Jordan’s path to wellness: the eco-perspective

By Cesilia Faustina
Photography by Kathleen Euler

“They start by looking at you as being different or odd or green or random, but then as they practice you see that we can have better recipes, tastier products; we can have sovereignty for food.”

Bejli Khedairi is an ecopreneur looking to create a green embassy in Jordan and looking to create change in MENA through an organic lifestyle

A British Iraqi is trying to create an eco-solution in the lives of people in Jordan and MENA.

Bejli Khedairi is an ecopreneur that has been in the food industry pretty much all his life.

“I was born to a family food farm business, it started all organic in Iraq, but then it became processed food,” he said.

“When we relocated to the UK we found out that [most organic food] was processed, not organic, so I started learning again a lot of things about organic food, social change, about peace about ecology, about all of it together and I decided to come back to Jordan and bring it all together.”

Bejli is in the midst of creating his very own eco-embassy as a form of green space for entrepreneurs and the community, as well as a number of organic food products produced by himself and various Jordanian societies.

The British Iraqi wanted to create a new way of thinking from the way food is produced to the way people work within an ecosystem.

“I visited many places in Jordan to see a suitable place for business and I found a land at a modest price in Jabal El-Weibdeh, which is a very accepting mountain of innovative ideas and then we started visualizing how best we can represent it,” he said.

“With my beautiful design team Namliyeh Foods and Design Architects, Aya, Daniya and Manal. We thought of Jabal El-Weibdeh as a big urban eco-village, which would motivate people to make it cleaner to have cheap tourism — not necessarily people tourism — and we aim for a social enterprise street so we can revive the other entrepreneurs and not only ourselves.”

He said he would like to transform the area into a green conducive space made out of five levels: roof, work/living space, service and market, office and workshop floor, and kitchen incubator and gardens floor.

“We thought of making a green building traditional and affordable because many startups need to be an affordable place, so I thought, why not include others — so it won’t just be our kitchen, it will be a community kitchen incubator, it’s part of the kitchen floor.

“We thought we need to present this in a creative way to the market, so we thought of the three-way eco-shop where we will market everything from food, textiles, to raw material; it doesn’t mean we’ll do everything, but it’s a walk-in experience to whoever comes into this demonstration building.

“We want them to see how the energies are linked like an eco-chip or a green chip because there are many legal challenges, institutional challenges, people challenges, we design the insides with flexible floors that work like a Rubix cube.

“If they change the law, we’ll change the colour of the Rubik’s cube. If the institution director changes and they no longer want to do something — ultimately, it’s a very interesting mix.

“So you have the land layer, then you have the building layer, and then you have the inside the building or the people who visit, then you have a digital layer, and then on top we have the charity — which where you could give in time, effort, kindness, not necessarily money.”

Bejli in his home-grown garden

Bejli also produces a number of organic food brands — aiming to work together with Jordanian locals and farmers.

“The product line we’re developing at the moment is a new way of relating so we have a product with the farmers,” he said.

“Then we have another one with the chefs, because most of the industry’s ingredients aren’t so healthy and then we have the Bejlian truffles — which is a very old recipe from Mesopotamia, because one-half of me is from there and the other half is British and the other half was born [in Jordan], so I have three halves.

“We brought the recipe back to life and we adapted it, so now we have flavours that are accepted in the Jordanian community, in America, Australian, it doesn’t matter.

“We just develop the flavours and use the raw dates as a natural fudge, so you don’t have to cook it.

“It’s raw and you mix it up and come up with very interesting flavours, but we can work in the shade of any recipe; go back to its origins, clean it up and come back out with food pairing.

“It’s interesting that it’s a growing industry, we just need enough people to stop doing commercial work or unhealthy work to join.”

Bejli creates products that encourage consumers to become producers at the same time

The number of consumers of organic and ‘green’ products is increasing worldwide — including in MENA. According to a research by Nielson, countries in Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and MENA were willing to pay more for food with health attributes — including a 35 percent for organic food within the MENA region.

Bejli said he wanted to create products that would encourage people as not only consumers but also prosumers.

“We call our clients prosumers because we believe they produce as well as consume,” he said.

“In the product of herbs, the inspiration is bringing the wild herbs of Jordan, mix them with your garden herbs, put hot water — instead importing herbs from God-knows-where or using tea bags that are commercial in the market — very powdery.

“This way, the prosumers feel empowered but actually he’s growing something and adding it, he’s not just a consumer which is what most organizations call them.

“Another line developed with prosumers are the date truffles, and then the one with farmers which are the herbs.

“The third one is with the industry which we call cooks because we like to bring them back to cooking.

“So cooks, farmers, and prosumers. Hopefully, there will be many many spin-offs because once you think and feel in this different way, everything changes.

“They start by looking at you as being different or odd or green or random, but then as they practice, you see that we can have better recipes, tastier products; we can have sovereignty for food.”

The business of going green

“They say the new billionaire is somebody who reaches billions of people for something healthy and good for them, not one who takes billions from people and become unhealthy.”

“I was influenced by the family business atmosphere — a very enterprising family in general.”

The green entrepreneur said he started the eco-business after being inspired by his family’s business.

“I was influenced by the family business atmosphere — a very enterprising family in general,” he said.

“In specific, my dad was into the industrial enterprise and I just transformed the industrial enterprise into an ecological enterprise.

“They made a lot of profit, they moved to more than one country but it wasn’t happy, fun, or colourful, so I began to come back to something more colourful and organic.

“We don’t make as much income in the beginning, but I’m sure we’ll catch up — not necessarily what stands as a very big financial success, but at least you’ll be socially success, you’ll be family success, you’ll be ecological success, you’ll be health success — so it’s like a new currency for success.”

Bejli saw success as something more than just money and aimed for a mentally successful outcome.

“They say the new billionaire is somebody who reaches billions of people for something healthy and good for them, not one who takes billions from people and become unhealthy,”

He said the start of a wellness-type product was inspired as well through his time after leaving the war in Iraq in 1990.

The Gulf war began in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which led to economic sanctions towards Iraq by the UN Security Council. Currently, Iraq is on high radars with the battle against ISIS in Mosul.

“It started by not being well after so many years of wars in Iraq and then moving to the UK.”

“It started by not being well after so many years of wars in Iraq and then moving to the UK,” he said.

“In the UK I met many other people from many other countries who had similar stories and we were all going through different healing sessions, coaching, and retraining; it became a new natural transformative about what’s today’s new taste, today’s new flavours — so it’s a gradual process.

“I don’t think you would come into such detailed combination of careers all of a sudden, you either trip or fall and you start questioning by doing billions of little steps.

“Now I hear the sounds better, now I see the colors better, now I taste better, because when I first started, all the noises and sounds when I left the Iraq war were very sad and when I started this process I can finally see colors, I can read directly from ecology, I can hear sounds, I can smell, but that wasn’t working so well.

“When you’re in a society that’s a bit traditional, you’re surrounded by people who think what you should do, but once you walk out into the wider ecology you find out that what they’re saying doesn’t make sense.”

Bejli said he wanted to spread this idea of wellness and eco-lifestyle in Jordan as a new way of viewing and living life within the community.

“Jordan I chose because Iraq at this time is very dangerous,” he said.

“I thought if I make it here, it will be more of an inspiring example for MENA, and in the UK, I thought I learned enough to bring back to the Middle East, so I thought Jordan would be a good place that’s peaceful and friendly and open to create these green enterprises and seed them all over.”

Despite the different challenges, Bejli aims to continue with his work

Aiming to encourage a different lifestyle, Bejli did state he constantly encountered different challenges.

“We have three challenges basically; the first is legal, a lot of the laws are out of the date, the second challenge is institutional, there’s a set of rules and there are status quos, and the third challenge is people’s expectations, because this type of work means you have to be outdoors, you have to be out-of-the-box, you have to jump then think.

“I think this was challenging not necessarily in Jordan, but everywhere because when it becomes risks, then results happen and when it’s safe, nothing happens.

“I think it’ll be similar everywhere in the world. I think the more people join though, the more risks they start taking and the more responsible they feel about things.

“For example, you need a national cleanliness law in Jordan to raise awareness, you need a national conscious driving law for example and we all face it on a daily basis, but you need to start somewhere.”

Is green the new black?

“I think it’s just emptying what you didn’t want and putting something new. You feel alive doing this, rather than just being passive and receiving what can’t be done.”

Bejli not only wanted to create organic products but also create healthier way of living and working

Bejli wanted to create local products that represented the country — as a country that was rich in its own bio-diverse resources.

“We have a few brands, we have a national brand — Irada — that empowers people to work from home, then we have a brand in the name of my wife — Rana — because she’s an artist, and then we have a brand that sounds like my name,” he said.

“I was actually climbing a mountain and eating the date truffles and I thought this is interesting because the Belgians are very famous for chocolate truffles and these are date truffles and by coincidence my name is Bejli, so I said this would be Bejlian date truffles.

“So there was no intention to link my name so I thought ‘ok, let’s call it and if the people don’t like it, let’s change it’ we do have a smiley globe though because everything is green about us, so we’ll probably keep that.

“Everything we do, we will share with the right collaborative partners though — even the recipe ingredients.”

The British Iraqi is trying to export mental wellness throughout the MENA region — whether peace or social change

The eco-guru said he would like to continue this process of eco-fulfilment around Jordan and the whole MENA region.

“At the moment the seed is in Jordan; we’re thinking very holistically in Jordan, but we are also thinking regionally because we love the idea of food sovereignty — whether you’re growing, cooking, or trading, rather than focus on the inherited challenges we have with wars and things like that,” he said.

“We are also thinking of expanding into the region helping other people, organizations, and governments to start more sustainable projects.

“Hopefully in exporting peace, social change, and ecology, not necessarily oil or whatever else we’re famous for.”

Bejli saw great progress in the ‘green scene’ within Jordan and the whole MENA, stating many initiatives that encourage environmentally-friendly living.

“The startup is very slow, but that is part of the national speed and we are trying to work ways around it,” he said.

“We also have so many new ideas that may take people some time to adjust but there’s a growing community and we started some WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups where people can publish…and at some point, it will be a wider movement.”

“[The eco-scene] is already happening, for example, in Lebanon, they have Souq Altayeb which is very organic and forward thinking; they bring people from all over Lebanon peacefully working on recipes, where they eventually become friends,” he added.

“Now Souq Altayeb is a network of field kitchens, farms, and markets so that’s a model just next door.

“In Egypt, you have; it started 40 years ago from somebody who did a lot of alternative healing in Austria, he went back and started farming in the Sahara’s –it took 10 years till it finally became sustainable and they started with organic food, clothes, and other organic things.

“I also know a friend who’s into enterprises in Iraq and when we met he got excited in green technology and now green and technology are married and he calls it Noah’s Ark, so that’s happening now in Baghdad.

“It’s very interesting times, it may not be so noticeable in mainstream media but there’s actually a spirit that will rise above all the mess and do something with empathy and do something sustainable.”

“If I listened to the first comment and stopped or if they were horrible and stopped, you wouldn’t get to these little square meals we have today.”

Bejli said he would like to see this movement impact Jordan and the Middle East in a positive way. Despite the many challenges faced within the region, Bejli aimed to create an impact from a health perspective — whether mentally or physically.

“The level of faith needs to be so elevated that whatever the people say, or write, or do, it doesn’t stop you from creating or offering your gift because you can easily lose your energy on repertoire moments and if you listen to a short-term perspective of how people think of you,” he said.

“You have to raise your energy — it’s what sportsmen do and yogi’s do — no matter what they feel or think, they will always deliver.

“When I first started the recipes, they didn’t taste nice at all because they were old recipes made today and when the recipes became good but it became hard too fast and now when it’s wrapped, it stays soft, so it has evolved within the last year incrementally in this way.

“If I listened to the first comment and stopped or if they were horrible and stopped, you wouldn’t get to these little square meals we have today.”

The green activist said he had no regrets about the path he had chosen and would like to leave an impactful legacy towards his community.

“I feel like you’re writing a living legacy because it’s like every day you’re creating a thought, a feeling, a writing; you’re investing it and it’s keeping you as part of the library.

“I wondered why we inherited so many troubles, but as I took hundreds of different healing and coaching sessions in the UK, I started to think ‘ok, let’s transform this into a daily diary’ and the diary moved on to plans, stories, and architectures.

“I think it’s just emptying what you didn’t want and putting something new. You feel alive doing this, rather than just being passive and receiving what can’t be done.”

Bejli’s story


Bejli Khedairi is an ecopreneur that has his own range of product lines — producing organic herbs and treats — as well as his project to create an eco-embassy — as a green space for entrepreneurs to collaborate — located in Amman in Jabal El-Weibdeh, Jordan. Most of Bejli’s products are produced on his own and he currently has two outlets in Mia Cara and Fan wu Shai in El-Weibdeh, Seed in Abdoun, and the Yanbut Farmer’s Market in Safeway, 7th Circle.

For more information and to show your support, check out his website and Facebook group.

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