April 15 – The next morning, we invite the women from the cooperative to come meet us at the hotel for breakfast and we conduct interviews with them. They are sitting on a couch in the lobby after breakfast filming their interviews when I walk over. I notice they are currently filming, and I try to jump onto the rug nearby since my sneakers are making a disruptive squeaking noise against the floor. I flip over and fall completely on my back, the thud of my fall making a much louder sound than the squeaking shoes. I look up to see Brian and Hayat in fits of laughter, with the interview completely derailed. Three days later in Marrakesh, they are still making fun of me for this incident.
Back in the lobby, we compose ourselves and continue the interviews. Rachida, sitting next to Hayat, listens as Hayat (the president and only English speaking member of the cooperative) tells the story of how Rachida’s house burned down a few months ago, completely ruining the rugs she had made and destroying the loom she used to create new rugs. Essentially, she lost her livelihood in that fire. She can’t work now, and on top of that, her husband is divorcing her.Rachida starts to cry. Rebecca puts her hand on Rachida’s. I look next to me, and Erin has tears streaming down her face. Of course, I well up. Sadness and heartbreak – just one more thing that transcends languages and cultures. Later that night at dinner, we discuss doing a fundraiser for Rachida to help her get a new loom to replace the one she lost in the fire.
The rest of the day is spent on the bus, driving to Marrakesh for the craft fair. Our new friends, Hayat and Fatime, who will be representing their cooperative at the fair, join us as we pile onto the minibus. We load not only our luggage, but the product they plan to sell at the fair – the rugs, bags, and pillowcases. We drive past the beautiful mountains, again passing herds of sheep and goats along the way. We drive through a rainstorm, and Kate and I start humming Toto’s Africa. After the rainstorm, an enormous rainbow stretches across the sky, touching down on the flat land on each side.I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full rainbow like that before, with the entire upside down “U” shape from beginning to end.I press my face against the window until it fades.
April 14th – We wake up and Rebecca leads us in a brief yoga practice in the lobby of our beautiful Riad. We enjoy a breakfast of homemade yogurt, fruit and croissants. We leave the Riad and proceed to the famous tanneries, where they cut and dye leather. We visit the shop where Nest’s leather bags are made, and Rebecca speaks to the men for a long time about making some changes to the design based on the sample they had provided her with. The leather bags are paired with patterns from our rug weaving cooperative in Midelt, and we’re trying to figure out a way to adjust the design to make it more appealing to a U.S. market.
We walk outside to the roof of the shop that overlooks the tanneries. In one area, they are washing the leather; in another they are cutting the skins. In one central area, there are large vats full of colorful dyes. You have to hold a mint leaf to your nose to mask the smell, since the dye is created using pigeon stool. After observing this wonderful scene for awhile, I go back into the shop and again bring out my stellar bargaining skills to purchase a beautiful orange pair of shoes.
The drive to Midelt is breathtaking, with views of mountains, fields and wildflowers everywhere. We stop the van to let some sheep cross, and the herder picks up a baby sheep and gives it to our driver. Joya is at the front of the bus in an instant, and takes the baby sheep in her arms. Kate holds it too, since she’s also a lover of sheep. Have you heard about her Yurt project? We give the sheep back to the herder (the mama sheep is not too pleased) and continue our journey.
Once in Midelt, we park on a narrow street and are ushered through a door, greeted by a number of traditional looking Muslim women with head coverings, long skirts and some with long grey tattoos down the middle of their faces. I’m told this tattoo is an ancient Berber symbol for marriage. They kiss us twice on each cheek and we enter the home. We sit around three large tables and are served chicken, bread, cous cous, carrots, fruit and an abundance of it. After dinner, we see the women bring out a few brightly colored handheld drums. The music, dancing and singing begins, and this Jewish white girl finds herself in the home of traditional Muslim women, dancing with her friends and family the way she does with her roommates back in NYC.
And this is why I do what I do. The rest of the evening was unforgettable. We visited the cooperative that Hayat founded and where the other women work alongside her. At some point, I mention to Hayat that I want to try to get her cooperative into rug trade magazines back in the U.S. I hope I can actually do this. We return to her friend’s house, where the women are still dancing and singing, and one woman gives us henna tattoos. They serve us tea and dessert.
At some point in between a woman teaching me how to do their shrieking technique and playing with another’s little girl, I realize why I spend so much of my free time doing things for Nest, why I spent so much of my savings to come to Morocco and meet these women. As I relay these thoughts back to the group at the hotel, I know we’ve all come to the same conclusion – we are part of something phenomenal. Rebecca sheds a few tears as she talks about the women we met today. Most of them are unmarried or divorced, mostly because, according to Hayat, the men don’t work as hard. Clearly to these women, hard work is a huge value. I think about how this relates to my own life and what I’ve seen in America. I suppose the laziness of the male species transcends cultures. Though it does seem that our American Peace Corps volunteers certainly break this mold. But I digress. Rebecca is overcome with emotion because she is so happy we made a difference in the lives of the women we just met. She’s thrilled that there are 14 women around her that share her passion and have just connected on a deep personal level with the women they’ve been helping from their hometowns back in the U.S. by throwing parties and fundraisers. This is a whole other level from admiring the pretty jewelry we buy from the website and sell at our NYC events. She tells the story about how Hayat was able to go to a rug fair in Germany earlier this year, probably the first time someone from her village has ever left Morocco, to show her cooperative’s rugs to an international market. She is able, despite cultural and religious constraints, to be an independent business woman in her village. And Nest has a big role in that, all stemming from our little parties and fundraisers and the pretty things we sell back in the U.S.