Farewell Ramadan, hello Eid el Kabir. Never mind that there are two months between the two. Two months that were filled with back-to-school and all that that entails with three kids. Plus there’s the whole women’s cooperative project. We applied for Cooperative status back in May, and now, five months later, I can confidently say that I’ve been initiated into the high realm of Moroccan beauraucracy. It’s everything they promised it would be, long, unclear and unexplained, and hopelessly rooted in the ’50s. The application has gone through 4 different offices and now comfortably resides somewhere at the top level. Each of us seven founding members is waiting to receive a visit from local authorities to check on us, to see if we are serious about creating a cooperative or something. And there seems to be nothing we can do to speed up the process, so far only three people have been called on (they come to your house).
Luckily we have a good advisor at the Chambre D’artisanat (Chamber of Handicrafts) who strongly advised us to create a non-profit instead of a cooperative. They can both function in similar ways, we can have our training center and restaurant, except that in the cooperative the profit is divided up between the members, whereas in a non-profit it’s not. It’s a lot easier to create a non-profit, and when I think about it, it’s more aligned with what we are planning to do. We are planning to train local women in Moroccan cooking, making Moroccan sweets and Western baked goods. The women are from marginalized situations, from the 10 we have as a starting group 3 of them are raising kids on their own, 3 are illiterate, none have finished high school, almost all are in abject poverty. The locale we are planning to rent will be set up both as a training center and restaurant (it makes me so happy to type those words, I’m so excited about this project).
So we had our first general assembly a few days ago at the Chambre D’artisanat. The great thing is that Moroccan cooking and pastry-making is considered a traditional handicraft. Yeah! This is exciting for several reasons. There is a lot of government importance place on the traditional handicrafts like woodworking, leather goods, weaving, etc. Morocco really has a lot of fine craftsmen and the government knows that this is one of the national treasures. It’s exciting to be a part of that. Plus any cooperative or non-profit that is created in the handicraft field is automatically exempt from taxes. For our meeting, they let us use their super swanky facilities, check out the main door.
We had a good meeting. We talked about how a non-profit is different than a business. How we hope that it will enrich all of their lives not just financially but in several ways. Those who are illiterate will receive classes from the get-go to learn how to read. Those who know how to read will build on that, a few of the women have shown interest in learning English. We will invite people with cooking expertise to come give workshops and demonstrations. We will have trainings in hygiene and provide the women with all that they need in terms of medical tests, uniforms and cleaning products to be thoroughly in compliance with hygiene standards (if you’ve seen some of the local restaurants and the staff who work in them, you’ll appreciate this point. No soap in the bathroom, is all I’m going to say). We also talked about having high ideals and long-term goals such as: using local products and ingredients and eventually sourcing organic ingredients, supporting other local craftsment e.g. when we buy the furniture for the restaurant it will all be locally made, going back to old methods of cooking (which are invariably healthier). I told the women not to be scared of the immensity of the project, that the responsibility will be shouldered by all of us. (Uh, I think I was speaking mostly to myself as I kept repeating those words several times during the meeting).
For me, this project is immensely personal and exciting. It’s creative: dreaming anything up from scratch is. I need this level of creativity in my life, and Morocco needs it. And if I can use my creativity compassionately then it’s perfect. There are also challenges for me here to be faced, such as delegating tasks. There are a lot of people who want to volunteer with this project and I need to organize them into teams, an advertising team, a crew to work on the space, etc. I’ve had some freakouts about this project, I get scared that it will be too much or that I won’t be able to give it as much as it needs to be a success (not unlike those dreams I used to have when I was pregnant. I think freaking out about things means they are real to me). Honestly switching from the idea of a cooperative to a non-profit was a huge relief, it feels right. It doesn’t feel so much like I am trying to open a restaurant (people in the restaurant business keep telling me how hard it is, I believe them) , rather that I am helping set up a training infra-structure for marginalized women that will sell food as a way to support itself.
When I talk about the project, it strikes a chord with a lot of people. At this point in history, it’s time for women to shine. To learn, to grow, to speak, to be heard, to live in safety, to believe in our power. To nurture our spiritual bond with the Creator, ar-Rahman ar-Raheem, the Compassionate, the Bestower of all bounty.