Was the world smaller than what we think long time before the Internet? There were civilizations that learned from each other long time before modern day communications and transportations came into being.
Science, food and way of life were passed from one place to another. Spices from the East were one of the most famous commodities which were introduced to the rest of the world. One of the spices that was brought to Arabia, was ginger. It comes from a plant called Zingiber Officinale. In Arabic it is called (Zangabil). What made it famous were its delicacy, medicinal properties and spice. And about 1,000 years ago, ginger and ginger bread were introduced to Europe. It is said, the Armenians took it with them to Europe, but was it Armenia or Qassim that introduced it to the world. And was it the past generations in the Qassim area that introduced it to the pilgrims who came to Makkah? And those pilgrims took it with them back to their countries long time before the Armenian took the ginger bread to Europe?
In Buraidah, the capital of Qassim province and other cities, hardened bread called (Kleja) is made with style. And ginger is one of the ingredients. It is made in a way, where it is very easy to store and with long periods of freshness. The ginger bread is good for cold weather. It keeps the body warm in the cold desert. And it is natural anti-biotic. And now a days, the Qassimi Kleja is hitting the national and international markets. And there is a festival being held in Buraidah for this event. It is not only Kleja being sold. The festival is a job market for women, social gathering and entertainment. But, how did it all begin and what is the economic and social impact of this wonder round-shaped bread called Qassim Kleja?
It all started about 10 years ago. Prince Faisal bin Bandar, the governor of Qassim province after noticing the good yield of dates from the palm trees thought that it would be better if the sale of these dates was organized. So, farmers and merchants of Qassim decided to have a date festival. And it was an instant success. And this year’s sale of dates, in a 10-day period was around SR1.7 billion ($500 million). There is no fresh food market or produce festival in the world which can get you a $500 million. But, during the festival some Qassimis brought with them Kleja that was made by the women at home. And four years ago, Qassim province had another festival called (Keja Festival) which was organized by women. And they added to it some artifacts work. Now, this festival is an employment agency to thousands of women. And any woman who wants to participate in this unique ginger bread (Kleja), but, she is poor and can’t afford any of the cooking materials or ingredients, such as flour, then, they are provided with all what they need for free.
And then all the participating women will put their products in a huge building with booths designed for charity events. And the ladies will be makers, saleswomen and supervisors of the festival. Part of the unemployment is solved and no resume was needed. And it turned out that the dates and Kleja Festival were a source of income for many families.
With the success of these festivals, Princess Noura bint Mohammed, wife of the governor of Qassim province initiated a program called (Herfah). The princess changed the concept of women charity organization from taking donations to having the women on the charity list as money and commodity makers. They produced bakery, artifacts and traditional dresses and if you are away, they will pack these products and ship them to you. The bottom line is not if Qassim is the place which introduced the ginger bread to the world. The important thing is that Princess Noura was able to form women charity organization which helped a lot of women in the Qassim province to stand on their feet. Now, more than 1,000 families became money makers rather than money takers.
The writer is a columist and political commentator. This article first appeared in Arab News on Dec. 27, 2011