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!

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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

 

In honor of May Day, ‘International Workers Day’ Mushmina is pleased to share with you the story of an amazing training center dedicated to the employment and empowerment of women. Read on for Tara’s interview with the American born founder who created a beacon of hope for disadvantaged women in Marrakech.

xo Heather

Sister Center- Soul of Marrakech

My oldest daughter, Mia and I pull up in our battered, sputtering taxi to the The Amal Women’s Training Center and I feel an immediate calm come over me-the Center is a tiny oasis of peace and sisterhood in the heart of the charming pandemonium of Marrakech.

I had heard of Nora Fitzgerald Belahcen and the Amal Center and I was immediately drawn to its story of training underprivileged women to cook and find work in the restaurant industry. The center is truly an institution of change and inspiration.

What better way to reach people’s hearts than with delicious Moroccan-European fusion food? From heavenly tagines to tempting tartes aux fruits, everything is home-made daily with the freshest of ingredients and lovingly prepared with heart.

Nora tells her profound story to us over the most divine fresh juice smoothies. Perfect on a hot spring day in southern Morocco.

Her parents moved to Morocco from California in the 70’s and Nora grew up in a mix of Moroccan and American cultures. Her roots are now permanently in Morocco.

Moving back to Morocco and down to Marrakech after her studies in the States with her husband and two small children, Nora started to wonder about the street women who begged on the roads daily, many with babies and small children-who were they? What were their stories? And how did they get to this place of such despair? As she went on to explain to us, ‘Beggars have become such a part of our landscape. They are sadly normalized and we have become indifferent to their suffering. I see it, though, as the opened wounds of society.’

Nora then met a young woman, Amina * who was 28 years old, the exact same age as she was at the time. A young street mother of two. It was at that moment that Nora had an epiphany. ‘I decided that I needed to know her story. There is such a cynicism and mistrust towards beggars in our world.’

Nora went to see where the young woman slept with her children and was stunned. As she speaks to me, her voice cracks with emotion, ‘We have created a world where we can buy a juice for 30 dh (about $3) and we don’t even drink it all and we leave the rest. Yet there are people out there who sleep on cardboard boxes, who don’t have shoes, whose children go to sleep hungry for lack of that 30 dh. This can’t be.’

However, after living a life on the streets, it is often a challenge to adapt to a different lifestyle. And change was just not possible for Amina without motivation from Amina herself, as well as proper training. As Nora puts it, ‘I’m not a social worker. I was not equipped to help at this level. I hadn’t really made a sustainable difference in Amina’s life. I had used compassion, but I really needed to use my intellect in a smarter way.’

Nora realized that she wanted to help women who displayed a continued, authentic desire to better their lives and she needed to find a trade that would allow them to enter the work force and find success. She explains, ‘Very quickly, it became clear that these women were agents of their own lives and the leaders of their empowerment journey.’

She began with a tiny, yet genius pilot project. Baking American-style sweets at the school where her husband taught. She then chose two women who demonstrated both a will to better their situation and genuine need. Nora then taught them basic recipes such as cheesecake, cupcakes and brownies. Nora explains, ‘Keep in mind that these women were illiterate. But they took the recipes, tried them one time, and they were so, so good. It was like they were born to bake and be entrepreneurs. It was magical.’

The project was an instant hit and soon the women were earning 1,200 dh/month each, which is about $130. Nothing for some but an absolute fortune for these women.

This was the tiny seed that eventually flourished into the Amal Women’s Training Center, which opened in April of 2013. Amal, meaning ‘hope’ in Arabic, is a place of promise for hundreds of women who would not normally have a chance. These women represent the force of going against the grain of an embedded stereotype.

The center targets women with two essential traits: self-motivation and vulnerability. Widows, divorcées, single mothers, orphans, and women below the poverty level, ages 18-35 years.

The goal of the center is for its graduates to enter into the formal economy with an official work contract. To provide stability and sustainability. The Amal team has created a large network of employers in the restaurant business in Marrakech. It is a win-win for everyone involved.

Nora had hoped she could help a few women when she first created her vision. Little did she know that today, the center has graduated over 170 trained chefs and utilizes 25 full-time employees in the restaurant and catering service. Now that’s sisterhood.

There is so much joy here; the center is bursting with the thriving force of this strong tribe of women. Nora finds herself truly humbled by the women’s strength and determination, and hopes that the Center will continue to open doors through the love and comfort of scrumptious food.

* Amina’s name has been changed to protect her privacy

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

 

The Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant in Marrakech is open from 12-4 pm daily for lunch, dinner with a reservation, and also offers cooking and baking classes. yum!

Amal Gueliz
Rue Allal Ben Ahmed et Rue Ibn Sina
Gueliz, Marrakech, Morocco

http://amalnonprofit.org/

 

 

 

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.

Beni Black

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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Loubna’s Smile

November 21, 2017

Here in Morocco, unsung heroes are everywhere. Those who make it their life-long mission to give back to those less fortunate. In honor of  Thanksgiving happening this week in the US, our team at Mushmina would like to tell the story of ‘Association Hadaf’, in the capital city of Rabat during this month of giving and gratitude. This unique organization has a touching, personal story and a massive heart.

20 years ago, Mrs. Amina Msefer, opened the Association Hadaf, which translates to ‘goal’ or ‘objective’ in Arabic, after years of unsuccessfully seeking a feasible post-school option for her daughter, Loubna. Loubna was born with disabilities. Amina, like so many other parents of disabled young adults, found herself in a heart-wrenching position: there was no place for her daughter to go as an adult.

Even before adulthood, Moroccan law requires schools to accept handicapped children but in reality, schools in the kingdom cannot realistically adapt to the needs of these children. The cost is too much. There is also a social stigma that is slow to change. And most certainly an unknowing; perhaps even an ignorance of what it means to be disabled.

If a disabled child in Morocco is lucky enough to have a family who has the financial means to send him or her to school, there is still the enormous looming question mark of what to do after that education has finished. At the time of Loubna’s youth, there was nothing for families like Amina’s with a disabled young adult.

When Amina was pregnant with Loubna, she was diagnosed with toxoplasmosis; an infection that is extremely dangerous for a fetus. Amina’s daughter was born with several physical and mental disabilities as a result; the most severe being epilepsy. Specialists told the mother of three children that her infant daughter would not walk, talk and that she would be blind by adolescence. Her life expectancy was dire. But Amina did not give up on hope for Loubna. Instead, she persisted. And Loubna’s family rallied around her. At that moment, the young mother had a genius revelation. She decided that she would counter Loubna’s degenerative disability and already weak vision by teaching her to focus on her other senses, as her eyes were quickly growing useless.

By the time Loubna reached 20 years, she was legally blind. But thanks to her mother’s wise groundwork, Loubna was prepared. She reads braille. She has an incredible sense of touch. In fact, she is now trained in massage and has clients with whom she works at the center. Her family considers this a victory, not a failure. In Amina’s words, “Our family feels that we have won. Louba is thriving. She beat all of the medical odds. She has the least strength of all of us physically and medically, but in the end, she has proven to be the most powerful.”  Loubna speaks French and Arabic and some Spanish, she has a prodigy’s memory in mental calculation, she plays the piano and is talented in IT skills. Loubna is also very social; she is the heart and soul of the center, and she is a “real sweetheart”, as her mother puts it.

Ironically, Amina feels that Loubna gives her the strength and inspiration to fight for her daughter and other families in their position.

Amina has also found comfort in many other parents and families in the same situation; those with disabled children. These people have become her allies, her support, her colleagues, her friends. Eventually, they would collaborate to open an innovative learning and development center for young adults with disabilities; with Amina at the realm. Each family is inspired by their unique child. And each child just wants validation and acceptance into society.

After many years of thought, preparation, research and hard work, Amina and her team of parent volunteers opened the Association Hadaf on October 3, 1997 in accordance with the Moroccan League for the Protection of Children. Her work-space was about the size of a large closet-about 12 square meters. But she persevered. The center was tiny. Amina had a dream and a passion and a fire within her. She wanted other young adults; not just Loubna, to have a place where they could learn and thrive after leaving school. A place where they were safe; a setting where they were affirmed and cherished. An environment where they could learn and feel respected.

In 2005, the center moved to a much larger building in the neighborhood of Hay Nahda, Rabat. It is so much more than just a learning institution. The center is a shining light of empathy and tolerance. It is a place where grins are infectious and the validation of learning a trade is taken very seriously.

Association Hadaf runs on donations. It is a well-oiled machine, thanks to the dedication of Amina and her board of trustees. She is the foundation, so to speak, of the structure, but humbly, she would tell you that the students are the ones who make it function. It’s true. And the staff, specially-trained and certified, aren’t just employees. They care for but they care about these young people. This is clear as soon as you walk through the doors. There is a vibrance and cheer to the air; it is obvious that everyone wants to be there. It is a mission for everyone.

The students, who come from home between 8 am and 5 pm, are admitted to the center from age 16.5 years until the age of 24 years old. There is a rigorous application process because places are limited. Realistically, Amina tells me that they have students who are even 40 years old. Because where else would they go? Once they come to the center, they aren’t going to leave. And the association certainly would never kick them out. Maybe a handful can go out and get a job with their training in a bakery or a garden (with supervision), but most of them, 95 total, will stay. They are home.

The center teaches them formal training of cooking, gardening, sewing + embroidery, baking, woodworking, jewelry-making, and other trades. There is even a flourishing garden where students tend to fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant kitchen. And these kids are focused. When I observed their workshops, there wasn’t a peep in the room. Dedicated teachers meticulously train their students step-by-step, minute-by-minute, for hours on end. The results are impressive. Association Hadaf has a fully-functional, high-end restaurant where one can go for a lovely lunch. The setting is quaint and the food is delicious. The center also has a boutique where the student’s wares are sold. Fundraising exhibitions are also occasionally held, as the center constantly needs financial support.

Association Hadaf (3)

Amina pauses when I ask her what her biggest challenges are.  She is thoughtful. “Respect outside of the center,” she says. She goes on to explain, “These young people yearn for acceptance in normal everyday life. Walking outside, going to the store, being with others. They want to be just like you. That’s our biggest hurdle. Showing the rest of the world that they deserve the same rights, just as everyone does.”

In the broad smiles of these students, you will find happiness. It radiates from them. Their beaming expressions are infectious. And those who visit the center find that in leaving, they too, want the right of respect and compassion for these young individuals. Ideally, the hope of Thanksgiving is alive and well here in Morocco. Appearances and judgments are left behind and tolerance and compassion are what remains. And gorgeous smiles from ear to ear.

This is why is Thanksgiving is so close to our hearts. There is no religion on Thanksgiving Day. There is no class or economic status. There is no rank or importance or hierarchy. Every American celebrates Thanksgiving. Any global citizen can enjoy Thanksgiving as well. It’s a moment for people to take a step back and to be grateful for everything; even the little things. It’s also a time for sharing kindness and humanity with those who need it most.

 

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina guest blogger

BioPicMushmina

Tara Fraiture, a dual British-American, had great intentions of being a professional Belgian fries taste tester in her young adulthood. When these dreams were tragically dashed (an unfortunate mayonnaise injury), she resorted to her second talent and passion of freelance writing. A former French and Spanish teacher, Tara keeps herself busy by talking to herself and dancing around the house (awesomely, I might add), when she isn’t writing or chasing kids.  She recently considered opening a Mexican take-out food truck, but she kept eating all of the guacamole + chips. Business would have been a bust. Tara recently moved to beautiful Rabat, Morocco, with her three daughters, husband, and orange cat. Caramel, aka Mr. Fuzz, doesn’t care for his resemblance to our 45th president. He is considering changing his hair color. As you might have guessed, humor is part of Tara’s mantra; in life and in her writing. As she puts it, “Writing is cheaper than therapy.” A wee bit of laughter and a touch of poignancy. The Fraiture’s have lived all over the world and liken themselves to global nomads-calling Egypt, Senegal, El Salvador and Qatar their home. Tara enjoys writing most about stories with heart, people who change the world, and women who implement change. She can’t wait to begin her Moroccan adventure with Mushmina.

 

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