I have found that most of Moroccan business is done over tea and a handshake at the very least, and more often involves a show of their extreme hospitality. I was invited to numerous meals in the homes of my Berber friends, all of which included enough food to feed the entire village. These meals were extravagant by any means, especially considering the relative poverty of my hosts. Amazing multi-course meals, in which all the ingredients were grown organically on the premises, were produced in the simplest of homes over a wood-burning stove. Even inside the cooperatives, the Berber women would share their simple staple of ground argan nuts combined with honey and olive oil.
These events are the starting point for good, lasting business relationships in Morocco. The exchange of money is never mentioned during these meals, which can last for hours once the rituals of hand washing and drinking tea have been completed, the “bismallah’s have been said, and the food eaten from a communal plate.
The elaborate paperwork that is required to import products, meet FDA and cosmetic manufacturing regulations pales in importance to the bonds formed over good food and mint tea and for that reason the business forms we rely on can be difficult to obtain. Most urgent requests for paperwork are met with “I’ll send it to you next week Inshallah (interpreted to mean something like “I’ll send it to you if God wills that my computer works, my car doesn’t break down, it isn’t a feast day, or there is any other possible obstruction.”).
While we can email the most basic information to each other in French, when I am there conversation requires two translators — from English to Arabic, and from Arabic to Berber. Interviewing the women who work in the cooperatives on a recent visit was a version of the childhood game of telephone – I would ask a question, which was translated into Arabic and then into Berber for the final recipient. Peals of laughter and chatter would ring the room of women before an answer would come back down the line to me, which by the time it reached me would be reduced to a simple word or two.
I am often amazed when the oil actually arrives. The first few shipments I received were shipped to the Post Office in rustic, hand-made wooden crates with nails sticking out of them and my address scrawled on the outside in black ink. It took a month for them to arrive by boat and by the time the crates got to me, the writing was barely legible.
But it is this part of the experience that keeps bringing me back to Morocco, to the simple life there and good-humored temperament of the people that live there And it is this experience I hope to share with others through Kahina Giving Beauty.