We meet the village at a rhythmic slow pace. 20 km are at our feet and two mountain saddles over two thousand meters are climbed. This is the third day of our journey in the High Atlas and the day I was most looking forward to. We are heading for the first women’s cooperative, where carpets with high pile are knotted. You may know them as Beni Ourain.
As soon as we drop our backpacks on the prepared mattresses and cross the main road, we find ourselves in a simply plastered brick building, which is full of life. Ten large metal and wooden looms have firmly stretched warps and the fingers of local women dance nimbly on them. They sit in pairs behind each loom. So they are done with custom carpets faster and in a daily shift they can exchange all thoughts they have on their minds. Sober geometric patterns alternate with bolder compositions.
I sit down with young Saida, who encourages me with a wide smile to try a few double knots on her carpet. She slows down mechanical movements of her fingers so that I have a chance to understand the process. The first two attempts are tragic, which makes the onlookers laugh. For the third time, I manage to tie the knot and cut the wool correctly, and receive applause from other women. Saida is a great teacher, she has patience with me. We learn that almost all the women in the village work in the cooperative and rotate in daily shifts. It’s early March and the mornings are still cold. So work starts around 10:00 and ends at sunset.
I observe the work of others and admire new patterns. I gratefully accept invitation to traditional Moroccan mint tea and local cake.
Back on the terrace we enjoy the last rays of the setting sun. Suddenly drumming and beautiful singing come from somewhere. Is there a party going on in the village?
We soon understand that singing comes from (our) cooperative. Nothing can hold me back and I almost run down the stairs in the direction of their tin door. The women´s boss invites us in with generous gesture and shy smile, and I hold my breath. About thirty women sit opposite each other in a narrow space. They sing, clap, some pound rhythmically on drums, empty canisters and everything they have at hands. All thirty pairs of eyes are watching us curiously. We stare back at the commotion with astonished smile and clap to the beat with them. I feel a tap on my shoulder. The boss invites me to dance. What an honor. We take small steps between the two benches to the rhythm of a beautiful song, and the women add to the intensity of the singing. Little girls and two other women are dancing next to us. I sit back in my seat and my heart is pounding. Saida, across from me, watches my every move. I know that if we stayed here for a few days, we would become good friends. The oldest lady comes and earns respect from the others. She nods in consent and sends sympathetic glances at us. Everything is fine.
It is slowly getting dark outside and the singing is not stopping. I wonder how much energy has accumulated in the small room. Women sometimes wipe the nose of their child, who runs to them from somewhere. My neighbor sits all the time with her one-year-old baby strapped to her back. No one is crying, there is feeling of joy and cohesion among us. I perceive this momentary but strong connection with the local weaving community. I feel that we are accepted here and I want to keep these moments in mind forever.
No wonder that after a four-day trek through the mountains, we cought eyes with the head of the weavers, the owner of a carpet shop in the foothills of the Atlas. I am glad that I will soon be able to offer you moroccan carpets made by skilled Saida, Fatima and other women from this story.
PS: We couldn’t take pictures of local women. In their culture, this is considered rude.
Written by: Tereza Inková
Photos taken by: Juliana Šerák
Both photos and audio are copyrighted.