That's a beautiful equation, no? We're gearing up for our annual aid distribution trip to Morocco and that means we've raided our stockroom, attaching sparkly stickers to select items that represent a-m-a-z-i-n-g savings opportunities for you. Quite simply, we need the shelf space (so we can return from the trip with shiny new Moroccan handicrafts for you) and we need the funds (to sponsor a few important projects this year). We wouldn't dilly dally if we were you...the prices below represent fantastic savings on authentic Moroccan goods, but our quantities are extremely limited.

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Vintage Moroccan Handira wedding Blankets: Save $50 on any blanket less than $450 or less; save $75 on any blanket priced at $450 or more

Basheera Moroccan Handira Bedspreads: were $475, now $360
Colorful Wool Berber Blankets:
were $80, now $60
Sabra Silk Blankets: were $95, now $70
Paraffin Luminaries: were $36, now $25
Imperial Star Door Knockers: were $75, now $60
Silk Tassel Curtain Pulls: were $75, now $37.50
Bling! Baskets: were $75, now $55
Men's Leather Babouche: were $45, now $32
Women's Sequin Leather Slippers: were $40, now $30
Embellished Market Baskets: were $75, now $55
Leather & Kilim Weekender Bags: was $195, now $170
Silver Stone Cuff: was $120, now $70
Silver Essaouira Necklace: was $225, now $170
Modern Square Leather Pouf: was $220, now $150
Embossed Leather Poufs: was $75, now $60
Embroidered Baby Linens: were $45, now $30
Thuya Wood & Marble Solitaire Game: was $40, now $40
Embroidered Leather Poufs: were $120, now $90

These prices reflect savings of $20-60% on a stunning variety of Moroccan luxuries and every penny of your purchase will be added directly to the funds we've gathered for aid distribution later this year. Please help us spread the word!

Prayers for Morocco - Lovenotes.... From Morocco

Morocco has not been untouched by the Arab spring movement that started one year ago this month via the self-immolation of a fruit vendor. I doubt that Mohamed Bouazizi could have imagined that this single act would have such a tremendous ripple effect throughout the entire Arab region. Upon my last visit to Morocco in September of 2011, I wrote a blog detailing my observations about the profound differences I noticed visiting Essaouira and Marrakech as compared to previous visits to those same areas.

In order to deliver a quick and dirty history of the political instability of the last year: In mid- February (2011), sizable protests emerged in large cities throughout Morocco. Organized by the February 20th Movement, the primary stated goals were constitutional reform, restricted powers for the reigning king and the release of political prisoners. Though not formally stated, the lack of viable employment opportunities seemed to be a serious draw for demonstrators. Understandably so: the "official" unemployment rate for university graduates tops 16%, though real-word rates seem markedly higher. Those protests spread quickly and gained the attention of the king. On March 9th, King Mohammed VI promised reform. The protests, however, continued- with waxing and waning force- throughout the summer of 2011 as his constituents awaited delivery on the king's promises. Late April brought a horrific terrorist bombing at a popular cafe in Marrakech, the country's tourism hub, that claimed the lives of 14 people, most of them tourists. That event certainly did nothing to improve tourism and relax the woes of the Moroccan people. In late June, King Mohammed VI announced the proposed reforms and put them up for popular vote. Just one week later, the people of Morocco overwhelmingly approved the proposal. However, my local contacts seem uninspired and unsure of the future, attributing the approval to people who desperately need the country to stabilize in order for tourists to return and economic conditions to improve. That seemed to be central to the vote, far more than any real optimism for profound change. Protests fizzled during the holy month of Ramadan last fall and things have been relatively quiet, with pockets of unrest popping up now and again.

120119-rabat-630a.grid-6x2.jpg A Moroccan man reacts to the self-immolation protest of last week

January 2012, however, has not proven so quiet. Hassane has kept me informed of local happenings and it seems that protests are again gaining momentum. Last week witnessed the self-immolation of five university graduates who set themselves alight out of frustration due to the lack of skilled employment opportunities. Hot on their heels, seventy workers marched into phosphorous mines laced with explosives the next day in a planned mass suicide to bring attention to the same issue. It didn't help matters that ten protestors, some of whom had accused the government of torture, were sentenced last week in Safi to four years in prison for their role in protests last autumn.

As summarized by Reuters last week: "Almost a third of Moroccan youths are unemployed, poverty affects over a quarter of the 33 million population and there are persistent grievances about inefficient education, nepotism and widespread corruption." It is my understanding that people re quite on edge, that the air is filled with anxiety and that tourism is still quite depressed, furthering the strain on the pocketbooks of those who depend on the industry throughout Morocco. I worry for the safety of my friends and staff there. I worry for the students, whose educational opportunities are so fragile and easily derailed. I hope we aren't on a road that will disrupt their dedication and access to learning. I worry that continued instability will delay our next aid trip and the ability of our craftsmen to provide the indigenous goods which are the tools we need to have aid to distribute.

Please send some good juju out into the universe for Morocco.

Feast Your Eyes - Lovenotes.... From Morocco

Our new Moroccan luxuries are now live on the website- feast your eyes on just a few of the lovelies we carted back from our September trip to Morocco!

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Embellished Market Basket and Bling Basket

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Leather & Kilim Weekender Bag

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Turquoise & Coral Endless Knot Necklace

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Silver Essaouira Necklace

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Pretty Silver Teapots in all sizes

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Handwoven Moroccan Carpet: Amani

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Moroccan Wedding Blanket: Sultana

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Thuya Wood & Marble Solitaire Game

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Colored Cotton Handira

Please consider giving a gift this season that will not only bless those you love, but change the lives of people you'll likely never meet...

This week we were privileged to assist in obtaining medical treatment for a very special boy in Morocco. Little Hassan (pictured) fell and injured his thumb near his home in early August. We first met him during our September school aid distribution project at the local school that he attends. He was one of more than 100 students we worked with that day, but his joyful spirit and infectious smile immediately caught our eye. However, we noticed that his entire thumb was purple, seemingly out of joint and hanging completely limp. We spoke with his family, who had taken the boy to a doctor for xrays, though they had not been successful in getting him treatment.

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Little Hassan receiving his school supplies during our September aid distribution trip in Morocco


Hassan's family raises livestock and he lives with his mother, father, sister and elders in a traditional Berber home in a remote area between Essaouira and Marrakech. His family was incredibly welcoming to us and offered their home as a teaching site for us to give soapmaking classes. They cooked a delicious Moroccan meal composed of several courses which was obviously meant to honor the presence of visitors. We spent the afternoon breaking bread together, visiting cows, sheep and donkeys and socializing with the local women. Though we inquired about the problem with Hassan's finger, they offered their hospitality without us making any mention of potentially assisting with his medical treatment.

When the sun set and we climbed into our car and began to pull away, I asked Hassane (our local staff member in Morocco) if he would oversee the boy's care. Hassane told me he was already planning to assist as he was able and we developed a plan to get Little Hassan the treatment he needed. The following week, Hassane took the boy back to the small hospital in Essaouira for a consultation. The doctors advised that he be treated at the larger hospital in Marrakech. Hassane returned Little Hassane's family home and agreed to take them shortly to Marrakech. Unfortunately, those doctors said it would be several months before they could operate. Though Little Hassan was in no pain as he doesn't have any feeling in his thumb, he was at risk for gangrene, which can cause serious, life-threatening septic infections.

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Volunteer and travel mate Stephanie playing with Hassan and friends at his home


Hassane opted to return the boy to Essaouira once more and pleaded for help. He eventually called with good news: surgery was scheduled for October 24th. As that day approached, Hassane welcomed the boy's family into his home (which is near to the hospital) and we were all eager for resolution. On the day of the procedure, the surgeon asked Hassane to please return the boy to Marrakech once more as he didn't feel as though he could adequately perform the operation. Hassane called and proposed that we consider the private hospital in Marrakech- which would be considerably more expensive, but much, much faster.

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Some of the sheep Hassan's family raises to provide for their family


The very next day, doctors at the private hospital in Marrakech saw Little Hassan and, confident that they could save his finger, scheduled surgery for 6:30pm the same day. I am thrilled to say that Hassan's finger is intact, he is in good spirits and resting comfortably at home with his family. He spent just one night in the hospital, with his father by his side and Hassane nearby. The doctors cleared him the very next day after a positive radiology exam and Hassane took the lot of them home to celebrate with the boy's waiting mother. The prognosis is very good: in another ten days, Hassane will return the boy to Marrakech for a followup visit. For now, Little Hassan can attend school though it will be quite some time before he may be able to write again.

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Hassan's little sister Khadija playing with a lamb


This endeavor is all the more amazing to me when I consider the distances traveled and the dedication displayed. Neither our staff member Hassane nor Little Hassan's family own cars. The distance between Essaouira and Marrakech is three hours by car, and the boy's family is a good 30 minute journey over rock-ridden, treacherous and unpaved roads once you exit the highway that connects those two major cities. So getting this boy the treatment he needed involved lots of early mornings and late nights and long walks to main roads and bumpy bus rides. And yet...they persevered. And it worked! And now Little Hassan is safe and in the process of healing. I love a happy ending... don't you?

The sale of our products is what funds these important projects, so I extend my appreciation to those of you reading as well. It's a fantastic feeling to know that we've positively impacted a life and filled a tangible need. I hope you'll continue to support our endeavors by making purchases if you are able and inclined and spreading the word about the work that we do. We'll keep you posted on Little Hassan!

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The oven where Hassan's mother bakes bread each morning

I've spent the last few day sin Atlanta working with the amazing Dana of One Haute Plate to photograph all the beautiful new jewelry and teapots and vintage Moroccan wedding blankets that I assembled while in Morocco in September. I'm so excited to get these new lovelies on the site, as they hold so much promise to help us execute life-changing projects in Morocco. Stay tuned- I expect to have the new products available on our website by November 10th!

Here are a few raw outtakes from the shoot- just a sneak peek of what's to come...

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We’ve been busy unpacking and taking inventory of a fresh shipment of gorgeous Moroccan handicrafts and we hope to have them on the website and available for sale within 14 days. We’re just waiting for a photo shoot for several items before we unleash all of the goodness to the public. You’ll notice that we’ve restocked a huge assortment of our embossed leather poufs, Essaouira earrings, handira pillows and wool Berber blankets. We’ve also sourced a host of exciting new products- each handmade and direct from Morocco. Coming soon: leather and kilim overnight bags, a drop-dead-gorgeous coral and turquoise necklace, Thuya wood Chinese checkers sets, and the most bespangled totes you;ve ever laid eyes on. Please stay tuned!

Once we were given the blessings of local authorities, we headed toward the school to begin our aid distribution. Hafida, the local teacher, was traveling with us and she received word that the only other teacher had forgotten her key and thus returned home for the day. That left almost 150 children to stand outside the gates of the school for hours waiting on us. By the time we arrived, there were just five sweets souls who had been sitting in the hot sun for 4+ hours awaiting our arrival. Hassane and Hafida coaxed them with chocolate to run to their friends' homes and spread the word that we had finally arrived. Within five or ten minutes, we'd doubled our numbers... the children continued trickle in until finally we could see a pack of them in the distance, running towards the school. All told, we had about 125 children who returned to school- a remarkable number by any measure, especially given that most walk a few miles to school and they'd already made the roundtrip journey that day. The air was thick with their anticipation.

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We immediately gifted 100 books to Hafida to seed a school lending library. There are 300 more books sitting in our SC warehouse awaiting approval from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Information and we look forward to sending those over as soon as the paperwork clears. We then began work on a fun craft project that involved each child being photographed with an instant camera and then making a frame for their photo. Most of these kids are rarely if ever photographed and the "instant film" was certainly a novel aspect. The children lined up proudly, standing a little taller, straightening their collars, adjusting their headscarves, and smiled for us. They would excitedly wave their photos back and forth in the air waiting on them to develop and then gather in groups to giggle at each other's images. Stephanie, Mokhtar, Melissa, Hassane and I had spent the evening a few days earlier at a broad table covered in popsicle sticks, cardstock and glue as we created the bases. The kids now delighted in affixing foam shapes and sparkly sequins to their frames.

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We also outfitted each child with a new backpack. Tucked inside were pens, pencils, writing tablets, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and crayons. It was a joy to watch the kids collect stickers as they were photographed, made their frames and picked up their bags. We ended the stream of activity with high five's and chocolates for each child. The kids eagerly opened their backpacks and pulled out the items, eliciting waves of ooh's and ahh's. We posed for a group picture on the school steps and created celebratory rhythms by clapping with our hands before chanting "shou-kran Haf-i-da" (thank you Hafida), as their teacher showed incredible bravery and dedication to her students in helping us work through the long process to make this day possible.

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Hassane, Stephanie, Hafida and I stood in the doorway to the school and shared a few hugs and a few tears as we watched the kids run home, new backpacks strapped to their backs and large smiles adorning their faces. We then tidied up the school and piled nine people in a 5 seater Kia, driving through a series of bumpy country roads to the home of two of Hafida's students. This humble Berber family had slaughtered two chickens and a lamb for us and we sat on the ground together, eating from a large communal plate and trying to communicate via smiles and hand gestures. We toured their farm and saw donkeys, cows, chickens, turkeys, pigeons, rabbits and sheep before settling in for a soap lesson directed by Stephanie.

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Stephanie taught the women how to make cold process soap to use within their homes and potentially to sell to their neighbors as well. A half dozen Berber women gathered with us while Stephanie walked through a recipe that needed no heat and was measured in empty yogurt cups. Yes, yogurt cups. She had patiently spent the previous few days exploring what oils were available locally, identifying a universal measure since scales are not an option (hence, the yogurt cups) and testing various recipes. The mood itself was buoyant but the teaching was quite a challenge, as the interpreter we brought along was male and this particular family insisted that men and women be separated, even if the women were properly covered. That left us with just one woman who spoke a touch of English, but Stephanie patiently pressed on and fielded good questions at the end. We're optimistic that at least a few of the women will give it a try themselves.

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We left the house at sunset as navigating unpaved roads in the Moroccan countryside is best done whilst there is still a touch of daylight. We drove an hour back to Essaouira, loaded our luggage into the car and then drove 3 hours east to Marrakech, arriving at midnight and capping off eighteen frenzied hours of work. We toasted changing the world in ways large and small before putting ourselves to bed.

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I am immensely pleased with the success of our efforts. I am encouraged that we now have the blessings of the local government, though we did experience two separate police inspections while at the school- more discussion, more collection of passports, more information called into embassies, ad nauseum. However, I cannot help but believe that this success will make the next distribution trip a touch easier. We're learning the ropes, building relationships and pushing through and I am confident that will yield positive results. In the last sixteen months, we've provided more than 150 children with backpacks and school supplies while growing the school library from 11 books to 400 books. We've provided dozens of balls, jumpropes, parachutes and ribbon wands for the kids to enjoy a bit of respite from their industrious lifestyle. I know what we're doing is valuable, even if it consumes more energy than it should to achieve. I'm coming home re-energized and with a host of new ideas about how we can best serve the rural community.

I have numerous people I need to thank for their invaluable assistance in these efforts:

Hafida, the local teacher, who has gone to the mat with the government in order to get these children the supplies they need. Who has encouraged me and been a tremendous resource to our efforts. Who takes a taxi 45 minutes each day from her home to the country road, where she is dropped off and walks 2 miles on dusty, rock-ridden paths to reach her children each day, only to do it all again in reverse each night. She is an inspiration.

Stephanie Craig of Honey Bee Soaps, my dear friend and traveling companion, who left her children to travel to the other side of the world and help children she'd never met. Who tested soap recipes and made craft frames and kept me (relatively) calm when the government threw up a solid week of roadblocks that threatened to shut us down. Who walked the souks with me in Marrakech and helped restock the Moroccan goods we sell who make this all possible. Who can pack a box of fragile items like a champion.

Melissa Flick of The Nourish Collective, who took time out of her busy schedule to travel to Morocco and dream big with me. Who kept the mood light and made lots of craft frames as well. Who designed the original soap recipes and composed a comprehensive manual we had translated into local languages to assist. Who donated 200 bars of colorful blue soap for the school kids. Who wants to save the entire world- superhero style. Who can argue with that?

Brooke Stant, of Villainess fame, a dear friend who asked me some time ago how she could help with our efforts. As shipping heavy items into Morocco is expensive, I played around with a few ideas before coming up with the instant camera project. She didn't hesitate to buy 250 exposures of rather expensive film to bring some joy to my Berber babies. Her gracious spirit and dedication to helping people she doesn't know personally is incredibly admirable and the film project was the highlight of our distribution day.

Heather Shuler and the team at Ballentine Dentistry who graciously arranged for a donation of 200 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste to be given to my Moroccan kids. Thanks, too, to Colgate for the generous donation. The kids were tremendously excited about these items.

To the man in Vermont that Stephanie only knows casually, but heard she was coming to Africa to help children and offered her $50 from his pocket, on the spot. I think he'd be happy to know that he bought 200 kids he'll never meet writing tablets, pencils, and chocolates. He said he'd never really done anything to help others... well, now you have. I hope it plants a seed to continue effecting positive change in the world in small, tangible ways.

To Hassane, who rides 11-hour buses to the north of Morocco (during Ramadan, no less) to work with our network of craftsmen. Who sleeps too little and works too hard negotiating the purchase of our handicrafts and packing them up. Who sits in government offices alongside me. Who drives my team around Morocco, often in the middle of the night, as we cram our schedules far too full while we're incountry. Who translates for me in all of our dealings, whether they be in Arabic, French or Berber. Who tears up at the sight of a hundred kids walking away with From Morocco, With Love backpacks slung across their backs. Thank you for your dedication. If we did not have such a devoted incountry ally, none of this would be possible.

And finally, to anyone who has ever made a purchase from our nonprofit. Those are your dollars at work. Without your support, we couldn't generate those smiles. We couldn't help little girls believe in themselves. We couldn't stare corruption and bureaucracy in the face and press past it. We couldn't empower kids to dream bigger than what they see before them every day. From the bottom of my heart: thank you. This is only the beginning...

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I've spent the last few days in the souks of Marrakech, touching base with our network of artisans and unearthing new treasures to bring to the website. Every time I walk the souks here, my head spins with the possibilities. There is certainly no shortage of artistry and talent in the medina and I adore Morocco's "old world craftsmanship" approach to their creations. We should have a new shipment of luxuries on the ground in early October. Pending a photo shoot, I hope to have everything up on the website by October 17th. We're restocking brass doorknockers, embroidered bed linens and a wide range of leather poufs. I'm also thrilled to be bringing on a selection of vintage handira (Moroccan wedding blankets), Thuya wood games, handmade leather bags and silver teapots.

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Teapots in the medina

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Embroidered baskets- they make awesome beach bags and farmer's market totes

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Making the leather handles will be affixed to our embroidered baskets

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Handcrafting a leather bag


Victory is sweet. - Lovenotes.... From Morocco

As promised, we were successful in our aid distribution efforts here in Morocco. I freely concede that there were periods of doubt and I do believe there were forces working against us, but hell hath no fury like a woman on a mission.

Upon learning that our backpacks full of school supplies would not be allowed into Morocco because we lacked approval from the Ministry of Education and a Censorship Visa from the Ministry of Information, we unpacked all the books and repacked the bags. We sent them off to Morocco again with a heady mix of desperate prayers and abundant hope. I landed in Morocco only to learn that they had been seized by customs officials. Despite a promise to "name their price" within 48 hours of seizure, we spent the next week on a wild goose chase of phone calls. That time was passed prepping crafts for the kids that I had hand-carried into the country and speaking with the local school teacher to nail down a distribution plan.

There was some discussion over the course of a few days as to whether or not we should seek permission to distribute from local government officials. There was further discussion as to whether or not the school director would allow us on property, despite his earlier promise, once he learned we were American. It seems somewhat ludicrous to me that the government makes it so challenging to help their people who so obviously desire the assistance, but such is life in Morocco. At the end of the day, the local school director acquiesced and Hafida, the teacher we were coordinating with, asked us to speak with the local government, so off we went. We arrived at the offices of what is, in effect, the mayor of the region. He was smartly dressed and generally welcoming.

Nine of us (NINE!) streamed into a conference room for a marathon meeting: passports reviewed, relationships clarified, itineraries and histories of our Moroccan travels detailed, addresses collected, personal information phoned into the embassy in Rabat, school supplies examined. There was much back and forth in Arabic, most of which was spoken too quickly for me to sufficiently digest. There were definitely allies and foes in that room. Stephanie and I did our very best to appear at ease and friendly while studying Hafida's tense face for signs of how this was all proceeding. Files presented, documents signed, faxes sent and received, more phone calls. Ninety minutes later, the official looked at us and said "Welcome to Morocco...we're happy to have you here." Stephanie and I looked at each other as if to say: "Is that a yes?" Upon the exchange of a few more pleasantries, we piled into the car and headed to the school, severely delayed and having received word that most of the children had headed home after waiting outside the gates of the school for the entire morning session.

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All hope was not lost...tomorrow I'll detail how this effort came full circle. It was a very, very good day.

Morocco: Then and Now - Lovenotes.... From Morocco

Morocco has weathered the �Arab Spring� movement rather well, though it has by no means emerged unscathed. My last visit was July 2010 (which seems like forever and a day ago) and there are some marked differences, both tangible and intangible. While there were weekly streets protests for months in the larger cities, Ramadan essentially hit the �pause� button on those gatherings and it doesn�t feel like they�ve resumed momentum in the few weeks that have transpired since the end of the holy month.

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The Moroccan flag flying high

However, the streets are pretty filthy. Yes, I know this is Africa...I�ve spent time in North African, West Africa and the East as well. I have always noted a substantial difference in the level of cleanliness in the streets between North Africa and the Sub-Saharan countries, but that line seems blurred this trip. To be certain: Marrakech is faring better than Essaouira, but there�s a marked amount of trash in the streets everywhere I look. The fact that almost the whole of the Essaouira medina is being outfitted with new water/sewage channels probably doesn�t help matters, as the streets are a collage of busted pavement and beds of sands at the moment.

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The seas of Essaouira are as beautiful as ever

Another visual change of note: there are street vendors everywhere and the police don�t seem to even take an interest in them. In the afternoons, men stream into the Essaouira medina and lay down tarps that they fill with clothes and shoes, fresh fruit, trinkets and cheap knockoff sunglasses. I have always loved Essaouira because it�s been largely devoid of these dealers and their aggressive sales tactics, but they seem to be everywhere this visit. Hassane and I had an interesting conversation- he attributes the flood of vendors (and willingness of the authorities to overlook it all) to the self-immolation of a Tunisian man who was selling fruit. That single action kicked off a movement that has consumed the governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and caused dangerous unrest in Syria, Bahrain and several other nations (Morocco among them). Hassane believes the police will continue to look the other way, lest they risk protests on a massive scale here locally.

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Sweet puppies in the streets of Essaouira

Tourism is most certainly down this year. The congestion in the medina streets is noticeably lighter and the vendors we�ve spoken with (from cyber cafe keepers to carpet dealers) note depressed profits. I think the decrease in international tourists is attributable to several factors: a global economic depression among wealthier nations that has left far fewer dollars in Western pockets for exotic travel, coupled with the general unrest in the region as the result of the Arab Spring movement. That little bombing in Marrakech last spring didn�t help either. Sixteen people dead in a caf� blast in the biggest tourist destination in Morocco�s most popular city... that never fares well.

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Cafe Argana is still under reconstruction after the bombing last Spring

In better news, wages for government workers are up: my friend who teaches elementary school locally is earning about 10% more than last year. Everyone concedes it�s a bid to keep the people pacified and quiet, but the money is desperately needed and is having the desired effect.

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The local school house in Taftacht

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