On our way from Essaouiria to Agadir my Moroccan associate, Majid, and I stop to visit the company of an argan oil producer who is partnering with a distributor in Germany that I’ll call Mr. H. We are greeted by one of the owners of the company, a woman who heads the association of women who extract the oil. The place is clean and well-run as would be expected with the German influence. It’s a partnership that has benefited both parties: the oil producers rely heavily on the Westerner for his marketing and distribution savvy, and there could be no oil without the Berber women. M. H has been generous with the women; they have been able to build a proper building in which to gather to crack the nuts and have plans for constructing a preschool. Mr. H has helped the women on an individual level as well, stepping in as needed to provide financial assistance toward medical bills, etc., for any of the 200 women working there or their families. It a partnership I am workinto emulate with Kahina.
After chatting with the owners over tea and argan oil with bread, we continue on the 3-hour drive toward the coast of Agadir, the largest fishing port in Morocco. The city was demolished in an earthquake in 1960 and was completely rebuilt in a modern style so there is little of the antique charm or mystique of other traditional Moroccan cities. The plan is the meet with Zaina, the owner of her own argan oil production company, who we have invited to dinner at a restaurant of her choice with her two young children. At 8:30 Zaina, children in tow, arrives to lead us to a seafood restaurant by the beach, where three of her close friends are also waiting for us. As I sit across the table from the women and try to engage them in conversation with my rusty French, my efforts are met by icy glares and curt answers. As the conversation swirls around me in Arabic, I revert to chatting with the 9 year-old Berber girl on my right. Whenever I look up, I catch one of the women staring at me before looking quickly away. It isn’t until after we finish huge plates of food that they warm up and take an interest in talking to me. Now they are engaging, curious about my business, and quick to laugh. We share our views on cosmetic uses of argan oil. The owner of the restaurant joins in to ask my views on Obama and his plans for social security. And while my response is infantile due to the limitations of my linguistic ability, he seems satisfied.
By the end of the evening, Zaina has invited me to be an attendant at her brother’s wedding ceremony. Tomorrow after visiting the women of the cooperatives, I will receive henna painting at a henna ceremony and Zaina will dress me for the wedding the next day.