Tarts in Morocco

In Morocco, things are a little different. In case you haven’t worked that out yet.

When its comes to women here I sit up and take notice. Because I am a woman. Also because women have a tough enough go of it in western countries without adding in a culture that sometimes still operates as if it were the 5th century.

In Morocco I mostly meet only western women in my daily wanderings. By mostly I mean 99%.  Men and women do not spend time together outside the home. A “date night” is a rare occurrence because Moroccans just don’t go out to restaurants willy nilly like westerners do. The subject of husbands, wives and spouses in general is a non starter. Ask a Moroccan about their spouse and they will literally pull the old shiny object routine, “Did Christiano Renaldo just walk in? Look over there.”

How is life for women here? It depends on the family. For the most part, women have to work a lot harder to get what they dream of. Some women will never break free of their families hold. It is very, very common for Moroccan women to tell their daughters that they will be getting married. Period. Stay in the home, live with your family and take care of your husband. That’s it. Outside the cities where there are very limited resources, education is hard to come by and the opportunity to be lifted out of the cycle is nearly nonexistent.

But there are a great many women here that do work outside the family home. They have to in order to make ends meet. It is not an easy life here. Some families are becoming more liberal and more encouraging of their girls. There are many women who go to university, dream of traveling and working outside the country. Women can do everything that men do here. But its not easy.

I am a big fan of women doing precisely what they want to do without limits and I will always support any women who wants to better herself. I think it is criminal that women feel its ok to cut each other down, at any time. There are enough factors working against us, and women should always choose to band together and raise each other up when we have the opportunity. So when a resourceful, smart, lovely woman wants to plow forward and accomplish something my answer will always be YES to any question she has. I have a lot of time for that.

And so it was that on Christmas morning I had the opportunity to help a sister out.

You see I know this Moroccan woman because I have met her on a few occasions, through a friend. And when I say I “met her”, I mean I walked in to the place she was working and said “Hello.” Kiss, kiss. “Nice to see you. Thank you for the food.” That’s it. She is a friend of my friend. So I know of her. I have heard a little of her story but really not much. I know she works very hard and she is really fantastic at what she does, which is cook. For the sake of modesty, let’s call her Eat-o. Its’ always best to change the name to protect innocent right? You see what I did there? Ito is a Moroccan girls name. And this one cooks. So I changed Ito to ….ok you get it. Moving on.

Recently my friend, let’s call her Kate because thats’ her name and she’s Western so she doesn’t care. Anyway Kate started to pursue her lifelong dream of making crumbles for people. Apple crumble, raspberry crumble, that sort of crumble. She had been talking about doing it for awhile and now she is taking on a little business here and there. She does this out of her home kitchen as a side business to pay for cat food.

One day Eat-o said to Kate, “If I make gorgeous lemon tarts will you help me sell them?” Hell ya was the response to that. If you want to try your hand at business, use your spare time and limited resources to make cakes and tarts for sale in order to send your kids for tutoring, Kate is all for that and will help you no question.  And so a beautiful partnership has burst forth.

You see as much as Eat-o loves her job, she is still working for someone else and that can be especially risky in Morocco. When you have foreign owners hiring Moroccan staff there is no guarantee that the Moroccans aren’t going to find themselves out of work, quite suddenly, with no particular warning. Its happens a lot. Then its hard to find another job. And while the loss of one income in the first world is difficult you can imagine it is devastating in a developing country. To be honest, taking the initiative to protect her livelihood is pretty special. She must be applauded loudly for her foresight and ambition.

So now my friends sell lemon tarts, birthday cakes, crumbles, and chocolate tarts through Kate’s Facebook page to people in the area. It has been quite a popular little venture because a lot the westerners love to have things made for a price. Its true, just admit it. So there have been tarts and cakes and crumbles taken to schools for the teachers helpers, to birthday parties and family gatherings all over Marrakech.

It is important to note that the Moroccan lady does not speak much English. At all. Some French of course. Kate therefore acts as the frontman and Eat-o is the supplier. In Morocco, modesty really is best. Keeping things on the DL (downlow) is definitely a specialty here. So Eat-o makes a tart and hands if off to Kate who then delivers the fresh tart to the purchaser. They share the revenue and everyone goes home happy. But this venture is a little less straight forward than you might imagine. As with everything in Morocco, you have to recognize the challenges and then overcome them if you want to do anything. From using the bank machine to selling tarts, everything has a few speed bumps.

Eat-o lives in a village 30 minutes from Marrakech. She doesn’t live in town. So she makes the tart, and then she comes in to town with the tart in a box, on her lap, on the local bus. Then she goes to meet Kate, who gets the tart and meets the customer and yada yada yada. Sometimes there is a sister or a husband involved in the tart drop. Sometimes I am asked to handle the occasional tart. Hey, whatever works to get the tart to the tart buyer. There was an occasion when Kate said, “I am going to be meeting Eat-o this afternoon to get a tart for delivery. I wonder what she’s done with it while she’s been working today?” Sure enough, Eat-o directed her down the street a little way to a random business owner who had been safely harboring the tart for the afternoon. The generosity of strangers….

Then along came Christmas and a specialty cake was advertised. A cake with whipped cream and fresh strawberries and a little snowman motif. Very slick little number. And low and behold, someone ordered 5 of them. FIVE! For 4 different locations, all in the Medina, not necessarily close to each other.

I was asked to go along for my arms. No other reason. I needed to carry a cake. So up I got on Christmas morning to meet Kate at 8:30 am. We had to get these cakes in place, in the Riads they were destined for, before 10 am so the Riad guests could enjoy the festive complimentary cakes with their breakfast.

Off we went in a taxi to a far Bab in the Medina. We exit the taxi, walk down a long road where no cars can go, and find Eat-o waving for us. She has no tarts. She had taken a taxi you see, from her village 30 minutes away, with 5 cake boxes that could not be stacked up because of the whipped cream nature of the cake. I don’t even know what that looked like. But there she was with no cakes. “Follow me,” she said in some language. We crossed an open lot over to a door in a wall, and there, just inside, was a lady who had all the tarts laid out on the entry table, side by each, waiting for Eat-o to come back. “Oh, do you know this woman then? How convenient she can store your cakes.” “No,” said Eat-o. “She is a perfect stranger that saw me with my taxi and my boxes and offered to help.” Morocco.

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We had to stop and ask for directions because – Medina. 

So we load up with cakes. We planned on taking 4 now, then Kate and I would come back for the 5th because it was in a different part of the Medina altogether and we would be taking a taxi, while Eat-o left to get to her day job. Off we trundled. Imagine the sight if you will. It’s Christmas morning, deep in the heart of the Medina,  long before the stores have all opened and people are out on the streets. We are walking in a line up. A Moroccan and two blonde western women laden with cake boxes. Not something you encounter every day. Suddenly we are part of the curiosity circus that makes up the Medina! At one point I even had a golden shiny ribbon in my hair. It seemed festive.

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And incredibly, here we are walking along, enjoying the sights, and I hear, “Kathi, Kathi, hey Kathi”. Are you kidding me? What actual f*&k? Who in the world do I know, in a residential street in the Medina of Marrakech on Christmas morning at 9:30? I turn and look. I stop. He was talking to me. Yes me. And there is a man coming towards me. “Do you remember me?” Well of course I do. It was the guide that came along with my sister and niece when we went on a short drive about. Huh.

Back we went after all the cakes were placed, to the nice stranger ladies house to get the 5th. It took longer to deliver because we got really, really lost. As you do in the Medina with Google maps because….Google maps. Grr. But in the end we had a lovely morning, a long wonderful walk, met many lovely people, saw some things, and earned our well deserved Irish coffees for lunch!

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