May 19, 2014

A Story About Friendship and Food

Things have been a little quiet on the blogfront lately and I apologize for that. But I have a good excuse. I'm awaiting the arrival of a baby.

No, it's not my baby. But it's a baby who will be very dear to my heart. To explain, I need to take you back to eighteen years ago, when I just out of high school and totally confused about what I wanted to do with my life. Hungry to learn about the world, I signed-up for a cross-cultural exchange program called Canada World Youth. It was a 7-month exchange between Tunisia and Quebec, and it changed my life.

After a first week of orientation camp (where a few dozen earnest young Canadians and Tunisians were thrown together and given their first introduction to cross-cultural communication and open-mindedness), we finally came to the eagerly anticipated day when we found out who we would be were paired with. When they called out the name of the most sparkling-eyed and mischievous-looking young Tunisian woman in the room, I began to realize how lucky I was. Synda and I spent the next several months getting to know each other's countries, living together in host families and doing volunteer work projects in the communities where we were placed. 

Back in our Canada World Youth heyday

In some ways, we were the bad-asses of our group, always up for mischief and adventure. I laughed more than I had ever laughed, learned new ways of seeing the world, and became more comfortable with myself. Despite our many differences (different religions, different languages, altogether different cultures), Synda and I fundamentally "got"and adored each other. We became inseparable! 

Over the years following our program, we kept in touch by phone and letters, and later on, through Skype and facebook. I went back to Tunisia several times to visit her and her husband and their adorable twins.

Last fall, Synda announced that she was pregnant again, 11 years after giving birth to her twins. She threw out the idea of coming to Canada, all by herself, for the birth of the baby. It would mean that her baby would receive dual citizenship of the country she loved so much, and it would be a chance for us to have a very special visit together. Though I felt honoured that I might get to help her welcome her little one into the world, it did seem like too wild of an idea at first, even for our adventurous ways. For me, it would mean delaying going to Maine for the summer, and for her, it meant overcoming a lot of logistical hurdles back home, along with the difficulty of temporarily leaving her family. But as we discussed it some more and made the necessary phone calls to the customs and immigration offices and local hospitals, we began to hatch a plan that looked more and more feasible and took a life of its own. Before I knew it, my small library had exploded with books on how to become a good birth partner and I was finally meeting her at the airport, all teary-eyed, and welcoming her back to Canada for the first time in 18 years.

Synda is one of the bravest and most determined people I know for getting on that plane and travelling halfway across the planet with such a pregnant belly. Words can't really quite describe how much I adore and admire this woman.

The day that she arrived, we lifted her very heavy suitcase onto the dining room table and opened it to reveal every imaginable Tunisian delicacy including dried octopus, home-ground spices, fresh dates, and harissa paste she had carefully prepared before her long journey here. There was even a bag filled with a rare kind of black pine nut that is used for a special custard recipe. I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and was instantly transported back to Tunisia. This is our shared passion: cooking together and she came well-prepared for us to get right to work.

Synda's knowledge of traditional Tunisian cuisine is mind-blowing. She makes recipes that her mother and grandmothers have passed down to her, recipes that she says young urbanites such as herself simply don't make anymore nowadays. As the pace of life makes fast food a more appealing choice for many modern Tunisian families, Synda has always remained a staunch defender of traditional foods and the pleasures of cooking from scratch. She is the one who unlocked the culinary secrets of Tunisia for me, in my opinion one of the world's most delicious, yet most under-appreciated cuisines. During her time here, we have pretty much been cooking non-stop, and I have filmed a few of her recipes which I will try to share with you very soon in some upcoming posts. 

In the meantime, there's this simple spring radish salad that she showed me how to make, which tastes as fresh and flavourful as can be!

You can find the recipe on my recent post for PBS Food.

And now I must sign off… The spring breeze is blowing strong and our hospital bags are almost fully packed. As I write this, Synda is baking traditional Tunisian pastries for her birthing team and I should really get downstairs and give her a hand. Her due date is tomorrow!!! I'm feeling so incredibly grateful to be reunited with my beloved friend on such an occasion. Wish us luck as we welcome this new little Tunisian-Canadian  into the world!

(Update: read the story of Alex's birth here!!)

Synda was positively glowing during our 'woodsy Canadian' photo shoot


  1. O God!
    I was the best friend of Maude Richer, the daughter of Johanne and Paul, your host family in Granby. I was a little girl.
    You both gave me a strong interest for discovery!!!

    Thank you!!


    1. Wow Renée, quel plaisir de savoir que tu te rapelles de nous, et que tu suis mon blogue, merci!! On se rapelle de toi nous aussi. Bisous de la Nouvelle-Ecosse!

  2. This is one of your loveliest posts ever. So exciting. I don't remember if I told you, but I became an accidental birth partner last summer in Scotland, in the middle of the night, to a woman I had just met. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Good luck and happy labour to you both!

    1. Aw thank you Val!! The accidental birth partner story sounds intriguing, I would love to hear it! Thanks for the well-wishes and hugs to you from the east xoxox

  3. What a lovely post!! And at first I thought you are expecting. ;) So, is the baby here?

    1. Thanks Eva! :-) No baby yet, but I'll keep you all posted!

  4. The baby must be born by now... and I am certain the miracle of it all has changed you both forever, again. What an incredible friend you are, Aube. I ate up every word of this post.... enjoyed the tour of Waldegrave Farm Cammie gave us at The Slow Food in Canada National Conference when you were in NYC at the James Beard Awards. I was rooting for you. I did not know you lived where you do... I know your site says both places, but I got the impression this was your home... and what a wonderful place for a child to be born...
    Congratulations to you both!

  5. I've been catching up on your recipes and videos and enjoyed reading about your CWY friendship. Harold and I went back to Tunisia several years ago and caught up with some of your old counterparts. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story!

  6. I've been catching up on your recipes and videos and enjoyed reading about your CWY friendship. Harold and I went back to Tunisia several years ago and caught up with some of your old counterparts. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story!