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Seasonal resident promotes Moroccan women

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Longtime seasonal resident and anthropologist Susan Schaefer Davis, who has lived and worked in Morocco, now leads cultural tourism trips, works to dispel stereotypes and volunteers in the lakes area.

Susan grew up in Minneapolis and went to the University of Minnesota. After she graduated, Susan joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Morocco for two years in 1965. Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country in the northwestern part of Africa.

Susan said those two years with the Peace Corps changed her life.

“I didn’t say where I wanted to go, they just sent me there, and I fell in love with it,” she said.

She was in a group that taught home economics skills like knitting, sewing and embroidery, as well as health and nutrition to Moroccan women at rural women’s centers.

The group Susan went with was the first all-woman group of Peace Corps volunteers to go to Morocco, and the fifth group ever from the Peace Corps, which was founded in 1961, to go to Morocco.

“When I got there, the women really surprised me,” Susan said. “I had this stereotype of poor, helpless, downtrodden Muslim women, and that wasn’t true at all from what I saw.”

When Susan came back from the Peace Corps, she went to grad school for anthropology to try to figure out why the women didn’t fit her stereotype. Susan wrote her graduate school dissertation on Moroccan women. The dissertation became a book entitled “Patience and Power: Women’s lives in a Moroccan Village.”

“I figured out part of the stereotype was usually it was men who had met with Muslim Arab women,” Susan said.

“They didn’t see the ‘real women.’ What they saw was a role that women are supposed to play, especially with strange men. They were supposed to be quiet. They would bring in their food to the guests with their eyes cast down looking very submissive. But what I saw in the women’s center was all women,” she said.

“We saw how women really were, which was like us — lively, interesting women,” Susan said.

Susan explained that the book was intended to change incorrect ideas about Muslim women.

“‘Patience and Power’ was a way to dispel this stereotype. Yes, they had to have patience, like we do a lot, to put up with stuff and try to overcome it. But they have power in a lot of ways,” Susan said.

“Women had ways to get their way, and it often involved shaming men,” she said.

Susan shared an example from when she and her husband were living in Morocco in the 1970s working on their dissertations. They invited their neighbors, a couple with eight children, over for dinner.

“At the end of the meal, she said, ‘You know, I’ve got eight kids, and this guy will not buy me birth control pills,’ which is a really shameful thing to say in public. She had her pills the next day,” Susan said.

After Susan completed her dissertation, she and her husband came back to the United States where she taught for 10 years at Trenton State College in New Jersey.

Susan, who also speaks Moroccan Arabic, then went into consulting on social and economic development for various organizations, including the World Bank and the Peace Corps in North Africa, mostly in Morocco, but also in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Palestine.

Another venture is selling Moroccan rugs online at

“I got interested in textiles, just for myself, I like Moroccan rugs, and I had the idea to sell Moroccan rugs on the Internet,” she said.

After she had been selling rugs for a while, Susan decided to work directly with the women who produced the rugs. She takes pictures of the women with their creations and provides background information about each woman so customers know more about the Moroccan women their purchase benefits.

Now, in addition to her Moroccan rug business, Susan leads two types of cultural tourism trips to Morocco. One trip is an overview of Morocco and the other focuses more specifically on rugs and textiles. She has been leading trips since 2000.

“The trips are unique because I’m an anthropologist, and I know lots of people,” Susan said. “It’s unique that you meet people and we go into their homes, we don’t just see monuments and shops.”

Besides their trips to Morocco, Susan and her husband, Douglas, split their time between their cabin on Lake Ossawinnamakee and their apartment at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Susan and Douglas started coming to the area in 1975 and bought their cabin after a colleague Douglas worked with at Haverford College invited them to visit the area.

Locally, Susan volunteers at the Pequot Lakes Community Library and the Historical Village in Crosslake in addition to being involved in the Breezy Point Women’s Club.

“The library’s terrific, and I’ve met lots of really nice people here,” Susan said. “I’m impressed with the community spirit of this area, I really like it.”

Additionally, Susan speaks in the area about Morocco, Moroccan women and Islam, hoping to broaden perspectives on the Muslim world.

“People have these stereotypes, not just about women, but about how Muslims are violent and mean, and they are the nicest, gentlest people. They’re so hospitable; they’re so warm when we go there. That was the thing I liked most about Morocco, the people,” she said.

“And yes, there are violent people, like there are here. Look at Waco, Texas. But they’re not everybody by any means. That’s not most Americans, that’s not how you would characterize most Americans, and that’s the same with Muslims.”

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, Susan will talk about Morocco at the Unlimited Learning session at Heartwood Living in Crosby.