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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On a scorching hot, dusty day in 2004, in the rural town of Boujad in Central Morocco, former Peace Corps Volunteer and Mushmina co-founder Heather O’Neill had a life-changing, eureka moment. She witnessed a group of female weavers, seated in a circle, waiting patiently for their carefully hand-crafted rugs to be sold by an unknown middleman.

Heather recalls, “I just knew there had to be something better for women in this position. These incredibly talented artisans put their whole lives into these gorgeous rugs, day in and day out, and they were gaining so little in return. The men buying the rugs to, in turn, sell them at another souk (market), were the ones making the real profit. I realized then that I could make a huge difference. I always knew that I would gravitate towards development and helping others. But I then recognized that it would become a lifelong mission and much more than a job. I had an obligation. It became my calling.”

 

Many years before, as close sisters in suburban New Jersey, Heather and her younger sister Katie knew they were destined to have their own custom fashion and accessories business together. Katie would eventually become the creative and artistic designer of Mushmina; specializing in her trademark mastery of African hand-crafted accessories. Katie’s expertise in distinctive metal-smithing and textiles places her in a unique field in which women are not typically found. Heather would be the connecting force behind this inspiring business with her knowledge of business and materials sourcing and her interest in working in developing nations. The two sisters; yin and yang, best friends, and now business partners and creative collaborators were fated for Mushmina.

Heather and Katie’s mindful plan was slowly coming together. Heather had successfully completed two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco teaching small business skills to local women. Katie was a flourishing designer in New York City. Fast-forward a few more years to 2009, the sisters returned to Morocco with a business plan in their backpacks. Heather has remained in Morocco ever since. Katie continues to live in the US, but threatens (lovingly) to move to Morocco as well. After all, they are a team.

This month, in honor of Small Business Saturday, which always held on the Saturday after American Thanksgiving, the sisters have chosen to tell the story of a particularly inspirational Moroccan female small business owner.  Zohra’s story below is one of perseverance, determination and plenty of heart. Read on….

 

Zohra Mellouk, native Moroccan and founder of Souss Saffron, a USDA-certified organic co-op that cultivates “natural products of the Moroccan earth”-saffron, argan oil, and prickly pear seed oil, (as well as many other chemical-free products) has a similar story of dedication and epiphany when it comes to realizing her lifelong ambition of helping women in need.

Souss Saffron’s name comes from the rugged, agrarian Souss region in mid-Southern Morocco, just below the High Atlas Mountains.

Zohra grew up in Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco; she was one of eight children and had everything could possibly need as a young girl. However, her father’s story always inspired Zohra-he had come to Casablanca as a 15-year-old youth, traveling 700 km on foot from his tiny, Berber village in the Sirwa Mountains of southern Morocco. He had nothing but the clothes on his back and the wish of making a better life for himself. And that he did.

Zohra never forgot this. As a child, visiting her father’s family in Tinfat, a village so small that it inevitably blends into other miniscule hamlets in these rural mountains; the nearest large town being 180 km away in Touradant, Zohra said she witnessed “suffering on a huge scale due to unemployment and lack of schooling. But it was the women-the girls, mothers, and grandmothers who always touched me the most. I wanted to do something to give back to them. Because they were the cords that held our community together.”

Later on in life and ironically, after her retirement from a successful career in business, Zohra finally intended to bring her dream to fruition. She briefly thought of opening a guesthouse, but then, a genius idea practically dropped into her lap. Why not use what was already there, already part of the land, embedded in the people, distinctive in their livelihood? And even better, why not work with the women from her parental village? Those who needed employment, education and empowerment the most?

At first, Zohra approached a (male) cousin who immediately belittled her idea. Employ women? Of course not, he told her. Zohra then had a lightening bolt moment. She quickly realized, “We have everything already here that is essential for producing these gifts of the earth; we just need the work force. Women in this region already know how to cultivate these natural products; they have been practically doing it since they were walking, as well as caring for entire households. All they need is a little training in Western regulations. The rhythm is already there. The work ethic was put in place many years before. The experience is there now. We just need to put it into motion.”

Starting with just twelve women in 2011, Zohra now heads over 160 experienced female cultivators today in her successful co-op. The women work at home in the mornings and with Souss Saffron in the afternoons. During the height of saffron cultivation, (October-November), every able-bodied person works and reaps the benefits of the busy season. “What’s not important is the paperwork, what is necessary is that everyone has a job. A purpose. Our youngest female member is 18 and our oldest is (she thinks) 90. Everyone joins in.”

And her biggest challenge? Zohra feels personally responsible for changing as many girls’ lives as possible through education. “I feel a desperate need to send the girls of this co-op to school. The level of poverty and misery in rural villages is astounding. To keep young girls in school through their secondary education and possibly even on afterwards is my ultimate goal. At the moment, we have ten girls at a boarding school in Taroudant. This is huge accomplishment for our small cooperative. There is nothing for them in the villages unless they have been to school. More and more, their families, and even the girl’s fathers, are realizing this.”

Zohra still spends her rare moments of free time, pondering how to create more revenue; the goal being to ultimately employ additional women and send more of their young daughters to school. These thoughts keep her up at night. It’s not for her that she does this. In fact, she is incredibly humble when she talks about her business. She talks about it for the women that she is helping; not for herself. She talks about the future for the women she is supporting, not for herself.

This is what small business owners do; and particularly ones whose missions are linked to free trade and sustainability-they spend their whole lives envisioning and carrying out their dreams-they live, sleep, and breathe this hope. They don’t actually dream for themselves but for others who are less fortunate. Heather and Katie had a goal of helping women and men by empowering and leading talented groups of artisans throughout Morocco. As much as it’s a job for them and a source of income for these two sisters, it’s so much more-it’s a devotion, a duty, and a necessity. Zohra had this same relentless fire within her-to encourage Moroccan women to be independent using the resources that they know best-their land, their earth, their hands.

There is a well-known Moroccan expression, in the local language of Darija, that translates to “Drop by drop, we fill the river” (Nqta b nqta kay hml l’oued). Perhaps for Katie and Heather, this could be measured in the thick fibers of a vibrant Moroccan rug, lovingly woven by master weavers whom the Mushmina sisters have meticulously employed and empowered. And maybe for Zohra, this can be determined by delicate twines of vivid orange-yellow saffron, tenderly cultivated by her co-op of tenacious women in Zohra’s ancestral village.

-By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina guest blogger

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Just outside of Marrakech’s all encompassing magnetism is but another level of living ~Starting my day venturing away from the bustle of the souks towards the climb of the snow capped landscape of the Atlas mountains is truly soul enlivening. One of my favorite parts of our work in Morocco has become our visits with the women artisans of The Eve Branson Foundation. Their berber village along the cliffs of these majestic mountains hosts a creative center for the local community to learn and grow their artistic skills setup by the Branson family and outstanding staff.

Just before working on a project I experience this familiar inner “excitement” as to how things will go, which direction it will take and hopeful it will be successful for all of those involved…you see, every effort is that of a community here in Morocco. This trip was yet another reminder that we all need one another for survival and success to abound. It is in this humble and artistic community that I find I am continuously learning almost more than I’m teaching while I visit for a workshop. My designs are inspired by my surroundings here and it is a joy to see them translated through the handwork of the artisans in this collaborative process. Just opposite the enchanting Kasbah Tamadot Branson hotel, the foundation offers the locals programs on seamstress work, embroidery, woodworking and a now hand loom for women, traditionally a craft of men. The growth of the center is inspiring and we’re thrilled to be a part of the journey. From color theory workshops to new clothing patterns, as Mushmina grows so will our ability to provide artisan employment opportunities with a focus on women’s empowerment while offering inspired pieces in partnership with EBF and beyond.

Something I’ve learned in this unpredictable work which continues to propel me is that when you follow the pull of the universe, in this case into the lure of the mountains, you will be rewarded with confirmations. I’m easy to please and the spirit of the women I meet is reward enough but I’m not opposed to a glass of wine at the end of the day while soaking in the energy of the Atlas Mountains on the veranda of Kasbah Tamadot. Life is majestic.

Cheers,                                                                                                                                                                    Katie O’Neill                                                                                                                                             Mushmina, Creative Director

View our collections at www.mushmina.com

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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

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Did you hear that Mushmina is moving!?

We have a new location in the lovely, Wayne PA. Join us on South Street for our final weekend and moving sale in Philadelphia.

Items under $50 -15% off, items over $50 -20% off, footwear -10% off this weekend only, jewelry over $60 -15% off

Boutique Hours at 1540 South Street:
Today Friday May 15th 5:30-8pm
Saturday 11am-8pm
Sunday 11-5pm

It’s our final weekend on South Street, but Philly don’t fret… you will see us at festivals and in our VW mobile boutique in the city this summer!

Thanks to all those who came out last night for Night Market on South Street. We are sad to go but were happy to see so many people come out to give us hugs and wish us luck at our new location.

Many thanks for all your best wishes and support!

“Trust the timing of your life!”

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Know in your heart that all things are possible. We couldn’t conceive of a miracle if none had ever happened. — Libbie Fudim

Happy Sunday!

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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.

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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

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If I have been of service, if I have glimpsed more of the nature and essence of ultimate good, if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought and action, if I am at peace with myself, it has been a successful day. — Alex Noble

Soul Sunday @Mushmina!

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See more from the Spring 2014 Collection here: http://www.mushmina.com/Spring-Summer-2014

Finding purpose

March 20, 2014

Yesterday at the the women’s workshop Katie and I came early for a full day’s work. At 2pm when the workshop officially opens the first woman to knock on the door was ‘Haja,’ Malika’s mother in law. Haja has been weaving her whole life and recently set up her loom in the workshop to weave in the company of the other women.

While Katie worked on the sewing machine and I on the computer, we enjoyed Haja’s quiet company. She takes off her shoes in a ritual of weaving and sits comfortably on top of a boucherouite rag rug. Haja was the first to arrive and the last to leave. She wove for 5 hours straight and would occasionally look up to smile.

This morning  Katie and I realized that what we do is not just about economic empowerment. It’s about women of all generations finding purpose.

Thanks Haja, you inspire us.

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

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