This week we decided to have our lovely Mushmina blogger Tara, venture to Marrakech to peek behind the most amazing door we have ever seen,  that of  the Henna Art Cafe. The first of it’s kind, this cafe/artistic center/gallery is a must see when visiting the enchanting ‘Red City.’  Read on… and start planning your trip! xo Heather

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The Henna Art Café, Marrakech-Eat, Paint, Love

I quickly hop out of the way out of a rogue motorcycle whizzing by me in the winding cobblestoned alleyways of mystical Marrakech. The potholed, dusty path whimsically leads to the imaginative Henna Art Café. This vibrantly colorful venue is a lively, unequaled stomping ground that celebrates empowering artists as well as serving up divinely delicious traditional Moroccan cuisine with an unconventional flair.

As soon as I moved to magical Morocco in the summer of 2017, I heard about this exciting, innovative venue in the heart of the medieval walled city.

The popular café innovatively combines three of my favorite things-excellent food, gorgeous local art with an ingenious twist and compassionate mission that supports talented henna artists, one of main sources of Moroccan tourism.

The setting of the café is quirky and playful-Lori Gordon, founder and co-owner utilize every inch of the small space in the most creative and genius of ways. True to her artistry, even the tiny toilet space is quintessentially decorated. As Lori explains with a chuckle, ‘This way, people can’t complain too much about the small space. Distraction is key here.’  The walls of the toilet are a vivid collage of funky, fun art, meticulously painted by Lori herself. Ask her how long it took to paint the toilet!

Lori’s story is simple, she explains. An accomplished visual artist, writer, and champion of women’s autonomy, she found herself at a point in her life where she was stagnant. As she puts it, ‘I was 50 years old and I had never been overseas. I had accomplished many things as an artist for which I was incredibly proud but at that moment, I decided that I needed a turning point.’ She had an epiphany on a three-week vacation to Morocco and in her words, ‘I never looked back.’

Opening the café was a result of practicality. She needed an income. Lori decided to combine her love of art and scrumptious food as well as her ever-existing need to help others into a business and a non-profit helping local artists called El Fenn Maroc. She chose to focus on henna as it is such a symbol of Morocco and the creative strength, in particular, of Moroccan women. Because of the success of the café and gallery, the non-profit El Fenn is also able to support several other local non-profits.

Both the café and the non-profit work harmoniously with each other to create a perfect storm of good food, lovely art, and a sustainable environment for female artists.

As luck had it, she met her long-term co-owner and business partner, Rachid, on her first day in Marrakech and they have been working side by side ever since.

‘I think part of what makes it work so well is that either myself or Rachid are there at the café at all times.’ And it shows. The friendly staff, the brightly colored setting, the cozy rooftop area, clearly it’s a labor of love. And it works smashingly.

Who are the henna artists; the heart and soul of this tiny, thriving café?

Lori explains, ‘In Morocco, word of mouth is everything. We found our amazing artists this way; they’ve been with us from day one. Our first artist put us in touch with the second and so on. The momentum has never stopped from that moment.’

‘What sets us apart from other establishments in Morocco,’ she tells me, ‘as henna is a very common art form for tourists and locals alike, ‘is that other hotels and riads regularly offer henna as a secondary source. For us, it’s the focal point of our business.’

Lori and her artists spent much time testing creative means, not just using henna as decoration on the hands, as traditionally done. Instead, they offer something much more endurable in their stunning gallery: striking henna art on paper, wood and leather.

The café’s henna offerings have been such a hit that the non-profit, Actuality Media, made a short documentary, highlighting one of their talented artists; Nadia. The nine-minute film is called ‘Flowers of Marrakech’ and is a simple, beautiful take on a talented female artist in Morocco trying to support her family as a young single mother. (Scroll down to watch)

And Lori’s sense of humor always remains intact. When I tell her how much I enjoy the food at the café, she laughs heartily and says that it’s not because she is an expert chef, but because the café’s ever-changing menu reflects her own food cravings. This and a whole lot of trial and error in the kitchen. Most often her cravings are Mexican food in nature, she says with a mischievous smile. Which is fine by me!

And true to her word, no one, to my knowledge, has ever complained about the toilet.

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger.

www.mushmina.com

Photos by Inaki and Tara Fraiture

 

  

Silver Strands -The Metalsmith

(written February 2018)

The rain starts to plop with intensity as we make our way into the ancient medina of Meknes, North-Central Morocco. Heather and I are on our way to see Cherif, master metalsmith, faithful collaborator and dear friend of Mushmina for almost ten years.

We duck into a tiny café to grab lunch on the deserted main square before heading into the narrow cobble stoned paths of the old medina. Mostly, we are trying to warm up from the frigid cold that has enveloped the country and seems to be chasing us on our travels. The inside of the restaurant looks welcomingly warm but it turns out, perhaps just a half-degree cozier than the seemingly glacial outside. In fact, we can see our ice-cold breath puff out as we speak; not very comforting from inside a restaurant.

We decide the best thing to order is ‘harira’ a staple soup here. I liken it to a Moroccan minestrone soup-tomato based with chick peas, lentils, pasta, parsley, fresh herbs and a hint of Moroccan spices. It’s piping hot and perfect. We warm our faces over the steam and laugh at ourselves. As we eat, we watch the local tv station where just a hop, skip and a jump up the road, it’s snowing intensely and cars are skidding out of control on the ice. It’s the main news story.

Once our tummies are full and we are (somewhat warmed up), we brave the sideways rain and trek out into the medina to find Cherif’s itty-bitty workshop. Winding through little pathways and under crumbling archways, we hear a distant clanking sound. Heather tells me the story of how she and Katie discovered Cherif years before, thanks to this very sound. They had been wandering the medina, looking for inspiration and Katie had heard that distinctive noise. Katie, an experienced master metalsmith herself, recognized it right away and led Heather to the source and into the depths of the medina. This was the beginning of the professional collaboration between Cherif and the Mushmina sisters.

Cherif greets us with a beaming smile at the door of his workspace and welcomes us inside. Frankly, there is just enough room for the three of us, the room is so tiny. I am grateful, though; a small space will mean less cold!

Cherif speaks a bit of French but it’s easier for Heather to ask my questions in Darija and then translate for me. Cherif is so incredibly warm and charismatic, though, his energy and thoughtful heart radiates from him.

He tells me that he has been in the same workshop for 20 years. When I ask if he doesn’t mind telling us how much he pays in rent, he proudly says that he pays 100 dirhams per month, which is roughly about $10. He says that he can even pay six months rent at a time and the sum has never changed. Talk about rent control!

Cherif has been metalsmithing since he was 18 years old. He is now 66 years wise. When I asked how he came to discover his trade, he explains to us that he his father was a shoe cobbler and it just fit that he fell into metal crafting.

Cherif’s unique and flawless style of metalwork, called ‘Damascus’, is special to Meknes in Morocco. There are only five or so master metalsmiths who do this pristine type of silver on steel. Cherif explains to us, ‘100 years ago or so, a Syrian-Jewish metalsmith came to Meknes and he brought the Damascus metal style with him.’ He goes on, ‘I was drawn to its beauty and originality at a young age and this is all I have done since.’

When I ask him what inspires him, he responds, ‘I am motivated in the moment. Perhaps a shape or a pattern that I see that day on a walk or in the old medina, in a flowing tile or on a on a wooden door. Sometimes the moment just comes from within me.’

Heather and I watch him as he demonstrates his stunning, intricate work. He etches with deft ease into steel, entirely freehand, in order to create an intricate crossed groove, fires it up, then he delicately layers fine strands of imported sterling silver from France into the precisely bridged notches. He then uses his torch once again to imprint the silver threads permanently into the steel to gorgeous shapes and patterns. Cherif does this all with instinct and talent alone. And the results are spectacular. He creates eye-catching bangles, earrings, vases, jewelry boxes, and the custom tags seen on Mushmina bags. The lovely silver threads are subtly inscribed into the steel.

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Cherif’s latest masterpiece is a line of ‘Hand of Fatima’ pieces, symbolizing protection and strength, designed by Katie for Mushmina. They are beautifully engraved with Cherif’s signature silver strands onto dark metal steel.

Cherif is so focused, so talented, so meticulously trained in his craft that he talks earnestly to Heather while he is working. He doesn’t seem worried in the least that he has a massive blowtorch, a minuscule workshop, and my long hair dangling just a few inches from the flame. I am keenly aware, however; particularly when he turns his head to chat with Heather and continues to fire up his piece. I am chuckling, though, as I am incredibly impressed with his obvious expertise and finesse.

When it is time for us to leave we feel a bit warmer, perhaps from the blowtorch, we joke afterwards. Cherif is gracious and kind as we depart. I am, once again, hearted by his simple tale and his gorgeous craft. I can see why Heather and Katie have worked with this talented artist and softhearted man for so many years. And I feel fortunate to be the lucky one in sharing his story.

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

www.mushmina.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Evolution of the Mushmina Hobo –From Couch To Camel

Mushmina Spring 2018 (9)

Flashback to almost 10 years ago and the beating heart of Mushmina was just beginning to flourish. Heather and Katie knew they had something special; the custom Mushmina Hobo handbag; the essence of their unique small business. This was Katie’s epiphany-why not take gorgeous, striking fabrics inspired by Moroccan tiles and upholstery and turn the textiles into stunning, vibrant bags? Who says you can’t turn a couch into a stunning bag!?! No one had ever done it before. And the classic Mushmina Hobo was born.

Although the soul of this rockin’ bag stays the same; the ingenious idea behind the creation and the Mushmina mindful mission is still firmly in place today.  But this innovative product has evolved with time, changing with Katie and Heather’s whimsical, playful imagination. As the sisters have grown, adapted, matured and thrived, so too, have their Hobo bags. But the heart of this bag, as is the heart of Mushmina, is fiercely everlasting.

So what’s the story here?

Mohammedia is a town where you if blink on the auto-route, you might miss it. Not exactly a stop on the tourist circuit for international travelers here in Morocco.

Nestled, however, in the midst of this working class town, is a cozy enclave of buildings. At the focal point of these bustling structures is Mehdi’s textile factory; the producers of Mushmina’s signature fabrics. The creative process, however, is one that began many years before.

In the dawning years of Mushmina, Heather and Katie would source imaginative, vibrant fabrics from all over Morocco for their distinctive handbags. Drawing inspiration from traditional and vividly colorful upholstery (typical in Moroccan homes), the sisters would search in hundreds of shops in Casablanca, Khouribga, and beyond for the quintessential 3-4 textiles per collection. The quality lining of the handbags required the same endless trips to fabric shops. It was exhausting and incredibly time-consuming.

As Mushmina grew and expanded, so did its clientele, and after a few years, requests started coming in for larger quantities of fabrics from wholesalers. Great for business, bad for tired feet! It was becoming impossible to continue trekking into textile stores (no matter how much they loved it!).

Lo and behold, the sisters were introduced to this small, custom textile factory in sleepy Mohammedia, north of Casablanca. It was, a perfect match, one could say. Katie had brilliantly envisioned and designed (by hand) their first pattern…a Camel Repeat. Heather chuckles heartily and explains, ‘Any other wholesale factory would have laughed at the idea; putting camels on upholstery!’ But it was perfectly, quirky, heart-felt Mushmina, with a touch of Morocco.

And yes, Mehdi laughed. But in the best of ways. In fact, Mehdi and his loyal team immediately meshed flawlessly with the Mushmina sisters. Mehdi himself, having a great appreciation for hip, quirky new styles and global trends, heads his squad of loyal staff: Mostafa, talented designer, imports the Mushmina creation after it has been intricately worked on by Mehdi’s design team in Marrakech. Then Mostafa attentively places the design into a special textile program that relays it to the looms. Rachida and Malika, technician assistants, are the eagle eyes, so to speak, to be sure that the looms are working at their optimum. A small but fiercely clever and accomplished team.

Walking into the building, you feel the energy and purr of the machines at once. The jacquard looms are gargantuan, hypnotically pushing out gorgeous custom fabric. Katie will often stand meticulously at the looms and play with the color options as Malika, trusted staff, aids her to deftly switch out the threads. Shades of vibrant colors, shiny or matte, large prints or tiny ones, the Mushmina sisters have done it all. It’s a fine dance to find perfection.

So where does Katie find her revelation? The ingenious process is typically galvanized in Morocco; energized by stunningly diverse landscapes, vivid mosaic tiles, intricate wrought iron detailing, electrifying upholstery and of course, fabulous carpets of every look and fiber. Occasionally, she finds illumination in the simplest of places…on Heather’s sunny rooftop or late at night in the colorful, funky Mushmina studio. Katie incredibly still hand-draws all of the handbag patterns to this day.

Heather and Katie have, in the past, created everything from whimsical Beni fabrics (inspired by the bold, linear designs of the famous Beni Ourain carpets), to light-hearted camel prints with cheerful backgrounds. The Beni fabrics were such a popular, classic pattern that the sisters are bringing them back this fall. Stay tuned for this upbeat collection. Always inspired, continually evolving, forever fierce and fashion forward. The sisters even did a 1970’s-inspired hot pink print called ‘Wildflowers’. Playful, occasionally mischievous, true Mushmina.

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Mushmina has proudly collaborated with QVC USA, inspirited by striking Moroccan vistas, blooming pomegranate farms, vibrantly fragrant jasmine flowers and the ceaseless Mediterranean Sea, which borders much of this incredible land.

One often says here that Morocco is a never-ending land of awakenings, complete with endless possibilities for inspiration. Our signature Mushmina Hobos have emerged, over the years, as a symbol of the resourceful, spirited vision of this small business. And spunky camel patterns to boot.

Our latest fabulously charming collection will air on QVC Germany this Friday April 20th @3pm EDT. The sisters are thrilled with this line. The custom textile available in four bold colors, is called ‘The Gardenia’, and is already a hit with pre-sales. Keep an eye out for more details.

Mushmina Spring 2018 (2)

What would you like to see u do next? Have a cool, unique fabric idea? Email katie@mushmina.com

 

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger (among other things!)

www.mushmina.com

 

Images from Mushmina’s 2018 Spring Photoshoot, @Kasbah Tamadot
Model Ghizlane Safsaf  /Photographer Ingrid Pullar

 

 

Spirited Wanderers

March 21, 2018

This month in honor of ‘International Women’s Month’ the Mushmina blog brings you the story of Aurelia Tazi, the woman who walked 372 miles to the Sahara Desert with her three daughters. We are inspired by the amazing journey of this determined mama. Read on…

Spirited Wanderers

Aurelia Tazi’s free spirit radiates from her as we meander into, of all places, a Starbucks in the city of Casablanca for our interview. My daughter, Zoë, 11-years-old, and my keen assistant, spots her immediately. ‘Mumma, she looks just like she does in the movie!’ Zoë exclaims excitedly. And she does. I think I am just as eager as my daughter.

I see Aurélia’s dazzling red shoes first. She is dressed like a gorgeous, brightly colored bohemian flower; long flowing dreadlocks are the finishing touch. Her warm smile, though, reaching all the way to her friendly eyes, is what greets us.

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My collaborator is timid at first. I brought Zoë with me, though, for a purpose. Aurélia’s three fiercely independent daughters Yoko, Maya and Lila, ages eight, six and four, are as much the heart of this story as she is. And therefore, I need a child’s perspective. My girl, Z, is a gifted writer and dreamer herself. I am happy to let her do the interviewing. She jumps at the chance to drive to Casa with me.

So who is this wonderful, quirky family and what is their story?

Aurélia is a non-conformist French native who has lived in Marrakech since marrying an equally unconventional Moroccan, Sadek in 2004. The couple owns a plant nursery where their precocious girls run free and life is perfectly whimsical.

This trailblazing woman did something astonishing-she decided to walk from Marrakech through the rugged High Atlas Mountains of Morocco to the Western Sahara Desert and the famed Dunes of Lihoudi. With her three young girls and their trusty dog, Loulou. And a cheeky mule named Gypsy. Alone. Filming their documentary, ‘Wild Mama’ (translated from French and subtitled in English) along the way.

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600 kilometers or 372 miles. Two months of intense, harsh conditions and incredibly rural, precipitous countryside. Days of not seeing anything but the great blue sky, innumerable puffy white clouds and beyond. Approximately 60 days of pastoral scenes and uncommonly gracious, kind people in distant villages along the way.

Why embark on this epic trek?

Humanity and tenacity. As Aurélia explains to me over a cozy coffee and cheesecake, ‘There is compassion everywhere you look in our world. In the most remote of Berber villages, these lovely people who have the least will give the most. We were welcomed into these homes and immediately treated like family. It was important for me that my girls see kindness in the littlest of things.’ She continues earnestly, ‘I was determined to show my girls that they are strong. I wanted them to see that they can do whatever in life they want, if they have conviction and self-confidence. They wanted to come on this journey with me.’

She goes on, ‘Just look at what they have done here on this walk. If they can do this, they can accomplish anything!’

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I feel honored to be there, listening to Aurélia’s story. With my own daughter. For Mushmina, this is what we seek-real stories of regular people doing extraordinary things in this incredible country. It is part of our mission this year, to share these stories with you.

Back to Zoë’s first professional interview. Within five minutes, my bold, pioneer girl is chatting and giggling with Aurélia’s equally individualistic daughters. They immediately connect. I wonder, fascinated at their quick bond. And I swiftly connect with the lovely Aurélia. It’s easy as she is so incredibly affable and open.

Zoë has meticulously prepared her questions on the day of our big interview and she even has a recording device with her. This is the real thing for her. I am thrilled to give my girl the chance to feel empowered.

She discovers that Lila, Aurélia’s oldest daughter, is the most comfortable answering questions. Lila talks enthusiastically about working together with her sisters on their adventure and her delight in seeing the wide, open mountain range as she fearlessly trekked on their journey.

Zoë immediately asks Maya about her love of their lush garden at home in Marrakech; which Maya, wise beyond her lovely six years, misses terribly. Maya is shy at first, but Zoë soon puts her at ease. Soon, Maya is laughing and giggling and cautiously telling her story.

Lastly, wee Yoko, just four years old at the time, is a free thinker like her Maman. Yoko clearly provided the humor on this incredible expedition, and Zoë is able to pull that joy out of her during our interview.

I realize, though, as I begin to chat with Aurélia, that I have placed her on an unobtainable pedestal. Before I had heard of her riveting story, I decided that she must be the perfect person. The ideal mother. I mean, what woman in their right mind decides to walk alone across a rugged mountain range with three young girls?!? I have three girls. Let’s just say, I would never….I might just duck and roll gleefully off the side of mountain on the first day. On purpose. To get away from my kids yelling at each other.

Then, I have an epiphany as I am watching this gorgeously honest, raw documentary. Aurélia is just as flawed as you and I. She is not the perfect mother and this is what makes her beautiful. There are moments when her children scream and yell in frustration on camera and Aurélia is clearly overwhelmed. It shows a vulnerability and humanness that brings tears to my eyes. I am oddly relieved watching her struggle with her girls; it makes me feel less alone in my trials with my own daughters.

Zoë and I traveled to Casablanca to interview a fierce, groundbreaking family about their amazing odyssey. We walked away from that intimate conversation with some lifelong friends. Along with a whole lot of inspiration from a captivatingly tenacious mother and her three irresistibly bold daughters.

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

Want to watch her documentary? We do too! Follow Aurelia on her website, www.aureliatazi.com for news about the public release.

 

 

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This week as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we honor the brave and talented women of the world. Today we would like to give a shout out to Mushmina blogger and copywriter, Tara Fraiture whose birthday happens to be on International Women’s Day, March 8th. Tara tells the story of her days as a young Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon, how she organized a bike race on the sand with Fulani ladies, and why she loves telling stories about ’empowering her tribe, women.’ Read on….

 

Sands of Cameroon-Grains of My Heart

I was a 23-year-old, wide-eyed Peace Corps Volunteer in remote Far North Cameroon, Central Africa. Close to Lake Chad, villagers survived on dried fish and millet grains; this was the endless sandy drifts of the Sub-Saharan African desert where even coveted cooking gas was in short supply. Locals cooked over open fires outside and inhabitants lived in basic, mud-brick structures. This was my home for two years.

My parents jokingly told me after the end of my Peace Corps service that they hadn’t expected me to last two weeks. I might have actually agreed with them; I even surprised myself. Living with no running water, a dubious pit latrine that worked in addition as an even more questionable outdoor shower + frequent electricity outages was, let’s just say, rough.

 

 

I learned quickly to wash my long, thick hair (a small victory) with just a small bucket of well water; I became a seasoned expert at the ‘bucket bath’. I didn’t have much to eat besides stale bread, egg salad sandwiches and I’d stock up on Nigerian pasta-a real treat was sautéed tomatoes, green peppers and onions. Powdered milk was a must for my instant coffee and millet beer was a hush-hush moonshine secret, served in huts just outside of the village outskirts.

The seemingly ceaseless dry season was stiflingly hot and humid and the rainy season hit like a smack in the face and the bumpy, pot-hole ridden roads were easily washed out. This would leave a relatively easy (albeit harrowing) drive on a desolate dirt passage to a several hour, harrowing trek. The roads would become rushing rivers. There is nothing, I recall, to this day, like an African rainstorm. It comes down like a herd of trampling of elephants; no mercy, no relief.

Yet through all of these severe circumstances, I thrived. This tiny, isolated, strictly Muslim village, Bogo, welcomed me like a long-lost sister and daughter. These historically nomadic Fulani people of the far north province became my support, my friends, my dear family.

The relationships that I developed and fostered; those were the real lessons of the Peace Corps. They are the memories that remain with me today, over 20 years later. These friendships, the bonding; realizing that there wasn’t much difference between myself and a young Muslim village woman from this itty-bitty village in far-flung Cameroon, three days travel from the capital of Yaoundé.

 

My best friend and colleague, Leila and I-we came from different worlds, literally across the globe from one another. But really, we were alike. We had the same cheeky sense of humor. Perhaps even the same raucous laugh. The same gift of gab. The same hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families. For our futures. We were, deep down, sisters.

The mud-brick ‘house’ where I lived was in a compound that was cared for by an elderly couple; Asta and Nouhou. Asta was nearly blind and Nouhou hobbled around with a makeshift cane fashioned from the sturdy branch of a baobab tree.

 

I immediately became like a granddaughter to them. I would spend my evening hours sitting, laughing, talking, and chatting with the pair. No use at all speaking French in Bogo; particularly with the women and children. I did all of my work in the local Fulani language. Asta and Nouhou became my teachers. The villagers, neighbors, vendors, were all my teachers. The children who came to my house daily became my teachers.

It was those human connections that became the ones that mattered the most. These are the memories that still resonate today.

International Women’s Day happens to be on my birthday, March 8th. The first year I was in Bogo, I organized a bike race for the local women. On the sand. Because why not?!? Traditional Fulani women, gracefully tall and elegant, dressed in brightly colored ‘pagne’ or African wraps, on bikes. It was the best moment ever. Many of these women had never been on a bike before. We laughed till we cried. It was such a wonderful day.

Since then, working with women’s groups and co-ops has been something that I inevitably gravitate towards. After all, women and children are often marginalized in developing countries. And I have lived in many developing countries. I therefore feel a pull towards writing about empowering my tribe, women.

I want to tell the stories of women; those who are most often not heard. I can be their voice. I share these stories with my three daughters. I feel grateful to work for Mushmina; a company so dedicated to working with women’s groups and so focused on empowering women that this often becomes the focal point. The story is just as important as the product. And luckily, the products are beautiful. But the women who make our products are really the heart of who we are. And for me, this is what I envisioned for myself, years ago as a young woman in Central Africa. Those heart connections.

-By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

www.mushmina.com

 

 

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Halima’s house in Bejaad is modest and tiny; we gingerly walk up the narrow staircase into her small living room and on into her workspace where she has carefully cleared out an area for our visit.

As we make our way up the stone stairs into her humble abode, her lively children run up and down the stairs around us. The street below is busy and bustling with little ones playing, neighbors chatting, and curious by-standers gazing at us, wondering whom we were.

Halima is a master weaver in rural Bejaad, Central Morocco. She is the head contact for a small but mighty group of female weavers in this quiet town; known for its beautiful, unique rugs. For female weavers here and all over Morocco, these carpets symbolize a tiny slice of independence.

Just as importantly, though, Halima is Mushmina co-founder Heather O’Neill’s loyal friend. Their friendship has evolved from Heather’s starting days in Morocco as a galvanized, determined Peace Corps Volunteer almost 15 years ago. She has also been Heather’s most trusted rug weaver and much-needed informal ‘consultant’ ever since.

 

Halima, whose infectious smile lights up a room and whose eyes twinkle with clever humor and intelligence, is an example of the strength and inspiration of the small but Herculean business of the Mushmina sisters, Heather and Katie.

Halima’s calm temperament and warmth radiates from her when she hugs me and welcomes us into her home.

Halima has not had it easy, however. As a woman, mother and wife in a tiny traditional Moroccan working-class town, it is often seen as taboo for a woman to be earning a salary. Finding a balance is difficult. Maintaining a busy home, where most women still wash laundry by hand and toil in front of teensy gas stoves for hours, as well as caring for her three young children, takes up most of her time.

Halima’s work ethic is unmatchable; her energy and vigor are unstoppable; her motivation is ceaseless. She has something inside her that is different-she takes initiative with her trade. She wants more for herself. She demands better for her children.

Halima’s heartwarming story is a fascinating one. An incredible woman who never had the opportunity to go to school as an uncle suddenly passed away and she was sent to care for the family, Halima speaks no French; typical of most rural Moroccan people. Luckily for me, Heather flawlessly translates Halima’s heartfelt story for us from Darija, the local language.

And then there is her actual physical weaving. Halima, like most Moroccan weavers (most are female, as it’s an ideal trade handed down from mother to daughter), has the family loom in her cramped kitchen. The lighting is dim and the elements can be brutal; summers are stifling hot and winters are brutally frigid. Heating and cooling systems are unthinkably too expensive.

Luckily, Halima is still young and her eyes and hands haven’t failed her. But she weaves at night after her incredibly long work hours at home are finished. Inevitably, the day will come. Her mother sadly had to give up weaving because it was too hard on her vision.

Weavers depend on their knowing hands for their work; these are their tools. Halima’s hands are her lifeline; soft and calloused from years of physical toiling at her basic wooden loom. Her loom, a simple wooden structure with two beaten-up, rudimentary cans placed precariously on either side as well as a spoon tied right in the middle for balance, is the heart of her income.

The ancestral wooden looms on which these women weave, amazingly, have not changed over the years. Although electrical looms exist, they are not used as a result of cost and maintenance.

 

While we talk and work and she shows us her gorgeous weaving, her children periodically come in and out of the room, asking questions, scrambling all over her. She handles them like a pro; not skipping a beat in continuing our work and caring for them.

We watch her as she weaves rhythmically, mesmorized.

Halima’s talent is quite magical. As Moroccan weavers do, their trade is innately in them-she doesn’t use any conventional tools. Halima uses her hands and her arms to measure the rugs. The rest, is almost divination-all of the stunning symbols that make the Bejaddi rugs so famous throughout Morocco and beyond, come from within Halima. Her patterns are so exact, so perfect, such excellent quality, one might think that they are factory-produced. This is a real, pure, raw gift.

Astonishingly, weavers work with their textiles facing outward from the loom; the women have to essentially do everything backwards. It is intricate, difficult work. When I ask Halima where she finds her inspiration, she tells me that her revelations come to her in various ways. It can be as simple as the outline of a grain. Or the peaks of the majestic Atlas Mountains. Nature and agricultural motifs are often woven into Moroccan textiles. Each region has its own trademark patterns.

 

We got a sneak peak of creative director, Katie working closely with Halima on designs that will later be sewn into Mushmina’s trademark handbags.

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As the afternoon wanes and the evening appears out of nowhere, we stop our work for a tea. The pocket-sized room, all of a sudden, is cold. We fill ourselves with minty, heavily sweetened Moroccan tea, cakes and toasty flat bread. And when our bellies are satisfied and our hearts are warmed, we hit the road. Feeling grateful to have been enlightened by this incredible woman. And to have shared a little bit of her world.

-By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

www.mushmina.com

 

 

 

 

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Ahmed Ghezawe journeyed three long hours from rural Bejaad, Central Morocco to his destination of Rabat. His goal was the second annual rug exposition of Morocco; a massive white tent, held in the capital, with hundreds of stands, vendors, visitors, and of course, rugs as far as the eye could see.

It is, though, so much more than rugs. These textiles have a story. Each piece is carefully made by a strong woman. Often, under difficult conditions-tiny spaces, no electricity, frigid rooms in the cold winter, sweltering spaces in the heat of the summer. But still, these hearty weavers persist. Their calloused fingers and hands work tirelessly and rhythmically in motion, day after day, week after week, month after month.

In this gargantuan Bedouin-style tent, rows and rows of rugs-wool, cotton, silk, chenille. Colossal rugs and miniature ones. Gorgeous wool shags and tightly-knit kilims. Naturally-dyed throws and brightly colored patterned carpets.

The mecca of Moroccan rugs; all the way from Chefchaouen in heavily-Spanish influenced northern Morocco down to Marrakech and beyond into the High Atlas region of the south. Distinctly different, vibrant rugs from this incredibly unique country. The people of Morocco reflect this diversity. And their art; these rugs represent this fascinating range of singularity in its people.

Along with Ahmed on this trek came Zohra, one of the committed weavers of ‘Association Beni Zemmour’; a women’s co-op of talented rug makers aptly named after the famous rug-weaving region around the holy town of Bejaad.

The dedicated pair brought with them a van filled with carefully hand-woven rugs. And hearts brimming with hope. Their main goal was to find influential contacts with whom they could find networking opportunities. If they could possibly sell some of their beautiful rugs at the same time, it would be an added bonus.

Most of the stands at the rug expo were women’s co-ops; a rare opportunity for women to showcase their group work and trade in a typically traditional country where it is often seen as taboo for women to work. It is a unique chance for women to work towards a sliver of independence and empowerment.

For Ahmed in his role as mentor to these female weavers, his journey started many years before and is forever linked to ours at Mushmina. Ahmed was Heather O’Neill’s counterpart (or professional mentor and government-assigned aid) years before when Heather was a Peace Corps Volunteer….in Bejaad, Morocco.

Heather describes Ahmed back then, “He started from scratch with the women’s rug-weaving co-op. But he had a vision from the start. He was committed and hard-working. But most of all, he believed in the women and their ability to grow professionally. It’s not often that one finds a male leader like this in Morocco.”

She continues, “I was so fortunate to be mentored by Ahmed. He was an incredible teacher to me. But what he has done with the co-op is so much more than me. He has taken it from a room with no electricity to a large showroom, where visitors come and see the women working. He facilitates professional training sessions. He supports these women’s families by helping their sons receive certification courses in electricity and plumbing classes. These are young people who would not normally have the opportunity to learn a trade.”

This partnership between Heather and Ahmed was recognizably meant to be. A professional collaboration that has lasted for years and is based on respect, a vision for the future, and the hopes of others.

When I had the good fortune to meet Ahmed, it was very clear that both he and Zohra care deeply about Heather. Ironically, I barely speak Darija (the local language in Bejaad) and Ahmed’s French is quite basic. (Zohra speaks no French at all.) So we reverted to animated hand gestures, quite a bit of smiling, and much laughter. I find, funny enough, that these are the most heart-felt interviews.

It is quite rare, to be honest, to find a Moroccan man so incredibly invested in the professional growth of rural Moroccan women and their trade. Ahmed is a trailblazer himself; breaking down barriers of traditional cultural norms.

Ahmed kept touching his heart when he talked about Heather. He described working with her with such fondness that it was as if he were describing his own daughter. He told me how devoted Heather was to her job. How she would go into every house and get to know every neighbor and every woman with whom she worked. She was special, he explained to me. These relationships took time.

Relationships and family are incredibly essential to Moroccans. And perfectly apropos, Ahmed showed up at the rug exposition with his 5-year old grandson, Yahya. Moroccans are so deeply connected to their families. It didn’t seem at all odd that the entire time I was sitting with Ahmed and Zohra, Yahya was running circles around us; clambering joyfully all over his grandfather. Ahmed wasn’t bothered at all. Work and family. So closely connected.

BeniZammourStand

It’s superbly fitting that in explaining his work to me, Ahmed wrapped up our chat with this gem, “The association is made up of seven women. Six ladies. And then me.” And then he laughed. A long, hearty, self-depricating chuckle. Zohra giggled as I burst out laughing.

I left the rug expo, a few more rugs in tow, satisfied and happy. And now as I gaze upon these brightly colored pieces of art proudly laid on my tile floors, I know a little more of their story. And the women who carefully created them. And I am determined to know more.

 

-By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

 

 

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3 Things That Feed My Soul

January 21, 2018

It has been a while since I posted a ‘Super Soul Sunday’ blog post, this Sunday I’m feeling inspired. This month I have been making a conscious effort to listen to positive messages, to reconnect with what really feeds my soul, and to carve out personal time to connect to ‘spirit.’

Today I’d like to share 3 things that feed my soul.

1. Positive Conversations. Did you know that Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday conversations with the world’s top thought leaders are now available on podcast?! Download these Super Soul Sunday podcasts for free to your smartphones. Podcasts are a game changer for me because some days I spend hours in the car driving across Morocco’s landscape to meet with Mushmina artisans. These half hour conversations are thought provoking and uplifting and help set the tone for my day.  I also love Hay House podcasts. Every spring Hay House broadcasts a ‘World Summit,’ hour long conversations with spiritual leaders. Highly recommend!

2. Spending time in nature. I take a walk everyday if I can to feel the sun on my face. Richard Diebenkorn, the American painter’s California landscapes remind me of Morocco. Maybe that is why I always liked his work even before I came to North Africa. The bright Moroccan sun and vegetation are similar to a California landscape. Something is calling me to paint again this year, another way I feed my soul!

3. Connecting with my tribe. My tribe is my sister, my mother, my girlfriends in the US and abroad who have become like family to me. I love hearing what exciting things they are up to, Women’s March posters they have made together,  stories and struggles and triumphs we share.

Do something that feeds your soul today.  Happy Sunday!

xo Heather

Mushmina,Co Founder

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In the vast, rugged mountains overlooking the sleepy, blue-washed walls of Chefchaouen, northern Morocco, Berber men and women weave labors of love in the strands of rustic cotton textiles called ‘mandils’. Rich hues, created by broad, calloused hands from years of hard physical toiling.

These fabrics are produced from natural dyes and carefully woven on traditional horizontal wooden looms. The material is then transformed into rustic striped cotton pieces; matching the ivory clouds and the fierce sun in their pure tones.

Women’s weaving groups are scattered throughout the haunting mountains of this region; loosely-organized co-ops where women make a small profit to support their families with these sustainable pieces that can be used as blankets, throws or towels. But for the locals, they are much more than a decorative piece.

The history of this striking red and white fabric is as fascinating as the women who wear them-the hearty women of the Rif region of Northern Morocco have worn these ‘mandils’ as aprons for centuries. The reason is deeply rooted in a utilitarian sense; the fabrics are used for practicality-they are deeply warm in the cool, mountain air and can easily be thrown over other clothes for extra insulation.

And why the red and white stripes? The answer is, like the history of Chaouen itself, a bit of a mystery. One theory is that the stripes have just evolved as a natural way to add interest with a simple pattern.

Another speculation is that the Rif region, once Spanish in its possession, has much to do with the presence of the bold pattern.

Color is clearly an essential part of Chaouen’s rich history. Chefchaouen, which translates to ‘see the two mountain peaks’ in Darija, was founded in the 15th century and initially populated by Jews and Moriscos fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.

Many stories have circulated over time as to why Chaouen is so utterly blue. Some say that European immigrant Jews chose to paint the tiny town sapphire upon fleeing Hitler’s Nazi regime. Some insist it’s a natural protection against mosquitos. And some even claim that Chaouen is blue as part of its etheral and spiritual aura. In any case, the haven of Chaouen is famous for its gorgeous blue hue; throwing peaceful shades of vibrant azure throughout its charming, winding passageways.

Chaouen has still managed, over the years, to keep much of its pastoral, tranquil appeal. It’s one of those places where you feel you might have just stepped back a few hundred years. In fact, time seems to slow down in Chaouen. Locals still seem to follow sunrise and sunset as their faithful guide. After all, the community around Chaouen is still vastly a farming one. The Rif Mountain range is enormous, spreading from Tangiers all the way south and east to Tetouan and Chaouen.

Tara's 3 girls peering over the city

The women of the Rif mountain region have adapted to a rugged, rural terrain for centuries. They need clothing that is sturdy, robust and lasts over time. The thick, softly woven cotton of the mandil is ideal for these hard-working locals.

Most female weavers learn their trade from birth; carefully watching their mothers, aunts, sisters and grandmothers patiently labor on their looms, their worn, creviced hands working tirelessly day in, day out. Weaving, sewing, embroidering is in their blood; it flows through them like the blue paint that is stirred in the vivid colors of the old medina doors.

One such women’s group is high above the tiny village of Dardara, 10 km from Chaouen, about a 35-minute bumpy drive down the mountain and into the larger town. The co-op doesn’t even have a name; it is just a small building with no water or electricity and a group of very active female weavers.

Typically, one mandil takes a full day for a woman to weave on a basic wooden loom. The supplies cost about 10 dirhams ($1). The mandil then sells on the local market yielding a few dollars profit, a substantial amount for the weaver.

The telltale traditional red and white colors of the mandils vary depending on the communities of women who wear them throughout the enormous rural region. They are really the identification keys of each community.

In recent years, these distinct materials have caught the eye of vendors and tourists alike.

Other colors, as a result, have been introduced as an entrepreneurial spirit has taken over and merchants have started requesting additional patterns and colors. However, the true originals are deep red and white. One can still see this if you catch a glimpse of a local woman washing clothes or selling vegetables in the surrounding villages. The indigo shades of Chaouen are now visible in the blues and whites of the mandils as well.

The practicality of these fabrics have two benefits for locals-the men and women weavers of the region will always need the mandils for their physical labor as well as protection from the harsh elements. In an enterprising sense, there will also likely continue to be a demand for this unique product to tourists visiting the region.

The story of the mandil is a success story in Morocco for of women creating an income for themselves and seeking an independence that they would not normally be able to find in such a traditional region. These women’s weaving co-ops create a unique means for women to have a small income in a bucolic area, where they would not normally have had the possibility to go to school to learn a trade or profession. This gives them a chance at success; no matter how small it might seem.

These shades of Chaouen-the rusty red of a brilliant sunset from the peaceful rooftop terraces, the pristine white of the puffy broccoli-shaped clouds above the tremendous mountain peaks, the dreamy blue of the dusty medieval doors of the old town. Paramount to the region and etched forever in the hearty cottons of the mandils.

 

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

Mushmina, mindful fashion and home.

www.mushmina.com

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving. Eid Shokur, as they call it in Morocco, ‘the holiday of thanks’ comes down to two things for me, love and food. Gathering those you love to give thanks over a meal of all your favorite foods. The sweet smell of pies baking, warm cider brewing, and family and friends pouring in. It doesn’t get much better than that.

First as a Peace Corps Volunteer and then as artisan production manager for Mushmina, I have lived abroad for a total of 9+ years. Some of those years were spent flying back to New Jersey to be with family for Thanksgiving weekend. A small(ish) gathering at our parent’s home on the bay, followed by dessert with our (VERY) large Irish family hosted by an unsuspecting cousin who has a house (or bar) big enough to host us all.

Two kids later (and a whole lot of frequent flier miles) a new tradition is forming. The last few years my family has spent Thanksgiving in Morocco with other American families living abroad. So what does an ex-Pat Thanksgiving look like? New faces, new accents, and new variations on all our favorite holiday foods… of course we hunt down a turkey, pumpkin soup, and if we are lucky (imported Spanish) cranberry sauce! Did I say cranberry sauce?!

We are a mix of people of whom might be put in the slightly crazy category of having jumped ship and moved to foreign lands.

This soulful Sunday we bring you, The Giving Meal, by our lovely blogger, Tara Fraiture, an American Ex-Pat living in Morocco. Did you know Tara was also a Peace Corps volunteer? Are you surprised? 😉

Read on…..

xo Heather

The Giving Meal

Thanksgiving is all about family, love and thanks. When I was a child, my British-born mother would cook up a frenzied storm for days in preparation for this beloved American holiday. The gorgeous smell of a Thanksgiving meal to this day, brings me back to my happy youth.  My New-York born father, a foreign student counselor and Western Civilization professor, would invite students from all over the world to join us. These were undergraduates of all religions, ethnicities and socio-economic groups coming to our modest house; young people who could not travel home for the holidays to be with their own families.

These were also people who were not familiar with American Thanksgiving. It was a real treat. And the best part was the sharing. Everyone would bring a dish from his or her home country; our antique dining room table would be teetering in dishes, bowls and platters, filled with delectable delights. Of course, my Mum offered the traditional homemade Thanksgiving indulgences with a Californian twist-barbequed turkey (still the best I have ever had), fresh cranberry sauce, pumpkin chiffon pie, buttermilk biscuits, Mum’s special recipe of sausage stuffing, homemade mulled wine and much more. My sister, father and I were given some menial tasks like juicing oranges for the mulled wine or cranberry sauce, but really, I think it was just to stop us from helping ourselves to the treats a little too early. But everyone did lend a hand. We then would stuff ourselves silly.

But still, the sharing part was the best. Chatting, laughing, telling stories until late into the evening. My Dad was the best story-teller. He still is, at almost 90 years old. He has a way with words and a gift for making people feel welcome. Even if my father he doesn’t speak the language, he manages to communicate, particularly with humor. And my Mum does what most mothers do to get to people’s hearts-she cooks. Her comfort-food casseroles and fluffy sweet potato biscuits make their way into your soul.

My parents always opened their house to others, particularly those far from home, on Thanksgiving Day. We lived in a small house when I was growing up, but we always welcomed others for the holidays. This simple idea of caring for those far from home was embedded in them and it carried over to my sister and I. It’s what I remember most as a child-my parent’s giving hearts.

One of the earliest memories of my childhood was in the rural Kenyan bush; miles and miles of savannah, practically another world from the capital of Nairobi, with my parents and sister. My parents met and married in East Africa. It was a swelteringly sweaty day and I recall red clay dust was puffing up around our hearty old four-wheel drive as we bumped along the unpaved, potholed road. Suddenly, we were flagged down by a staggering pair, hobbling along the path. The woman, we could tell, was clearly deathly ill. Even I, young as I was, had feeling of impending doom for her. Malaria, they said. I vividly remember seeing the flies circle around her face and smelling the pungent odor coming from her body. I was hesitant and afraid. The woman was terribly weak; she didn’t even open her eyes. My parents carefully shuffled her in the car and we barreled off to the nearest health clinic. Which was, of course, miles away. We never found out if the woman survived. It’s likely she died, she was so ill. But my parents, they never even blinked. They just acted. They always reacted with their hearts first. And they still do.

I’d like to think I am teaching my three daughters this same sense of selflessness as they grow up overseas. We always tell them that it feels so much better to give than receive. Thanksgiving is, and always will be, my favorite holiday because of its message of gratitude and reflection. We typically celebrate by inviting a handful of international friends over who have never celebrated Thanksgiving. Some have never even heard of the holiday before. Everyone brings a scrumptious dish to share from their native country. I furiously cook up a storm for several days before. My girls help. The kitchen is abuzz with activity and sublime smells. Sound familiar? The dining room table resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa with its massive stash of delightful dishes from all over the globe. We even have my favorite; a teeter-tottering dessert table. Because Thanksgiving just is not Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie and homemade ginger-whipped cream.

Yet once again, the sharing takes center stage. We occasionally have an impromptu acting out of the Thanksgiving story by the kids. Someone inevitably puts on a goofy turkey hat with massive wings on the side. There is always a ton of laughter. Kids flying by, playing, yelling, singing. Music from all over the world resonates throughout the house. And afterwards, late into the evening, everyone pitches in to clean up. Every year, I am grateful for my little family; for my children and for my husband-even if they drive me a wee bit batty, for my life and health and opportunities that we have. And I want to share this with others.

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina guest blogger

 

 

 

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