July 10, 2009
Kathleen M. Snoddon recently returned from Morocco where she was able to witness microfinance first-hand. This is the second in a five-part blog series about her journeys.
Microfinance Clients at a borrower meeting
At the top of the ridge leading into the village, we encountered a small group of tattooed-faced Berber women washing their clothes and cooking utensils in the rudimentary but resourceful aqueduct system that ran the perimeter of the village. They seemed curious but shy. We had been advised not to take anyone’s pictures without their permission. Some of older generation still believes that a photo can somehow capture their soul.
Descending the dirt path, we heard a cackle of excitement. As we reached our destination we saw a large Berber carpet laid on the ground under a grove of trees. Hakima had told us to expect to meet with 6 to 8 women. The plan was to meet together as a group to exchange greetings and stories and then to split into smaller groups to accompany the borrowers to their homes and places of business. In this rural village, most businesses are run in or around each of their homes.
To our surprise, about 25 women had gathered and as our group approached more women and children spilled from the homes and paths leading to our meeting place. The scene was a wonderful cacophony of greetings and giggles. It seems that this was a group of women who were very proud of what they had been able to accomplish with their small loans. Word had gotten out about our visit and they had no intention of being left out. They ALL wanted to share their stories. As we tried to gather a semblance of order, our guide, Saida, was pressed into service as all the women insisted we take down their names and occupations … Khadija grows produce on a small plot of land and sells it on the side of the road, Rkia makes carpets, Mahjouba buys medicine to cure trees, Hassama has two cows and sells the milk at the market in Immouzer ….
Something resembling order was achieved when Zahra came out with a large tray of mint tea and Berber pancakes. We gathered on the carpet -- the travelers at one end, the villagers at the other, still exchanging glances and smiles. Sharing mint tea is a common welcome gesture throughout Morocco. It is served with a great deal of ceremony and pride. The tea is served in small glasses and poured with great flourish, raising the tea pot as high over the glass as can reasonably be accomplished so that the steaming golden liquid streams out of the spout and into the drinking vessel without splattering.
When the refreshments were dispersed, our meeting began. We explained who we were -- adults and students from the United States who have come to Morocco to learn more about the program that has provided them with the loans to start their businesses.