We’re having a little trouble finding it - the cell towers aren’t functioning, phones are down, and the old king’s palace is enormous. But with some help, Ali and I track down the Disabled Women’s Cooperative in its folds - a gang of intrepid women in wheelchairs with needles nimbly flying between their fingers. They greet me warmly and with humor, which I detect through their Arabic and brimming smiles. I’ve brought Ali (above, bottom row) with me to translate - we sit down and get to work on how to build a cocktail napkin. Ironic, since none of these good Muslims imbibe. No matter, they want to work, and a square is a square upon which to stitch their magic.
More than a year ago, anthropologist Susan Schaefer Davis (above, bottom left), traveling often to Morocco as a textile expert and tour leader, introduced me to this group. At last, I get to meet them - no English or even French between us, but my trusted guide, and we are counting inches into centimeters, old Fez embroidery into new linen, and the possibilities of a vibrant collaboration.
But this is not easy. The fabric available to them is not up to ibu standards. Their work is promising but not where Iwant it to be. And they are cold. There is no door to the outside elements, only a flimsy curtain which allows the winter air to penetrate their working quarters. But, in Morocco, as in many places in the world, there is a circle of kindness and it keeps things rolling.
Ali, who an hour ago was a perfect stranger, immediately plans to get them a door to block the cold, arranges for his friends to come measure the opening and install one by the following week.
Nawal (top right) who oversees one of the best embroidery studios in all of Marrakech - and exquisite work for ibu - hears me talk of their situation and immediately offers to go and mentor the women in embroidery skills. She offers her own beautiful linen custom ordered from Casablanca, and Ali offers to deliver it to the women with with new thread. The wheel is turning . . .
I don’t count on this kind of generosity, but it never ceases to amaze me - how it flows in the most unexpected ways. We now have a team on the ground, working to crank these wheelchairs into full mobility, working to keep these fingers flying, so that these women can support themselves and not feel a burden on their families. And working, too, to keep exquisite Fez embroidery alive in the world - that gorgeous richness that has long captivated me. It is a circle, this band of strangers in pursuit of a good life. . . and the circle moving together is a movement . . . .
I tell the women that my father, too, was wheelchair bound and that I hope, like him, their spirits will never be bound, but move freely in this circle of love and kindness. They understand. They laugh and hold my face and kiss me goodbye.
Then, we all get back to work.
All the best,
Susan Hull Walker
The Cocktail Napkins above are in production . . .we’ll let you know when they arrive at ibu. Until then, check out our new Moroccan Gallery at the ibu showroom! We are freshly back from Marrakech with Market Finds: old Berber/Jewish jewelry from the High Atlas Mountains, new metallic leather babouche arriving this week, amazing Fez wool jackets in new colors, and leather poufs - both in a new modern square and the classic round!