As the grand taxi climbed further up the mountain away from Fez, the air slowly cooled and all seven of us stuffed in the car were thankful for it. Transport by grand taxi from town to town is cheap here, about $5 for the 2.5 hour ride from Fez to Ain Leuh, but it means being packed in four to the backseat, two to the front seat of an old Mercedes. Uncomfortable at best, it’s suffocating in Fez’s heat.
Ain Leuh, though, is cool and breezy, high in the Middle Atlas mountains. Although the hillsides are crispy and browned, productive fields and orchards spill out into the valley from where the town sits, tucked between hills.
The weaving cooperative is larger than I expected. There are three large workshops and 20 to 30 women involved with the business to varying degrees. I’ve met only a handful of women in the week I’ve been here. The rest are all taking advantage of the seasonal work picking cherries. It pays 60 Moroccan dirhams a day, about $8. Not a bad wage, I’m told.
The women I’ve met are warm, welcoming, and the primary wage earners of their families. Most people of AinLeuh are poor, relying primarily on cherries and apples as a means of income. It is high cherry season now, and the town is excitedly preparing for the cherry festival this coming weekend.
I’m staying with Khadija, the cooperative’s treasurer next door to the town’s only mosque. She lives in a humble three room apartment with her five year old son, Mehdi, and 17 year old daughter, Nadia. Her husband works in Azrou, the next town over selling svinj, Moroccan donuts. He lives in Azrou and only comes home on the weekends, which means the house, like the cooperative, is a man-free zone.
The streets of Ain Leuh are steep and narrow. Donkeys frequently traverse the city, although small cars occasionally drive through too. The path from the bottom of the city, near the town’s only mosque and Khadija’s home, to the cooperative near the top of town is easily seven stories of steep staircases.
Living life takes time here. The women of the cooperative keep very busy. In addition to working a full day at the looms in the cooperative, most are married with children. This translates to cooking a full lunch and dinner with homemade bread, handwashing a family’s worth of clothes, shopping for food at the weekly souq (open market), and keeping a clean house.
Today the women of the cooperative are busy making desserts for the upcoming cherry festival. They’ll have a booth to sell their weavings, and have decided this year that a good way to tempt more customers to their booth is with cherry cakes, tarts, and juices. I can’t wait for Saturday!