Although Sefrou is famous throughout Morocco for its annual cherry festival, many of the cherries there are brought in from the Ain Leuh area. I recently learned that 40% of Morocco’s cherries comes from the area, so its no wonder so much of the town and so many women of the cooperative are busy in the fields. The cherry farmers need every hand during the short harvest period that this small town can afford! For the past four years Ain Leuh has been celebrating the harvest with a weekend-long celebration.
The festival really began on Thursday when Khadija the president and Khadija the treasurer sat through a series of meetings with the leaders of the other cooperatives in the area: cherries, honey, embroidery, jam and hand-rolled cous cous. They met to coordinate which cherry-themed treats to offer this Minister of Agriculture during his visit from Rabat (’tis election season). The weaving cooperative chose to make a cherry cake, which I was surprised to watch them bake in a pressure cooker over a fire, and a drink of cherry juice mixed with fresh, local leben, similar to buttermilk.
Friday I attended a kick-off meeting put on by the regional Ministry of Agriculture with Khadija the treasurer and Naima, a member of the cooperative and was impressed with their proactive-ness. There really was no reason for the cooperative’s presence at the meeting, which was just a series of presentations on the ministry’s various projects in the area. However, after the meeting, they spoke to many people in regional positions of power, introducing themselves and their work, or chatting amicably with previous acquaintances. I’d forgotten that in Morocco, when dealing with the massive bureaucratic system (which the cooperative must do in obtaining and renewing paperwork required for official cooperative status), it is WHO you know that can certainly ease the process.
Saturday and Sunday were spent with the women of the cooperative at the festival in their booth. It was a great informal way for the members of the cooperative and me to get to know each other, and for me to understand the structure and spirit of the cooperative. Since Ain Leuh has only two annual festivals, the town came out in full force after the sun went down and stayed out until the early morning hours. The main stage featured traditional Amazigh music and dance from the Ain Leuh area, and there were vendors lining the streets, selling freshly squeezed orange juice, piles of plump cherries, grilled meats and chunks of multicolored nougat. I think the women of the cooperative and indeed all of Ain Leuh enjoyed the break in routine, so much so that Monday was taken as an informal holiday.
A large custom order was placed on Saturday for pile rugs, so now its back to work. On Thursday I’ll travel with Khadija the president to purchase 30 kilograms of wool, about 66 pounds, for the order. I am glad to be able to witness the entire process; from the hours-long discussion of the order with the customer, to the purchase, spinning, and dying of the wool, and then the actual creation of the rug itself.