Summary of the Book
In the chill dawn I stroll through the streets of a factory district with two workers whom I meet in front of a factory gate. One of my young companions tells me of her work history: of how she was trained as an expert machine operator, how she found work in a plastic bag factory, how she was fired from her last job after falling out of a taxi cab and nearly dying. We walk until the sun reaches the mid-day sky and my companions and I go our separate ways.
The introduction to the book reviews the previous research on the feminization of the factory. It also provides historical background to the industrialization of Fes as well as a general review of some of the scholarship on issues of gender and kinship in Morocco.
Part I: In the Streets
I arrive in Morocco, settle into Fes, and spend days trying to locate the factories I have come to study. I visit the office of the local chamber of commerce, but my visit with these officials only sets off waves of distrust: local officials do not want me to investigate women’s factory work in their town.
I begin to locate the factories and to meet workers in the streets. With grace and kindness they often stop and talk, making promises to meet with me later, to answer all my questions, promises they often do not keep. I continue to wander the streets in early morning and late afternoon, and my lonely wanderings often become adventures.
Finally, I convince a local owner to allow me to interview his workers. With great politesse this owner opens his factory doors to me, but when I ask him if I might make a repeat visit, though, he accuses me of being CIA agent. Nonetheless, in this factory I meet Nadia, a young woman who invites me to visit her family, who, she says, “loves Germans.” This meeting opens other doors.
Part II: Inside the Factory
After months of approaching owners and asking them to hire me as a factory worker, one oddly curious factory manager agrees to allow me to work in his factory. I am posted in the packing department where I stand around a big table with other workers, inspecting the garments that come off the sewing lines, tagging them, and packing them in boxes. The factory is cold and damp, but over hours and days as we tag and pack boxes, sit in the lunch room, walk home together in the dark, the lives of the workers unfold before me. Alawi, who has completed university and even a graduate course in but who can find no better employment, explains to me the logic of marriage in Morocco. Naima, who at sixteen has rarely left her neighborhood before joining the factory only a month earlier, disappears one day, having announced the week before that her father had found her a man to marry. Samira, who cleans the factory floors, tells me of her lucrative exploits trafficing kif. The factory job, she says, is just a cover.
In the end, I leave my job at the factory, knowing I am not welcome to return. The factory manager, like so many others in Fez, has come to suspect that I am a spy.
Part III: Inside the Home
As the year progresses, my connection to Nadia—the girl whose family loved Germans—grows stronger. The women of Nadia's family -- despite the force of their personalities -- find themselves bound to the household by the conservative mores of the Moroccan lower class. I sit with these women as the winter turns to spring and then to the brutal heat of summer. Jamila loses a second pregnancy, becomes listless and impassive, and seems to fall deeper and deeper into depression. Aisha hosts a funeral and weeps profusely for the loss of her brother, who died many years earlier. Nadia loses her factory job and experiences a momentary thrill and a sense of freedom from the unemployment after years of factory work. But her mood soon turns to one of boredom and then despair and she grabs at the hope that I will deliver her from her plight and bring her home with me when I return to America.
In the dead heat of late summer my stay comes to an end. I leave the community of women knowing that nothing about their lives has been altered by my presence—except that the visits of this foreigner have given them another story to tell.