Friday, December 21, 2012

Women's Cooperatives

While in Morocco, we saw lots of Women's Cooperative businesses. Although citizens do enjoy a good quality of life, there doesn't seem to be any provision for the assistance of folks who are on the fringes of self-sufficiency, such as disabled or widowed people.
Most of the people on our tour were women and everyone seemed to really want to support these cooperatives. While bargaining for the best prices is part of the fun of shopping in Morocco, nobody bargained too forcefully at the ladies co-ops.
Call me suspicious, but when we went to a place where Berber rugs are made, I got a little suspicious of the Women's Cooperative schtick. See, the men did all the talking. The men did all the bargaining. The men had all the contact with people. Meanwhile, the ladies were sitting in the corner, behind a loom, unsmiling. (See her behind the loom?)
Frankly, I wasn't even expecting to SEE a man in the women's co-op; I'm sure they don't work there for free. Besides, if I were a Muslim selling goods to westerners, I think that "Women's Cooperative" would be a perfect marketing term . . .

Monday, December 10, 2012

Medinas in Morocco

In a number of cities, the oldest part of town is a walled fortification called a medina. Medinas have narrow, twisting “roads” which were designed to confuse and slow invaders. You can’t help but get lost in a medina; it’s part of the charm. This is an overview of the medina in the city of Fes. This medina, from the 9th Century, was my favorite part of the trip.
Most of the medinas have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Despite the tourists, preservation societies, and media coverage, life in the medinas is much like it was a thousand years ago.
You never know what you will see in a medina. Here, a man carries his “groceries” through the streets.
A medina resident takes his bread to the community oven for baking.
Musicians in the medina.

A square within the medina.
Some medina streets are jammed with people. Others are nearly deserted.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Moroccan Culture

Well, Sarge & I are back from Morocco. I think I was in awe the entire time.
Seven of the ten days in Morocco were part of a tour, for which we had a local guide. Mohamed is from a remote mountain village in the Middle Atlas Mountains. He is divorced, a dedicated father and a practicing Muslim. Despite his interaction with people from around the globe, his life is still a simple, rural mountain life; he washes his clothes in the river and is in great physical condition (despite his claim that “I want to be fat”). Mohamed’s assistance was invaluable, but the best part was having someone to question about cultural differences. Here are some that stood out for me:
Blondes – The men in Morocco were fascinated by blondes, regardless of their level of attractiveness. Blonde women ARE attractive, period. Mohamed elaborated further when I asked him if Moroccan women resented blonde women because of this. He said that it wasn’t a reflection of how attractive the men think Moroccan women are; they just want something different. He also readily admitted that most Moroccan men don’t want to marry a blonde; they just want to “be with her.” He shared his translation of a Berber saying which states that if you eat couscous and more couscous and more couscous, eventually you will get bored with couscous.
AIDS – I asked Mohamed if AIDS was a problem in Northern Africa. He replied that, “In my village, they don’t really believe in that.” As we talked more, I realized that this was a literal statement; they don’t believe that AIDS exists. They think it’s a big sham. It also became clear that Mohamed shared this view. He said he had never seen evidence of AIDS; nobody in his village (which is small and remote) had ever tested positive, so it must not exist.
Wedding rituals - Mohamed relayed that it’s important in his culture to marry a virgin the first time you marry. After the first wedding, it doesn’t matter, but the first wedding should be to a virgin. He told about the tradition in which the new couple show a cloth stained with the bride’s virginal blood to the family, the wedding guests, and the community. To everyone, in other worlds. He also said, “When there is no blood, there is problem.” It seems, though, that it’s just the tradition that is important, not necessarily the virginity. As Mohamed said, “But, if you have nice husband, you can kill a chicken.”
US Congress - Mohamed was talking about President Obama, for whom we heard endless praise in Morocco. He said that it seemed that Obama hadn't been able to solve our country's problems. I explained a little about our two-party system and the Congressional gridlock it has created and how this limits a President's ability to implement plans. Mohamed immediately determined a reason: "That's because your Congress is all Jews."