough to hear him, but his tone of voice is benevolent and his body language is relaxed and somewhat centered, it almost feels like he has a translucent brittle-like bubble around him, protecting his energy from wearing out but also to keep the noise from disturbing others around him. He may not finalize the deal today, but his patience and ethical behavior reflect his care to place himself in a healthy environment and feed his body with natural food to keep his mind clear of fogginess and hence, work more efficiently. (1)
The second is a loyal customer of mine, she’s here for the sweets and a double espresso- it’s that kind of day for her. She wants to get in and get out fast, but also satisfied. She knows what she needs, she drove to Zamalek, walked in, ordered before she sat down, said hello, had a quick chat with me, regathered her energy with a chocolate muffin and a fruit tart, downed her coffee, and stood up to leave, ready to move on to her next destination. It’s vital to mention, she’s a cancer survivor and she’s in her 50’s. (2)
The most mysterious of them all is the third gentleman who walked in with his dry-cleaned wrapped and hanged coat, which he noticeably just picked up from around the corner. As he lays it on the chair in front of him, he calls out for the waiter and orders the Veggie Burger. It’s Thursday, working hours are over, so while he waits, he makes a call to a friend to plan the weekend outing. Once the Veggie Burger arrives on his table, he begins a process he’s clearly done before: he spreads the Catalan dip (our ketchup substitute) onto the Burger bun, closes the burger, takes a bite, starts to chew while closing his eyes…inhales, exhales loudly and continues chewing. It is as though by closing his eyes and chewing mindfully, his memory of taste and the flavour of the burger in his mouth are a perfect match. He then goes on to do what most people do here at the cafe, slice the burger in half and devour. (3)
One of my favorite clients just arrived at the cafe, he likes to sit outdoors, to smoke his rolled cigarettes, sit back and enjoy his coffee. As a Zamalek resident, he comes by the cafe regularly to make sure he eats right due to his gluten sensitivity. He’s not your typical client since you don’t see a lot of young men in Cairo being careful with what they eat and do so willingly by themselves. So I truly appreciate him. It was his birthday last week and he tells me he received a pasta machine from one of his friends as a gift, which I think is pretty awesome. He begins telling me that he’s been testing out gluten-free pasta recipes at home, using various different flours such as brown rice flour, quinoa flour, and tapioca. He’s new to the baking scene and evidently needs some help; he asks me for some tips to help create a great pasta dough. Secret Ingredient: Xanthan gum*. I’ve given him more motive and he’s certainly more eager, mainly because he can pronounce Xanthan (zan-than) correctly now. (4)
Each of those individuals represents a lesson in living a healthy lifestyle, let’s take a deeper look.
(1) In order to keep your stress levels at work low, a calm environment is essential. On top of that, eating natural unprocessed foods daily is a secret weapon to keep your neurological system functioning at its best. That is easier said than done, but if you spend more than 70% of your day working, skipping your meals, eating on the go, experienceing sleepless nights, you’re in for a fall. You’ve got more work to do for your body than for your corporation. To succeed in your career, your business, your passion, you’ve got to prioritize YOU first, the rest will follow naturally.
(2) If you have food sensitivities, or health issues such as Diabetes, Cancer, Autoimmune Diseases, Obesity or others, you get to a point in your healing process where you begin to learn what your body needs, literally. You experience more energy on a certain eating lifestyle, a yoga routine, maybe just by taking a walk everyday by yourself. Your body is extremely intelligent and it is constantly trying to tell you what it needs; your job is to listen. I may have an extreme allergy to Aloe Vera and someone else can be dependent on it to heal skin damage. Everybody is different – there is no one size fits all.
(3) Mindful Eating. These words may have run by you recently, and for good reason. There are so many reasons why we are unable to digest our food, lose weight, feel good after eating, but the one I want to highlight here is the ‘way we eat’- essentially: our relationship with food. We eat while talking, working, watching TV, driving, in flights, we are always doing something else or stressing about something else while we eat. This is called Emotional eating; we aren’t aware if we eat out of actual hunger or just emotional triggers or habit. The next time you are having a meal, try sitting down alone (quietly if you have people around you), take a few deep breaths before you begin eating, and chew your food slowly. I guarantee you will pause more and eventually stop over consuming food because you will begin to notice that you are FULL!
(4) As humans, we like to give up when life isn’t going our way. Apply this to people who discover they are extremely sensitive to gluten, or even allergic and also have a dairy intolerance. They panic and sometimes they find it impossible to change their eating lifestyle and maintain it, that they go back to hurting their bodies by eating what they shouldn’t. What helps, in this case, is knowledge. Eliminating gluten or dairy means you will get introduced to real unprocessed foods, plants, and nature; it’s an incredible eye opener. So much information is out there on the internet, several documentaries about health, food, going back to nature – the amount of gluten free, paleo, keto etc recipes online are there because people are asking for them – they are healing people and saving lives. If you get curious, stop blaming everything else around you and avoid leaning towards pharmaceutical medicine to fix you. There is a world of nature, healing and energy that awaits you. Have fun and experiment with the infinite options of food from our rich Earth. Knowledge is truly power in this case.
Since I opened the doors to this cafe in August 2017, I’ve witnessed a community come together, one that I never thought existed in Cairo. I feel like this place is the sweet clover flower that attracted all the bees to feed on. Whatever people go through in their daily lives, I am sure that the gathering of us all here at SSB is like reaching the finish line. We have been told how to eat, how to be healthy, what is ‘normal’ based on the food pyramid guideline we all grew up with. It’s all grievously questionable, it has brought illness and disease to us as a human race. Here, in this community, we got sick somewhere along the road, got angry, asked the right questions, healed ourselves and are now following our own paths. I am a firm believer in the fact that how you come out of a traumatic situation defines who you are. You can come out of the trauma strong or weak, to this day I’m not sure if it’s what you really are made of, or what the world has done to us post trauma, but the real you, the one that you still remember, is your true self.