I have left the USA, and am writing this entry from 35,000 feet in the air on my way to Cairo, Egypt. I spent the past 5 days in Marrakech, Morocco and used my time there to mentally prepare myself for my trip, and the experiences ahead of me. I would be lying if I said they were an easy five days. I had moments of pure excitement where I felt nothing could stop me, and moments when I found myself on chaotic streets of Marrakech thinking, “What am I doing here?” and missing the tranquility of the Insight Office. When I explain the Fellowship to people I meet, they all react with the same enthusiasm about how exciting it must be to have such a unique experience, and each time I am humbled and reinvigorated about my year as the Insight Fellow.
In addition to beautiful tile work and captivating architecture, I was excited to see the women’s cooperatives that make argan oil in Morocco. My first experience in a cooperative was actually rather stressful, and not as empowering as I’d hoped it would be. The cooperative was tucked away in an alleyway within the busy souks (shopping markets) of Marrakech, three women were sitting on the floor peeling and then grinding the argan nut. A man came up to me and started speaking very quickly about how this was a woman’s cooperative, and “yes, yes, buying the oil helps the women immensely, tourists come from all over the world to buy oil here. Take a picture of them. Do you want a picture? Take one.” He lead me upstairs and into a sales room where just the two of us stood surrounded by walls of argan products – cosmetic oil, cooking oil, moisturizer, soaps. Before I knew it I was out the door with three bottles of argan oil, and I didn’t have a single interaction with any the women in the cooperative. On my way out, in a single breath the man said, “thank you your purchase will help the cooperative please come back.”
My second interaction with a women’s cooperative took place in the Atlas Mountains, and it made a lot more sense. I was greeted by a woman in a lab coat who asked us if I was interested in hearing about the argan oil process. She took me and the other visitors over to the women grinding the nuts. While they were doing the same thing as the women in the souks of Marrakech, they seemed much happier. Thy invited me to take a picture with them, and to try out the stone machine they were using to produce the oil.
It was interesting to see the idea of women in business as a tourist marketing technique. How is it that in the souk they are talking about the importance of being a women’s cooperative when the women didn’t seem like the main priority? I’m very curious as to how women in business plays out in other parts of the continent. During my week in Marrakech I only saw one female shopkeeper in my rather busy residential neighborhood. I’m truly looking forward to my work with FINCA International next week to being to see the idea of “business as a solution” come to life.