Veganism is both the practice of strictly abstaining from the use of all animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. The vegan movement is flourishing in Kuwait. This five-part series takes a look at the creative Kuwaitis who have adopted the ethical vegan lifestyle and some who have established businesses based on its principles. This is part five.
Besides serving vegan snacks and drinks, BE Cafe is a peaceful oasis offering creative activities and a space for well-being in a fast-paced and stressful society. Set in the verdant gardens of Rimal Resort facing the Arabian Sea, BE celebrated its official opening this month. It is the creation of 23-year old Mariam Al Shatti, who has partnered with her mother, Muna Al Arfaj, one of the pioneers in the fields of vegan food and yoga and meditation in Kuwait. Taking a break from their duties at the café, Mariam and Muna talked about the purpose of BE.
“My vision for BE is that it is a place where people can just BE; where they can relax, be themselves, and be with themselves. All the time we are constantly doing more than simply being. I want people who come to BE to just chill and feel comfortable,” says Mariam.
“Our lives become so busy that we actually become human doings rather than human beings,” Muna remarks. “Sometimes you just have to pause, sit back and be. We have to meditate, to ask ourselves the right questions, like is what I’m doing bringing me joy in my life?”
BE is a reflection of the ethical vegan lifestyle of this mother-daughter team who live their lives on the same wavelength. Both practice meditation and yoga, follow an exclusively plant-based diet, and believe in caring for the environment and serving the community. “My mom is amazing, and we work together so well,” says Mariam with a smile that lights up her face. “It’s easy when you both have the same goals.”
Muna Al Arfaj established Kuwait’s first vegan restaurant, Ginger, with her sister Shaikha in 2004. Like her sister, she turned to yoga and meditation in order to gain focus and energy and balance the increasing demands of family and career. Muna has a son and a daughter; as Vice Chairman of Al Arfaj Holding Company she also manages the company’s international business center and the real estate division of the group.
“I realised that in order to be able to meet the challenges in life, you have to be in touch with yourself and your higher consciousness,” Muna reflects. “When we take care of ourselves and our own well being then it’s easier for us to help others. One of the secrets I learned is that happiness lies in giving.”
Muna joined her sister, Shaikha, in becoming co-founder of Harmony House meditation center in Rumeithiya, and now also teaches meditation and self development classes there in English and Arabic.
When Mariam was learning how to deal with a hectic schedule as a full-time university student in Australia, her mother gave her some advice. “I told Mariam how practicing raja yoga meditation had helped me manage my life and improve my quality of work and my concentration and clarity. I suggested she try it as well. Soon her grades were improving and so was her confidence and wellbeing,” says Muna.
“When I began meditating two years ago, I saw the change in myself right away,” says Mariam. “Like my mom, I have always loved giving to others. When I learned the importance of knowing and loving myself, I found I could give so much more. I started thinking I wanted to provide a space for others to find the beauty within themselves.
“I learned a lot in Australia about natural healing and healthy food and how what you eat affects how you feel,” she continues. “I started shopping for healthy, non-processed foods in the farmer’s markets. I also learned about the violence associated with the dairy industry and didn’t want to be a part of that, so I became a vegan.”
The combination of practicing yoga, meditation, and following a plant-based diet gave Mariam the energy and incentive to share this lifestyle with others. Armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Logistics from Griffith University on Australia’s Gold Coast, she returned to Kuwait with the inspiration to create BE. Except she didn’t expect BE to come into being quite so quickly.
“When Mariam came back she had this idea of creating a happy, relaxing space where like-minded people could meet and enjoy healthy food, but she actually thought she’d take some time off and travel before she got involved in a big project,” says Muna, taking up the story. “But then this location at Rimal Resort became available and we had to make a quick decision. We both love the gardens and the beachside location where we can hold outdoor activities like yoga classes, so we decided to get started sooner rather than later.”
Mariam goes to deliver some fresh juice and smoothies to a table of customers and returns with that big smile that rarely leaves her face. “I’m enjoying this experience so much, I don’t even feel like it’s a business,” she says. “During the whole journey of creating BE, my mom and I never allowed ourselves to stress, we just used our positive energy to get things done. We believe in spreading positivity in a non-judgmental atmosphere, where everyone can enjoy free expression.”
BE has a casual, rustic look and feel about it. We’re seated in the cozy lounge in the back room that’s decorated with colorful Indian carpets and cushions. Big windows let in lots of natural light and overlook a grassy garden. Recycled wooden pallets serve as low tables and bases for the cushions, in keeping with the eco-friendly policy of BE. They also support the environment with composting programs, organised by Muna’s sister, Suad.
BE serves fresh drinks, coffees, teas, soups, savory snacks and Mariam’s own vegan cake creations. While studying in Australia, Mariam did a six-month internship on the dessert team of a restaurant called “The Cardamom Pod”, perfecting the art of making cheesecakes.
“When I started I told them I was planning on opening a vegan café in Kuwait and I wanted to get some experience. It was wonderful working there and the people were amazing,” she says.
Mariam and Muna make sure that only the freshest, best quality, unprocessed ingredients, organic if possible, are used to prepare their food and drinks. Kangen alkaline water is used, even for cooking. Muna shows an information handout that says this special water “is a great way to increase hydration, balance body pH, obtain optimal health, neutralise free radicals, reduce pain, and more.”
Another handout describes the benefits of Kombucha, another healthy drink on BE’s menu. Traditionally brewed with green or black tea, this naturally carbonated beverage contains vitamins as well as beneficial bacteria and yeast. It produces healing amino acids said to help the body re-establish balance, and comes in a variety of flavors.
The BE team is comprised of staff from five different countries: Kuwait, India, Canada, Egypt, and Vietnam. “What they have in common is that they are all yogis who meditate and bring their positive energy to the food. All foods at BE are prepared in mindful consciousness, with employees dedicated to serving with their highest values and qualities,” says Muna.
According to Muna and Mariam, an important part of BE’s vision is to offer health and wellness workshops, personal development seminars, yoga and creativity sessions, art and music classes, and other pleasant and interesting events, like talks about the environment, nutrition, a plant-based lifestyle, and the art of being.
“It’s time for people to look at life and realise that how you think affects how you live. Each person has their own time to wake up and set their priorities. Each person has the right to live well,” Muna remarks.
“We should just live happily,” Mariam concludes with a big smile.
By Claudia Farkas Al Rashoud – Special to the Arab Times