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HALFA: the Beautiful Dangerous Weed of Hope

Yamna just got back from her hunt on Chanbi Mountain, 40 miles from the city of Kasserine in Tunisia. Now her whole house is filled with halfa, and she can’t wait to start braiding the grasses into baskets that will travel all the way to New York. It’s her first big order, and though she is overwhelmed—worried about finding time between the cooking, the children and the household—her brain can’t stop planning what she’ll do with an influx of income.

Halfa (Stripa Tenacissima plant or esparto grass) is a strong, flexible, fibrous grass that only grows in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Spain and Portugal. For centuries, it’s been used to produce ropes, sandals, baskets, hats, mats and fine paper. The weed grows up to three feet high on rocky soil in high plains.

In Tunisian, halfa only grows near the mountain of Chanbi, named after an adventurer who searched the mountain for treasure, planting a pine tree every time one of his holes came up empty. On the border of Algeria, Chanbi is the highest mountain in Tunisia, home to 262 kinds of plants, 16 species of reptiles, 24 species of mammals, many migrating birds and a natural reserve covering over almost 15,000 acres.

In 2013, the beautiful mountain was the site of a few terrorist attacks, thrusting it to the top of a list of security alert areas in Tunisia ever since. Despite the fact that government security is well in control of the situation since, Chanbi became synonymous with terrorism.

Yamna and her artisan friends, weaving beautiful halfa baskets for, are helping Chanbi restore its name as a destination for adventure and beauty. For Yamna, Chanbi is hope, the source of the halfa grass that she’ll weave into a better life for her family!
Leila ben Gacem


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