Rabia El Alama is, one could say, an unofficial ambassador of goodwill here in Morocco. She is also a household name and a role model to many Moroccans, particularly women, to whom she feels especially connected.

Officially, Rabia is the head of the AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce of Morocco; whose goal is to promote bilateral relations between the United States and Morocco. We here at Mushmina gravitate towards Rabia because she is an incredible leader, inspirational teacher, and loyal friend to Moroccans, Americans, and all global citizens alike.

Rabia and Mushmina sisters

Rabia is particularly motivated to help empowering women within the small business sector. But as she explains, “Education is the key onset for women in this country, as well as any country globally. Once a woman is exposed to the joy of learning, a seed is planted inside her, and a whole new world of independence opens. Part of learning is working in a classroom with others. Most women in rural areas of Morocco do not have this experience. It’s rooted in our culture. They do not go to school. We have to change this. We have to alter this mindset.”

Rabia goes on to talk about how she encourages women to begin thinking about becoming entrepreneurs. “No matter how small her potential business is, there always is room for a woman to dream. Here in Morocco, whether it be opening up a simple vegetable stand or creating a handmade jewelry line, women are vastly talented and creative. They just need the leadership tools and the guidance to begin.”

Rabia’s advice for young women around the world?

Don’t ever stop learning. Pursue higher education. Seek scholarships. Learn from others. Continue to be inspired every day. Think outside the box. Don’t be intimidated by other successful women. Ask them what has helped them and what has driven them to succeed. And if you have the chance, encourage other women, particularly younger girls, to become leaders themselves.

The answer, Rabia is certain, is countering the culture of greed that we humans, have created. The key is in kindness. She tells me, “Women have been taught this. Humans have been taught this. Particularly in a poverty-ridden country like Morocco where there is often a fight to survive. Where there is such a difference between the have’s and the have-not’s. This culture can breed jealousy and envy. Women who should be working together to attain a goal of independence.” She continues, “Jealousy halts this progress. It’s toxic. And it’s counter-productive; particularly in the business world where it’s essential to learn from others.”

So how do women defy this counter-productivity? Rabia takes a simple, but effective approach to her business model. She explains her success theory, “Being an accomplished entrepreneur does mean that you have a competitive flair but this does not mean that you have to sacrifice your integrity and kindness as a human being. Sharing happiness is infectious. Training young people to be strong and driven in their businesses but also to be good people outside of their jobs is possible.”

She goes on, “I tell potential female business owners if there is something missing in your idea, business, or model, turn it into a positive instead of a negative. If someone else is doing better business than you, ask what has inspired them and what has been profitable. Again, learn from others. Turn that potentially destructive moment and make it positive.”

Rabia finds that showing success stories of women working together is an encouragement for female business owners. Soft skills, she says, are expertise easily taught, but not innate in many women who are not educated. And Rabia’s heart is truly invested in helping the youth and women who need her most; those who have little education and financial means. She goes all over Morocco working tirelessly with women’s groups, teaching basic entrepreneurial-skills, sustainability, and people skills. As part of this movement, Rabia also founded a unique non-profit for women called the ‘Women Advancement Network’, or WAN. It is her mission to promote women in the business world.

IMG_7298

FullSizeRender_1

Rabia easily found her own inspiration in those whom she treasures most-her family. Growing up in the small port city of Safi, about three hours south of Casablanca, Rabia remembers her grandmother’s story-a young mother of three whose husband suddenly died when she was only 26 years old. “My grandmother was suddenly alone and dependent on others because she had nothing to offer society. Ironically, she worked harder than anyone I knew. I recall vividly the day she cut off her long, beautiful locks of hair because as she put it, she had no time to care for such a superficial thing. She chopped her hair very short. I won’t ever forget this and the immense sadness I felt for her.”

Rabia went on to say that as her grandmother did not have the means to send all of her three children to school. Only Rabia’s uncle profited from an education abroad. Rabia’s mother was married at the mere age 11 and her sister, Rabia’s aunt, at age 14. To this day, Rabia’s mother regrets her own lack of education. It was her mother’s dedicated mission to send all of her ten children to school and on to university. And she did.

Rabia earned both her Bachelor’s Degree and her Master’s at Casablanca’s prestigious business school, ISCAE, where she studied finance, marketing and international trade. Her close-knit family continues to be her support and inspiration. And now, her daughter is following in some big footsteps, studying business in New York.

This goodwill, this kindness, this mantra, is a lifestyle and more than a job for Rabia. Caring for her family, providing for others, encouraging homegrown entrepreneurs, and advancing the disadvantaged in her own country. This is what makes her tick. And this is why we here at Mushmina are in awe of her. Case in point, when she read over the draft of this blog to make sure I hadn’t made any glaring errors, her humble (and typical) response was, ‘This piece inspires me to do more.”

By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina blogger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*any ad content below this is not related to Mushmina
Advertisements

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

 

 

 

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.

 

*any content below this is not related to Mushmina

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

BioPicMushmina

 

*Any ad content below is not related to Mushmina.

The ladies of the Tamgounssi weaving center at The Eve Branson Foundation had their own Halloween fun playing dress-up this afternoon …armed with a whole bag of Mushmina fabrics from the south of Morocco!

Most of these talented Moroccan artisans are berbers of the Amazigh tribe so they are not accustomed to wearing  ‘shbka’ fabrics, ….8 meters (26 feet!) of hand dyed cottons traditionally worn by the women of the Sahara. Rich hues in blues, fuchsia, oranges, greens, and teal. Which color calls you?

Stay tuned for our before and after pics. The ladies are planning to make hand embroidered ‘Rhonda’ Moroccan tunics as part of Mushmina’s 2018 collection.

Wishing you a Happy Halloween from Morocco!

Yesterday marked half way through the spiritual month of Ramadan. 1.7 billion people in the world are fasting from sunrise to sundown. A colleague recently wrote on the topic, “Ramadan is really about the fast of your soul and mind, not only of the body. Be a better person and reconnect with the spiritual life to achieve better versions of ourselves.” Myriam Alami

I am not fasting this year, but I can appreciate the spiritual reflection that this month brings. It is a quieting, a time to turn inward, give thanks of all life’s bounty, and spend time with family. At sundown tables are covered in dates, fresh fruit and juices, tea, and a feast of life’s sweetness.

While I am not religious, I have always been a spiritual seeker. You might conclude, perhaps we are in this world to experience contrasts -with life’s sweetness, there is also sadness.

In light of the recent events in London and around the world I can say with all my heart that there is nothing religious or Islamic about the actions of extremists and groups of people who thrive on violence and fear. These actions do not represent anything that I have come to know about Muslim people.

Having spent more then a decade living and working in a country and culture far from my own, I can say that I am humbled daily. I have learned about spirit, serving others, and surrender. Moroccan people have taken me in and become my second family. They have taught me how to see the world through a different lens and for their sweetness I am forever grateful.

Hope you are having a beautiful Sunday.

With love and peace,

Heather O’Neill

Co-founder

Mushmina, mindful fashion and home

 

*Any advertising content below this post is not related to Mushmina.

Join me on a trip to the Moroccan countryside today….

After a rainy winter we’re having a wildflower explosion in North Africa this year! Year after year in March this sight does not disappoint. First its the yellow wildflowers, then orange, and lastly this week the poppies appear. Like a scene out of The Wizard of Oz, my mind is blown. On weekends families grab their picnic baskets and children run through wild and expansive fields. I am reminded of the grandeur of nature and recharged by this life once again.

Have a spectacular Saturday!

With love, Heather and family

I recently spent a week on the island and as usual when I travel the thing I was most impressed with was the people. Cubans are as wildly spirited as the colors of their country which is necessary for their otherwise challenging day to day life in this socialist setting. Candy colored cars from the 50’s have been hacked to life as your vehicle on this journey. The weather and the foliage are tropical and architecture charmingly dilapidated. The billboards boast signs of the revolution- “Socialismo o Muerte” as the locals welcome tourists into their homes with a sweet demeanor that softens their strong resourcefulness in finding their own way. Garages and porches have been transformed into tasty restaurants and contemporary galleries and the nightlife of rum drinks, cuban jazz and salsa rock the city to sleep for yet another night. Though I only got to visit the city of Havana and the white sand beaches of the east, I was made to feel at home in Cuba and was surprised by the hardships of it’s past, the prospects of it’s future, and the ‘paciencia’ and spirit of the present moment, rapidly changing though still captured in time like a photo.

My advice for travelers is to learn with an open heart and take a break from your cell phones as the best and only connection there is the present moment.

With love,
Katie O’Neill
Creative Director, Mushmina
Photos from my personal trip. January 2017.

dsc_0934dsc_0005dsc_0945dsc_02345aff516f-276b-49fd-b120-59334d84b4d5dsc_0165edbdbcd1-2090-402a-b735-ce01b3bae238img_4393dsc_0626

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any content below this post is not related to Mushmina.

This week and always we give thanks. Thankful for another day we wake up and greet the day. Thankful for another day to serve, to show up in the world, to give the best of ourselves.  

FullSizeRender.jpg

This month Morocco saw many interesting visitors as the international climate change conference COP22 was taking place in Marrakech. I am so grateful to have been invited to meet U.S. Under Secretary Catherine Novelli who heads an American delegation to work on economic growth, energy, and the environment. Formerly Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe & the Mediterranean, Secretary Novelli coordinated U.S. trade and investment policy for the over 65 countries and helped negotiate the Free Trade Agreement with Morocco ten years ago that has increased bilateral trade between Morocco and the US by 300%!

Last Sunday morning Secretary Novelli (pictured below in red) and the American delegation visited the Eve Branson Foundation‘s new woodworking center spearheaded by American entrepreneur David Bult of Green Sahara Furniture. David took 8 trainees under his wing and is teaching them to do the most amazing and creative things with wood.

Then we visited the new Tamgounssi Weaving Center where we checked out the new horizontal looms and I met with Amina the teacher of the women’s group to explain Mushmina’s new clothing designs. To top off a great visit, lunch was coordinated by the US Embassy at Richard Branson’s Atlas Mountains retreat, Kasbah Tamadot overlooking this stunning valley. Put this on your bucket list! It’s one of my favorite regions of Morocco.

Many thanks as always to the lovely Barbara de Bastier the foundation’s coordinator for arranging our visits (pictured here in a lovely navy and black jacket…coming to Mushmina shops soon!) She is always so generous with her heart and her time. And thank you to the men and women of Asni the small Berber town in the Atlas Mountains for welcoming us.

So this week I give thanks.

I am so grateful that our world is so abundant in culture and traditions and open-minded people that travel to see the world, to discover the ways of others, and who contribute to making the intersection of cultures so rich.

With love and gratitude, Heather

11 Under Secretary Novelli visits Tamgounssi crafthouse.jpg

Pictures from our day in the mountains and ‘Welcome’ in four languages.

*Any advertising content below this post is not related to Mushmina.

Did you know that today is International Day of the Girl!

We wanted to share an except from Marrakech Confidential by former Peace Corps volunteer Brenda Garcia Jaramillo on big things happening for Moroccan young women and young women everywhere….

In honor of October 11th being International Day of the Girl, today CNN International will be presenting a special documentary “We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World”  The documentary will depict interviews and highlights of First Lady Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto, and CNN journalist Isha Sesay’s travels through Morocco and Liberia as part of her Let Girls Learn global initiative.  This week a delegation of Moroccan young women were invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to the U.S. to watch the premiere of “We Will Rise” in the White House tonight. Wow, wow, wow!!!

Let Girls Learn is Michelle Obama’s initiative with the U.S Peace Corps to bring awareness and change to the estimated 62 million girls around the world who do not have access to an education. In Morocco, enrollment is lowest among rural girls at only 26% attendance after age 11 compared to 79% of rural boys who continue to secondary school.

We hope you join us in watching this important documentary,“We Will Rise” at the times described below.

Tuesday October 11
6:00 am, 12:00 pm and 3:00 pm EST – Asia, Europe, Africa on CNN International

Wednesday October 12
9:00 pm EST– CNN U.S. and CNN International

Thursday October 13
12:00 am EST– CNN International

Let-Girls-Learn-from-MarrakechConfidential.com_.jpg

FLOTUS is amazing!

We-Will-Rise-CNN-International-Film-from-MarrakechConfidential.com_-1-1024x681.jpg

The lucky young ladies are being escorted to Washington by Project Soar field manager and Peace Corps Volunteer Olivia DiNucci and field coordinator Bouchra Laghssais

 

%d bloggers like this: