Ibulliance: The Lights of Morocco

Saida greets us every morning with a cheerful smile and a bright headscarf, perfectly matched to her outfit. We board our bus, ready to explore Morocco, and she shares her rich knowledge of the history and culture key to our next adventure. We are rapt to learn all that she imparts, and even more curious to hear about her personal experiences as a Muslim woman in contemporary society. 


Saida met her husband while attending university, and repeatedly refused his marriage proposals until she could finish her studies. She was one of the first female tour guides in Morocco, and when her work outside the home caused a kerfuffle with her in-laws, she and her husband moved to their own place. Her daughters’ religion teacher told the girls they should wear a headscarf, so she marched to the school to advocate for a woman’s choice to cover her head—not out of compulsion. Her elder daughter, a physician, and the younger one studying in Paris, are both following their mother’s path of self-sufficiency. Saida is one of many women we encountered on our Fringe Road adventure who are advocating for women’s rights in their communities.

Our van drives an hour outside of Fes, arriving in the town of Sefrou and the home of the Cherry Buttons Cooperative. We’re greeted by a woman, who despite her small frame and generous warmth, is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Amina Yabis founded this group for women over ten years ago in order to bypass the middlemen who were taking the majority of the profits, and now supports over 300 women. She, her daughter-in-law Wafae, and a small group of artisans—dressed in their beautiful, handmade caftans—sit side-by-side with us and patiently teach the stitches to create our own small buttons. At first, we are all a bit awkward and tongue-tied, however before long we are laughing, singing, and even launch into a joyful dance party—hands waving, hips moving, and heads thrown back trying our best to mimic the joyful ululation of our Muslim sisters. 

 

This glimpse enlightens us to the importance of such a cooperative which not only offers a living wage, but is also a place of connection, community, and literally a safe space for the women to let their hair down.

Back in Fes, Saida expertly guides us through the labyrinthine medina. She shows us the window of the house where she grew up (it’s said that only those who have lived there can truly find their way through the narrow and winding streets). We sample crepe-like pastries with fig paste, and inhale the intoxicating scent of rose petals as we maneuver around donkeys and pushcarts loaded with fresh mint and verbena. With aromatic sprigs pressed to our noses, we brave the acrid smell of the tanneries and marvel at the gorgeous leather goods that have been made in this open-air manner for centuries. 

 

We are fortunate to have such an ally in Saida. Not new to Ibu, she fostered the experience for prior travelers in 2019, and has remained in touch with Susan through the years, even helping to connect us with artisans in the region. This kind of intimacy, as we explore different areas of the globe, is what makes Fringe Road travel so special.

Saida, Wafae, Amina—and so many others whom we met along our journey—are bright lights illuminating the true stories of Moroccan women, and creating opportunities for more women to share in the radiance. And having met them, we are ready to reflect their brilliance, like the brass lanterns festooning the souks, where many small pricks of light converge to create an undeniable glow.

Shhram!,

Lasley Steever