July 21, 2009
Kathleen M. Snoddon recently returned from Morocco where she was able to witness microfinance first-hand. This is the fourth in a five-part blog series about her journeys.
Fennan and her goats
Fennan appeared to be in her early thirties. She was pregnant with her fourth child. Her other children were gathered around her, hiding behind her skirt and peering curiously at our group. Her loan from FONDEP had been 2000 Moroccan Dirham, about $250. With it, she purchased two goats. That was three years ago. Her goats have since multiplied. She has six. Each morning, Fennan milks her goats and walks to the nearest market to sell the milk. The trek is 7 kilometers each way, 14 kilometers each morning. This provides her with 30 Moroccan Dirham a day in income, $3.70. Her husband, like most men in the village is a farm laborer. He works seasonally to plant and harvest the olive and apple trees and other products including lavender and fava beans that are grown in the countryside on the land owned by the “wealthy” men from the city. Fennan’s earnings provide a steady income for the family.
Our group was interrupted by a young man, insisting that we follow him. His mother was waiting up the path to show us her carpets and serve us yet more mint tea. We bid our goodbyes, took pictures and followed the eager son up the hill to the three room home where Memouna lived with her husband and six children. As we entered the dwelling that was painted a bright blue inside, I caught a glimpse into the room to our right that was piled high with foam cushions and woven Berber blankets. These were the family’s beds that were laid out each night in the largest room in the home and then collected and stored each morning to create room for the family to eat and go about their daily chores.
Memouna’s story reminded me of a children’s story my mother used to tell me. I have only a vague recollection of the details but it involved a very resourceful hen who, with only a few seeds of wheat, was able to feed her large brood of chicks. She planted the wheat, carefully grew the plants, harvested them and then baked delicious bread with the bounty. With her small loan, Memouna purchased sheep. She tended the sheep, sheered the wool, spun the thread and wove the carpets that she sold at the market. Each time she completes a carpet, she is able to earn around 1,000. Moroccan Dirham ($123.) for her labors. Having had no income before, Memouna now makes more than her husband makes with his sporadic farm work. Three of her six children now attend school.
Memouna was anxious to serve us bread and tea but we knew we had to press on. Others were waiting. Refusing hospitability was one of the more difficult aspects of our visit. She insisted, at least, that we look at the enclosure where she kept her two sheep before we left.
Memouna’s son, Jamil, had now become our unofficial guide through the village. A role he was soon to regret as the time was drawing near for us to rejoin the rest of our travelers who had been visiting with other microfinance borrowers. Women were gathered on the path or in their doorways, haranguing the young man to not let us leave until we come see them. Hakima, the FONDEP representative, realized that it was fortuitous to step back and let Jamil shoulder the burden of neglecting those we would have to bypass. I’m not exactly sure how he made his decisions, perhaps the fear of angering an auntie or favoring the mother of young women he was sweet on, but in the space of 15 minutes we saw two more women. First, Tahirah, who also raises sheep. Taylor, Lynne’s daughter was pressed to jump in the pen so that a picture could be taken with Tahirah and her prized flock. Taylor was later to admit that she was slightly shaken by the episode. We were then quickly ushered into Bahiya’s home to see her loom.