Morocco is buzzing with festive, colorful Ramadan preparation; the Islamic holiday that follows the lunar pattern and begins today. For my family and I whom arrived last summer to Rabat, it’s our first Ramadan in Morocco, and we are sharing the excitement and flurry of our adopted home.

This past Sunday as my girls, my husband Sacha and I drove to a family outing through the bustling downtown streets of Rabat, we came upon the most strikingly beautiful mural on the side of an unassuming, crumbling apartment complex. I had been meaning to photograph this particular fascinating fresco for a couple weeks as part of a recent uniquely popular international annual street art festival in Rabat called Jidar, Toiles Des Rues, or Roofs of the Roads. I was drawn to this specific mural with her message of female empowerment and spirit!

LadyMural

Mural by Peruvian artist, Decertor

 

As we slowly pulled up to the gargantuan wall painting, I caught my breath. She did not disappoint. I was mesmerized. And sitting underneath this gorgeous collage of vibrant color was a gaggle of men ranging in ages from early 20’s to mid 60’s. All joyfully eating juicy slices of fresh watermelon, chatting, talking, laughing with each other. I greeted them cheerfully in my broken Darija and immediately, their reaction was one of warmth and inclusion. Without missing a beat, they handed me a piece of the fruit. I gladly accepted. It’s watermelon season here in Morocco!

Soon after, my middle daughter curiously popped out of the car and was immediately gifted a tasty segment of sweet watermelon. And then my third daughter appeared. My husband patiently parked the car and he joined the fun along with my oldest girl. We all stood there, laughing, conversing in Darija, Arabic and French, and relishing the moment. All thanks to a mural and some watermelon.

Reflecting on that spontaneous incident afterwards with our girls in the car, my youngest daughter, only eight, pointed out that Moroccans are ‘so friendly and they love watermelon as much as I do.’ And that’s just the point. Moroccans are some of the friendliest people in the world. And they will immediately share, no matter how little they have. This is the simple beauty of the Ramadan season.

Ramadan is intended to be a time set aside for self-reflection; particularly gratitude for all that one has in life. It is also an occasion to give back to those who are less fortunate. For Moroccans and Muslims around the world, Ramadan is about family, love and peace. And for my family, it will always be about a slice of watermelon and an extraordinary painting in the simplest of settings. Ramadan Kareem!

 

 

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

 

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

 

 

*any ad content below this is not related to Mushmina

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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Mushmina Khamas and Tea

Why do we fear what we don’t understand?

I am an American living in Morocco.  People ask me all the time if I feel safe living in the Middle East, in a country and culture far from my own. My husband is Muslim and so is 99% of the population in Morocco. I first came to North Africa 12 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer with the mission of promoting better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served and also better understanding of other people on the part of Americans. I cannot tell you how much this experience changed my life and how grateful I am that I had the education of living in another culture. It is humbling, eye opening, and yes I feel safe. I never met a Moroccan who wouldn’t stop what they were doing to welcome a foreigner with a pot of tea.

At Mushmina, one of our goals is to create positive purpose by sustaining the beautiful traditions of cultures. Developing relationships with the artisans that we work with and with our customers promotes understanding between cultures. It is the way we promote peace in the world.

Last night  as I meditated with Deepak Chopra on healing the division between ‘us and them,’ I couldn’t help but think of the state of the world this week. Katie and I did not want to let this important subject go unaddressed. Our hearts go out to Beirut , Paris, Syria, and all individuals living in war torn countries.

It has been our experience that sometimes people generalize a group based on the actions of a small minority that painfully misrepresents so many individuals.  It’s not a race or a religion that is evil, it is individuals who have lost their purpose and have been misguided.

This is why we feel so strongly about education, empowerment, and creating opportunity in the world.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving

*Please note, any content below this including WordPress ads are not related to Mushmina.

 

 

 

 

It’s been 100 years since Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national celebration! We wanted to wish all the wonderful mothers out there a wonderful day!

“Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary–it’s an act of infinite optimism.” —Gilda Radner

A recap of a week dedicated to moms @ Mushmina…. enjoy this glorious Sunday!

xo Heather + Katie

Habiba

Habiba and her son

Kenza at work (7)

Kenza and Khowla

Khadiga and family

Khadiga and little Hiba

Zhora and her son Youseff (7)

Zohra and Youseff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our mom and grandmom, Nanny. We love you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exciting News! Mushmina has won a FedEx Small Business Grant. The funds will allow co-founders Heather and Katie O’Neill to complete the restoration of a 1974 Volkswagen (VW) Westfalia camper bus into a traveling Moroccan Caravan to showcase their line of handmade, fair trade accessories on the road across the U S.

The competition for the 2014 FedEx Small Business Grants was fierce with thousands of companies in the running. Mushmina’s many loyal fans and customers who cast their votes on Facebook, helped to propel them to finalists. One fan even admitted to trying to vote twice. He didn’t succeed but his enthusiasm and that of all the fans was infectious and appreciated. All the work and sharing paid off. On March 25th Heather and Katie found out they had won a first place grant of $5,000 to help expand their message of the benefits of fair trade products with new customers in the U.S. and abroad.

Katie and Heather know they could not have accomplished their goal of winning a grant without the support of their customers. Sharing traditional rural artisan crafts with the world is one of their passions and when Mushmina’s products connect people across cultures it’s incredibly rewarding. When the traveling boutique gets rolling in summer 2014, they expect to meet and connect with many new customers like the ones that made it possible to win a FedEx Small Business Grant and all their customers whose purchases economically empower rural artisans.

VW Westfalia Camper

VW Westfalia Camper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heather and Katie with Spring 2014 Handmade Bag Collection

Heather & Katie with fabric handbags at their Casablanca Studio, photo by Ingrid Pullar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– By Yvonne King

Naema El Hami is all ‘qlbi’ or heart. Her story is a familiar one in Morocco where women of her generation were not sent to school because families did not see the value of an education for their daughters. Naema only attended school until the second grade when she was a mere 8-years old.

The unstoppable 52-year old mother of three is a local who was born and raised in Oued Zem, home to the Flying Camel Training Center and a city in Khouribga Province situated southwest of the Moroccan capital of Rabat. A true ‘Ouedzemiya,’ Naema learned to weave from her mom who spun her magic on a traditional wood loom known as a ‘minsij.’ She continued her training at the local ‘neddy’ a Moroccan training center where she learned embroidery, sewing, Rhonda traditional stitching, point de croix and hand stitching. She picked up additional skills from neighbors and friends ‘swiya b swiya’–‘little by little.’

Flying Camel Workshop Manager Kenza introduced her neighbor Naema to Mushmina as she has with many of the other artisans. When she first started with Mushmina in 2010, Naema hand-stitched scarves and wallets. A skilled and ambitious weaver, she worked on the embroidered pillow order for retailer Anthropologie in 2012.

Naema, a practical woman, realizes that her craft is also the means to earn ‘Floose!!’ (Money), she says as she laughs and a better way of life for her family. She can pay for things herself now and does not have to ask her husband for money for things that she needs. This year she plans to open her own bank account—another step toward financial independence.

A loving mother, Naema wants to see her two sons Amine 28, and Nabil 26 and her daughter Wafaa 19 succeed and be happy. Despite the fact that her two sons have diplomas as welders, they remain unemployed and this weighs on Naema. She encourages her two sons to apply each year for the American immigration lottery and uses money she earns for them to pay for the application and necessary Internet use. After all, she wants to be a grandmother and her sons can’t start a proper family until they are employed. Naema also dreams of building a beautiful house to enjoy in her later years where her grandchildren can visit and she can sip mint tea as the sun sets.

-From the series A Window to Morocco by Heather O’Neill and Yvonne King

Naema (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naema (3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naema (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workshop Oued Zem (2)

 

Drive Mushmina to go Mobile and WIN a $25,000 FedEx Small Business Grant to Take Their Moroccan Traveling Boutique on the Road!

In 2009, two sisters with a dream, Katie and Heather O’Neill launched fashion label Mushmina to produce handmade, fair trade accessories crafted by artisans in Morocco. Their Philadelphia based retail store and online site Mushmina.com, economically empowers people by distributing and selling unique handbags, jewelry and scarves designed by Mushmina and made by rural artisans in Morocco.

Now, Katie and Heather are ready to expand their dream and hope to win a $25,000 FedEx Small Business Grant to take their business on the road and provide more employment opportunities. The sisters have purchased a 1974 Volkswagon (VW) Westfalia camper bus and are restoring it in order to create a traveling boutique that will go across the United States selling their signature colorful, handmade accessories and other fair trade brands they love to a new generation of customers and in the process educate them about the importance of fair trade goods.

The purpose of the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is to help small businesses like Mushmina, with less than 100 employees, grow and continue to provide employment and drive the economy. FedEx recognizes that small businesses are crucial to the success of bigger companies such as FedEx and the grant contest is a means for the company to provide vital financial support that will help these small companies succeed.

Mushmina customers and fans can also play an important role in economically empowering artisans and driving the global economy by voting for Mushmina to win the 2014 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. You can vote once a day up until 11:59pm on Sunday, February 23. Make a difference!

Vote Here: http://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/Gallery/Detail/5a743df9-c1aa-4c07-b483-79f77a8c4d0e

VW transformation

Mushmina Flying Camel Team-Morocco

Mushmina Philadelphia (6)

What Moroccans have taught me above all else is to laugh, to dance, and to give.

Exciting things this week! A  meeting to officiate the cooperative….complete with a 3 course meal, surprise guests, and street drummers. To be continued…..

Today I am grateful.

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American Express launched Small Business Saturday on November 27, 2010 the Saturday after Thanksgiving as an initiative to support small businesses across the country. The program took off and during its first year received 1.2 million likes on Facebook in one month. Since then, Small Business Saturday has become a Thanksgiving shopping tradition and a retail success reflected in the estimated $5.5 billion spent by consumers in 2012.

Small_Biz_Sat_Digital_Banner

Mushmina started in 2009, only a year before Small Business Saturday was founded. The fashion company’s mission is to not only employ and empower women in North Africa but to distribute and sell on a global level the beautiful and impeccably crafted accessories made by artisans in rural Morocco. Mushmina is truly a small business with many of the women who create the custom handmade goods working from home. In 2011, Mushmina opened a shop in Philadelphia and in 2012 they established an online store.

Mushmina remains true to its roots as a small business focused on growing by creating opportunities for women in developing countries and making one of a kind, must-have products for fashion conscious customers worldwide.

The goal of Mushmina is to do good while inspiring every one of its customers to be beautiful and expressive. So come shop small with Mushmina on Saturday, November 30 and embrace authentic fashion that gives back to the global community.

Cleo Walnut Necklace Mushmina_Card


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to shop:
Mushmina Flagship Store
1540 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Tel: 215-732-5500

http://www.mushmina.com/

Grand Central Holiday Fair – NYC Grand Central Terminal, Vanderbilt Hall. 42nd Street and Park Avenue

By Yvonne King

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