Photo Friday: Macaron au chocolat

Macaron au chocolat

Just another delicious way to support fair trade: French style macarons made with our Omanhene cocao powder and filled with a chocolate ganache made with our 80% dark chocolate… ethical trade never tasted so good!

The Full recipe can be found over at Mama Europa’s blog.

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Mama’s Math: How to Upgrade to Delicious African (fair trade) Coffee and Save Lots of Money

Coffee is one of my favorite indulgences. I begin every morning with my coffee ritual and I know full well that I’m not alone. Many of you also look forward to that cup of coffee that starts your day.

But, every few months we hear yet again how much we’re spending and how that money could add up to a vacation or home over the years. “Skip that $5 latté and save hundreds”. Listen, I am the last person you’ll meet who will tell you to skip the pleasure that comes with a great cup of coffee! But, as for skipping the daily trip to the coffee shop; well, the math makes sense. Let’s do a simple problem to see:

I’m using a conservative estimate of $4 per cup of latté or other gourmet coffee (many run more than $4). At that price though, your daily cup costs you $1460 per year! Once you have caught your breath, join me for the rest of my math homework… don’t worry, the rest is so much easier to swallow!

Making coffee at home on the other hand costs less than 1/4 the price:

  • Coffee grinder: $15-$20
  • Coffee maker: $30-50
  • Incredible tasting fair trade coffee for a year: $312

_____________
$382 (using highest estimates)

So, you want a fancy latté or mocha? Add the following to your totals:

 

  • Hand-held frother: $12-$15 (FREE if you sign up for our 6 month or 1 year coffee of the month club)
  • Omanhene cocoa: $7.50 (per tin)

At the end of the day, your coffee cost stays the same annually and you only have to “invest” in the grinder, coffee maker and hand-held frother once.

Is it great to save so much money? Of course it is! But, money isn’t everything is it? Sure, it’s great that it only takes about 10 minutes a day (less than the time it takes to wait in line for your coffee). The best part of it all is: FLAVOR!! You will wonder why you waited so long.

Most companies have huge mark-ups on coffee and farmers see very little of the price that you pay. But, since all of our coffees are fair trade, you’ll have the bonus of knowing that you are supporting farmers who are being paid a fair price for their beans. Additionally, you’ll be helping African women and children through the donations that are made to the organizations we work with (a portion of all sales on MamaAfrika.com).

So here are my Top 3 reasons to join Mama’s Coffee of the Month Club:

  1. High quality fresh-roasted coffees (mailed only days after roasting!).
  2. Fair trade (and your built-in donation) means helping the poor live better lives.
  3. You’ll save enough money to treat yourself to something else wonderful (a plane ticket, a couple of incredible dinners or whatever else makes you smile)

Our coop members will thank you (and so will your wallet!)

10 Steps to a Great Cup of Coffee

Many of my friends already know how much I love coffee, African coffee in particular.  The thing is: I used to like coffee; but only a little.  I always thought coffee was OK and I never really felt that “kick” that many people drink it for.  So, it was a beverage like any other.  Honestly, it didn’t even rank in the top 3 for me.  I was never able to understand when people spoke of how dreary their day was because they hadn’t had their morning cup of Joe. I used to meet friends at the local (or large chain) coffee shop and sit and sip a latté.  But it was the experience, not the drink that made me truly happy.  I didn’t need the caffeine and could even have a cup immediately before going to bed with no real effect.  I had purchased those expensive whole bean coffees, bought an espresso machine, dealt with cleaning the blasted thing and still I couldn’t identify with those “coffee snobs” who talked about what was in their cup the way some people describe wine or expensive Cuban cigars (No, I’m not recommending you start smoking!). Terms like: bold, fruity, notes of chocolate… Frankly, they meant nothing to me.  Man, have times changed!

You see, ever since I starting selling fair trade (and often organic) African coffees… I fell in love. I had no earthly idea what I was missing all of those years! Once I learned “the basics” from my coffee roaster, my life was changed.  I’m talking night and day here!  I still remember that first shipment of freshly roasted African coffee: I didn’t even have to open the box to smell it: incredible to the senses!  I ground a batch immediately and put it into my regular old Mr. Coffee, adjusting the setting to “strong”.  With those few little bits of advice from our roaster… my life transformed.

I still don’t feel that “eyes wide open” feeling that many of you get from coffee.  But, I smile a little bit less in the morning when I don’t have my “cup of Africa” as we call it in my house.  You see, I am in love with African coffees now.  In love with the deep rich flavor that comes with freshly ground beans that wree roasted just days before.  I’m going to share with you the tips that I’ve learned over the years.  Some seem elementary; but if you are used to that “other stuff”; many of these steps aren’t worth the time they take.  After all, if you are using coffee that was ground months ago… the type of water might not make much difference!  Try these steps though… all of them… and you might just find out what I did: Coffee is magical. It’s a way to enjoy travel: Every morning, I feel like I’m sitting with a dear friend in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia or Zimbabwe and drinking in the sounds and sights of Africa while sipping that simple pleasure called coffee.  Join me!

10 Steps to a Great Cup of Coffee

  1. Believe it or not, you really don’t need an expensive espresso machine to make a great cup of coffee.
  2. Always use freshly roasted beans.  Coffee loses flavor over time; so freshly roasted beans are always your best bet.
  3. Clean your grinder and coffee brewer regularly to prevent build-up of oils which can alter the flavor of your coffee and eventually give it a rancid flavor.
  4. Grind your coffee beans immediately before brewing. Exposure to air slowly makes coffee grounds taste stale.
  5. Use the right setting on your grinder (depending on your brew method).
  6. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: start with 2 tablespoons of coffee per 6 ounces of water.  Adjust based on your personal taste.
  7. The higher the quality of the water, the better the quality of your coffee.
  8. When making drip coffee, it is best to stir or swirl the pot when finished to thoroughly mix the coffee because the coffee toward the bottom will be stronger since it was brewed first.
  9. If you are making your coffee in advance; don’t leave your coffee on the burner or warmer or it can scorch and change the flavor.  Use a thermos instead.
  10. If you want to remember only one phrase I’ve written, make it this one: Freshly roasted, freshly ground, freshly brewed… and fair trade of course! 😉

Food is Culture

Hello again!

I returned from my European trip about a week ago and am still looking forward to sharing part of my experiences there with you.  I know that this blog post is not “African” per se; but this post is about people, food and culture.  Some of the things that interest and endear me most about Africa are those same three things: people, food and culture.  So, here is my perspective on a wedding I had the privilege of attending last month.

Anyone who has travelled at all knows what role food plays in culture.  I’ve eaten food from a fair number of countries and am always interested in how foods are eaten.  Some are finger foods by design; with others one asks how anyone could manage to eat it with their hands and not a utensil.

As an Eritrean, I’ve often enjoyed seeing Westerners eat at our table for the first time.  Awkwardly posing the question in their head of how on earth they are going to manage to get a meat sauce to their mouths without making a disastrous mess of the whole thing.

This brings me to the recent experience I had at a French table.  I was reminded of something that foodies around the world have always known: Food is culture.

Sitting at the table with friends laughing, drinking and eating is something that we all do whether in Nigeria, Lesotho, Canada or France.  I’ve lived in a few countries and travelled a bit over my lifetime and that is something that never changes: food connects people.

Actually, I should start at the beginning: last month, I attended the wedding of one of my favorite French cousins. We were invited to the wedding many months ago and were really looking forward to it.  I could talk to you about the horse-drawn carriage, her beautiful gown or the 11th century chapel. But if you know me at all, you know that my brain often revolves around a couple of things: food being one of them!

I sat looking around at the sumptuous spread on the buffet table and came to an unusual conclusion.  They could have been serving lunch meat sandwiches and people would have been just as happy.  You see, ironically: it’s the people; not the food.  Sure, great food is a bonus; but it’s only that: a bonus.  Those people were so happy to be there so celebrate love and the union of two families that they would have gathered around the table together to simply break bread of any sort. (Granted, the bread in France is fabulous; but you get my point!)

In fact, the food was classically Southern French: fois gras, pâté, couscous salad, an incredible array of cheeses… the list goes on.  And that isn’t to mention the wedding cake: a beautiful Croquembouche and macarons in a “piece monté”.

This wedding, in the small village reception hall was unmistakably French.  It wasn’t a snobbish affair mind you; it was a simply elegant and stylish event.  The bride was stunning, the people well-dressed.  But, that slightly loud conversation which is so common in Southern Europe, the smell of anise on people’s breath (after a few glasses of Pastis, bien sûr!), the vision of grandmothers and little children dancing together until all hours of the night… all served as typical signs that we were in the South of France in the summertime.

Upon hearing of my upcoming trip, one of my dear friends, Geoff told me that he was hoping that me blogging about my time in France would help shed some light on the French for him, especially since he is from the U.K.  Most of us know that the two cultures have never really managed to “get” each other.  OK, fine, there is also a bit of history involved; but you probably understand what he meant.

That wedding can’t be called the real France.  After all, culture is complex.  Expensive handbags, chic stores, the Eiffel Tower and sweet smelling perfumeries in Paris are a part of France.  But for me, this charming wedding reception was my France, the France I love so much.  It was family, friends, great local wine and delicious food.  It was those same 20 songs that you hear at all of the village festivals that no one can help but sing out-loud while dancing until the wee hours of the morning.  It was great quality local ingredients, prepared so simply that they maintain their integrity.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that if you changed the menu a bit and everyone spoke another language, that wedding could have easily been Spanish, Italian or yes…  African.  Unpretentious, people-centered and always about great food! Not fancy, overly complicated dishes; just great food and good wine.  Alright, in some parts of Africa it’d be palm wine instead of Syrah; but the goal of having more people and less complicated food would have been the same.

When I was young, I remember having food from all over the world.  For me, the spicy, rich dishes of Eritrean cuisine often meant hearing my family chatter-on in Tigrinya.  Hearty Italian meals usually meant that my dad was sipping a beer or some wine while teaching me why basil was a better option than oregano.  Our Korean neighbor popped in from time to time and left wonderful Yaki-Mandu (triangular-shaped Korean egg rolls) on our kitchen table when we were away at school or work. (Remember when we didn’t even have to lock our doors?). To this day, I feel a special affinity for South Korea because I spent so many years eating Korean food with friends. It’s rather similar to Eritrean dishes in fact and somehow, learning that made me feel closer to its people too.  Odd perhaps; but true.

The next time you are deciding how to share who you are with someone, share your food.  The next time you want to learn more about a group of people or their culture share their food.  The most fun I’ve ever had while traveling has been at the dinner table. It is inevitably accompanied by laughter, jokes and sometimes even serious discussions of politics or religion.  When the people bring their smiles to the table, the food always binds them to each other… no matter what is on the plate.

Bon appétit et bon santé !

Love,

Mama

Photo Friday

So, I wanted steak for dinner the other night.  My butcher cuts and packages them; then, I bring them home and make dinner.  Only… one turns out looking like this:

PS: Sorry to those in the Western Sahara who clearly lost some real estate during the cooking process!

Love,

Mama

Mama’s 2nd annual World Recipe Exchange: April 1st, 2011

I can’t say that I am a bonafide “foodie”; but I am sure you’ve noticed that I do love talking about, thinking about and cooking food!  Coming from a multi-cultural home where we moved more often than the average family; I learned at a young age how much food is tied to culture.  The things we eat, the things we refuse to eat, the way we cook, barbecue or roast…  all tell us something about who we are as a people.

I have had the privilege of traveling a bit and one of the things I love most about being in a new country (other than the people of course!) is food.  We all know about those dishes that seem to define a country; but what about the everyday comfort foods that each region has to offer.  Since the weather feels so gloomy and gray, I’ve decided to shift gears this year and offer a theme for our annual World Recipe Exchange: comfort foods.  Every region or nation has those dishes that just make you think of mom, family and home.  You know what I mean don’t you?  Those dishes that you might not make for a formal dinner or wedding reception; but that make you smile as soon as you think about them. It might be your grandma’s apple pie, your aunt’s meatloaf or a goat stew that makes your mouth water at the mere thought of it.  I’d love to learn more about all of you through what you love to eat most.  And I, in turn, will do the same (though I have no idea how I’ll choose!)

This year, wherever you are on this big planet; share one of your favorite comfort foods with us.  Tell us a little story about why it makes you smile and then post your link here on the blog.  If you don’t blog or don’t want to include your entry on your personal blog… that is OK too! ¹

You are welcome to include a recipe that comes from any country at all.  What is most important is that you share the basics: How (do you make it) Why (do you love it).

Everyone who enters will automatically be entered to win this year’s prizes including: 1 pound of our fair trade, African coffee, 1 tin of Mama’s Red Bush Tea (rooibos) or 3 bars of 100% Ghanaian (bean to bar) Omanhene chocolate bars.  What better way to celebrate food… than with more food, right? 😉

You’ve got a little over a week to prep so… ready, set go!

Love,

Mama

You can share your recipe one or more of the following ways:

  1. Tweet it to @itsmamaafrika
  2. In the comments section of our blog (below)
  3. On your own blog
    **  Just make sure to link back to this blog post and include a comment here on the blog to let us know where you’ve posted your recipe! All entries submitted on or before April 1st will be counted.  Again, please make sure you leave a comment here with a link so we can find it!

A Twist on an Already Fabulous Chocolate

No chocolate makes me happier to work with than Omanhene! It’s delicious, ethically traded and 100% made in Ghana from bean to bar… what’s not to love?  I must say I enjoyed taking a quick break to challenge myself to improve an already wonderful chocolate and creating this little gem of a dark chocolate bark*.  It only took a few minutes to make.  I love each of these ingredients on their own and I can tell you that they work together like some of the best a cappella music groups in South Africa… heavenly!

It’s as simple as counting to five:

  1. Melt your choice of Omanhene 80% dark or 48% dark-milk chocolate and pour on a lined shallow pan (I just put a silicone mat down first)
  2. Toast pistachios, hazelnuts pine nuts– or whatever nuts you have on hand– then sprinkle on top of melted chocolate (let them cool first). Tap to ensure it sets into the chocolate.
  3. Let chocolate set until its no longer shiny (15-20 min.)
  4. Sprinkle fleur de sel or other rock salt on top (I used pink Himalayan salt)
  5. Enjoy!

Quick and healthy dark chocolate bark


*Adapted from a recipe in Chocolate Obsession, by M. Recchiuti and F. Gage

10 Things You Can Do to Help Africa Today

Lots of people ask me what they can do to help Africa and Africans.  After all, the general consensus (thanks to mainstream media) is that Africa is falling apart at the seams, right?  It is my hope that at least a few of these things will help you to see that although Africans, in general, have many challenges facing them; there is also another side of Africa that is important to remember as well.

So, I’ve decided to come up with a short list of things that anyone can do to help Africa at large.  Here we go:

1-      Pray for us. I know that many people say that when they can’t come up with anything else to do in life, they pray.  I mean, it’s the way that they do something when they feel their hands are tied and they don’t feel that they can do anything else “more constructive”.  I’d argue that it’s usually the best place to start.  I am not going to give you a prayer to say or tell you how to talk to God.  Perhaps for you that is done in a temple, a church or maybe out in a field full of wild flowers sitting and appreciating nature.  I don’t think the surroundings matter much, and the words are probably a detail too.  But, spend a few quiet moments thinking about Africa and focusing on what good things you would like to come to her people.  I’m sure that if nothing else, it’ll help you remain focused and open to opportunities as they present themselves.

2-      Learn something new about the continent today.  I genuinely don’t think it matters what you learn.  This might sound odd; but I sincerely believe it.  Perhaps you are an art buff, love all things tech or are an avid gardener.  Take the time to read an article which talks about your interest as it relates to Africa.  I’m sure that a simple online search with just a few words like “potato plants in Africa” would render much more information than you expected.  This will engage you in a way that you are already interested.  Frankly, all of the heavy political reading isn’t always needed; and it isn’t interesting to everyone.  Just learn more about Africa’s diversity.  Walk a path other than the “another famine” “more civil unrest”… kind of thing.  You’ll also come very quickly to understand that knowing a little about Africa doesn’t have to feel like a chore.  There are a million different ways for you to be engaged with such a massive continent after all.  The more you know about Africa and her people; the more informed your choices will be concerning what is best to do to help later when an opportunity arises.

3-      Share what you’ve learned. Just talking to your friends, family or coworkers about Africa in a way they don’t expect is a great way to serve as an ambassador.  I think you’ll enjoy the look on their face when they realize that little bit of information they never thought of as being related to Africa.  When you step out of those keywords that are used to talk about such a diverse, dynamic continent, (namely: safari, drought, starvation, coup d’état, poverty, development); you’ll see quickly that people are really happy to hear something positive or interesting that relates to Africans.  Discussing a new artist’s debut in a gallery in Johannesburg or talking about the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed of dog might just open their eyes to another face of Africa.  People who know about our continent are more likely to find ways to act as goodwill ambassadors the next time they hear negative or untrue things being said about Africa, right?

4-      Buy African. You might be surprised to know that in simply changing your morning regime and making your cup of coffee or tea yourself can actually significantly impact the lives of African farmers.  Maybe you could switch the coffee at home or ask your coworkers to toss the $5 per day that they usually spend at that large coffee chain on the way into work into a jar that you can use to buy a pound or two of Mama’s fair trade coffees or teas?  This would allow them to enjoy some superior quality coffee each morning (they’ll never want to go back to the “other stuff” once they’ve tried our freshly roasted, fair trade coffee!)  Plus, you can make an impact which will make you proud.  Not a coffee or tea drinker?  That is OK too.  There are hundreds of other ways to help through African products such as gift baskets, clothing as well as supporting African musicians or filmmakers.  Buying African is so much better for the continent than making donations to large organizations which use too much in administration costs and too often don’t make the long-term impact you are hoping will occur.  After all, it allows Africans to feed themselves through their hard work!

5-      Visit Africa. You don’t have to want to go on a safari to find something wonderful to do in Africa.  One of the greatest newer ways to visit the richness of the continent is through environmental tourism or cultural tourism.  There are tour operators in South Africa which can take you and your family on a trip to important places in Apartheid history or to get to know more about its diverse ethnic groups and their history, culture and arts.  Or, you could go to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda or Ghana to learn more about the cultures there through the eyes of the people who have lived in the region generation after generation for thousands of years.  Talk about a living history lesson!  Of course, supporting local economies through responsible tourism allows Africans to build better communities and nations.  Sounds like a good deal for everyone involved, if you ask me!

6-      Can’t travel quite that far? Then visit Africa locally. I completely understand that international travel isn’t for everyone.  Or, maybe you would love to go; but you just don’t have the budget, health or ability to go.  I have an alternative for you: visit a museum, festival or other outlet that highlights African art or culture.  You might not be from Vienna, Austria where every October they have Africult; or you might not be living in San Francisco, New York or London, where you can visit African art galleries and museums.  But trust me, if you take the time to search “African culture” and the city closest to you; you’ll find that there are lots of opportunities for you to see art, dance, festivals and other events centered on various African cultures.  The more support groups and organizations like this may receive, the farther they can spread their message.  I am convinced that especially where children are concerned, one of them may one day be the adult that discovers, invents or creates something that makes the lives of Africans better… just because they had an experience in their youth that sparked an interest to learn more about African people, animals or culture at large.

7-      Play a game. How about playing a game online where you test your African geography?  This way, the next time you hear or read about Namibia, Guinea Bissau or Zambia; you’ll know where they are.  We all know how important geography is to current events and history.  People often are in conflict due to natural resources and borders.  And, knowing where all 53 African nations are will help you understand the people of Africa and their needs better.  Who knows, maybe it’ll prompt you to volunteer to teach local school kids more about the African continent?  Knowledge is power, right?

8-      Eat, drink and be merry.  Now here is a fun way to incorporate Africa into your daily life: food and drink.  Did you know that South Africa makes some incredible wines?  Kenya, Eritrea, Malawi, Togo and many other African countries produce some superb beers.  And whether you drink alcohol or not, you can certainly find an African restaurant near you.  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love Eritrean or Ethiopian food for example (OK, so maybe I’m a little biased 😉 If you are in the Los Angeles area, the Nyala Restaurant is an excellent choice and comes very highly rated by most food critics.  And no, I don’t have any affiliation with the owners… I just love good food!  How is eating a great meal with your friends helping Africa?  Well, since a great number of Africans use their success in the West to support their families “back home”; so supporting them, often means supporting those in their native country as well.

9-      Ask a question. If you are wondering about something, be it big or small, concerning Africa… ask! I don’t know everything; but I do have a fair number of resources that I can tap to find the answers to most questions concerning Africa.  Feel free to contact me here on the blog, on Twitter, or via email.  NEVER hesitate because you think that a question is “too simple”.  Just ask and know it is my greatest pleasure to try to help you find the answer.  Besides, you can be sure that if you are wondering the answer; there are certainly many others who have the same question too.  You’ll notice on the side of my blog, there is a Questions and Answers link.  Check there and you might see an answer which inspires you to start a project, plan or movement to help Africans in one way or another.

10-   Focus on the good news: In just three clicks of the mouse: 1… 2… and 3… you can find three excellent resources for getting a daily dose of good news from Africa.  Focusing on the good news, instead of all of the challenges and obstacles is a healthy reminder that we can accomplish anything our hearts desire.  It helps us dream and without dreams, there can be no improved reality.  Dreaming is an important part of helping us to build a better future for ourselves, our villages and the generations to come.

I hope that you will try to incorporate at least a few of these ways to get to know Africa better and help her people.  I’m confident that as you learn more about this magical continent, its history, cultures and people; you will be inspired to learn even more and help in one way or another.  Remember that as much as we do need financial assistance, support with trade opportunities and advocates… we also need people who believe in our ability to build our own future.  Seeing what we have already done will inspire you to know that anything is possible in Africa.

After incorporating some of these 10 ways to learn more about and to help Africa; I recommend that you take the time to read this post which I wrote a few months ago.

I look forward to hearing any of your ideas now! How other simple ways would you recommend for people to engage Africa and Africans?

Love,

Mama

Couscous, a North African staple

The thing I love about couscous is that, like pasta, it is so flexible! Yesterday, it was used in a four ingredient, vegetarian dinner that I think you’ll enjoy either hot or cold.
Here is the proof:

North Africans love couscous and so do I!

I know a lot of people look at couscous and think that they need to have an exotic recipe from some far away land in order to buy it at the store. For many, because it is a type of food that they’ve only vaguely heard of or seen once in television cooking show featuring Moroccan food,  it intimidates them.

I’d like to remove the mystique for you. When one of my children asked me what it was, I described it this way “Its pastina’s cousin.”  She looked at it and thought of “pastina” (literally “tiny pasta” that we use in Eritrea to make for babies or toddlers at home, topped with butter… yes, there is that Italian influence  in Eritrean cooking again!).

Food: an integral part of culture

Aleecha: a common Eritrean dish made of curried vegetables which you are sure to love.

Many years ago one of my children’s friends entered our home for the first time. He was only 7 at the time. A really nice kid with one of those great big smiles that could melt a mama’s heart. I’ll never forget it… as he walked in the door, I overheard him say: “Wow, it smells like Africa here!” He was right, it did smell like Africa. I was making a traditional Eritrean meal for dinner: injera, tzigny, aleecha, salad… the works.

I naturally guessed that he had tasted Eritrean or Ethiopian food (which are very similar) before and asked him if he liked it.  His reply surprised me though: “No, I’ve never had African food before. I just knew that it smelled like Africa when I walked in, I don’t know why though. The funny thing is that child didn’t know I am an African.  My daughter joked that “everyone knows the smell of Africa!”

Some years later, when I opened Mama Afrika in a “brick and mortar” shop; I heard the same thing of the store. “It even smells like Africa”. I read once that our sense of smell is what links us the closest to our memories. Of all our senses, it isn’t sight or sound… its smell.  And each time that I cook aleecha, it reminds me of my mother cooking over a hot stove when my aunts or her friends came to visit.

Since I love food and I love Africa, I’ve decided to share recipes from time to time on my website which will help you bring the smell of Africa into your home.   And, of course, it will also bring the color and rich wonderful flavors of Africa cuisine into your home too!

Here is my first dish: Eritrean Aleecha, a vegan dish that is sure to please you, your family and guests. It is a quick, inexpensive and delicious dish to make.

I was inspired to chose it after a recent trip to my local organic farmer’s market. The carrots were beautiful, sweet and I couldn’t leave home without them!

When looking for inspiration for my first dish, I found it in these beautiful carrots from my local organic farmer’s market

I hope that you enjoy it!  And if you have a special African recipe from your childhood that you would like to share here, please do!  I’d be happy to try it, I’m sure that your “mama Africa” filled your home with some incredible aromas too.  Share them…

Salam, (“Peace” in Eritrea’s widely-spoken Tigrinya language)
Mama