Can Textile Travel Make You Smarter?

Sometimes Facebook is more than a guilt-inducing time suck. Case in point: This morning it reminded me of an article that ran in Time magazine three years ago: “How Studying or Working Abroad Makes You Smarter.”


Intensive travel helps one, the article said, to “think more complexly and creatively.” The extent to which a person adapts to, or learns about a new culture can predict how “integratively complex” their thinking will become. I think of the authors I’ve worked with who have made this deep dive into cultures far different from their own: Chris Franquemont (Faces of Tradition), Chip Morris (Maya Threads), Eric Mindling (Oaxaca Stories in Cloth), Deborah Chandler (Traditional Weavers of Guatemala), Sheri Brautigam (Textile Fiestas of Mexico), Carol Karasik (Maya Gods and Monsters)—all among the smartest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever encountered. All of whom have traveled and lived in foreign cultures, learning the language, making friends, adopting the folkways.

Fadma Wadal
Susan Schaefer Davis with Fadma Wadal in Morocco. Photo by Joe Coca.


I think particularly of Susan Schaefer Davis, author of Women Artisans of Morocco, which is now available exclusively at ClothRoads. Susan is one of those adventurous women who answered the call of the Peace Corps in the 1960s, ending up in rural Morocco. This experience led Susan on an academic path, resulting in a PhD in anthropology and a career as a university professor. But lest you imagine an “ivory tower” life for her, Susan has returned to Morocco over and over again, usually more than once a year—traveling the countryside, forging friendships, mentoring women, contributing to economic development via traditional crafts.

Aicha Duha enjoys a visit with Susan Schaefer Davis. Photo by Joe Coca from Women Artisans of Morocco.

Susan’s keen sense of gender issues in the male-dominated culture of Morocco led to publication of a couple of books: Patience and Power: Women’s Lives in a Moroccan Village and Adolescence in a Moroccan Town. She was an early adopter of the internet for marketing the rugs her Berber and Arab friends wove. Her fluency in Arabic and her carefully-nurtured relationships have enabled her to lead annual tours to Morocco of special interest to textile enthusiasts. 

Souk merchant in Marrakesh. Photo by Joe Coca from Women Artisans of Morocco.

The last time I saw Susan, at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe last summer, she was decompressing from the rigors of finishing Women Artisans of Morocco and delighting in helping her friend Amina Yabis, a prolific button-maker, in her sales booth. We were joined for nightcaps by photographer Joe Coca, upcoming Thrums author Mary Anne Wise, and others. The stories of traveling in Morocco, the memories of souks and tagines, and deep questions about the future of traditional crafts filled the night. Complexity and creativity abounded. And jokes! Lots of jokes, the loveable trademark of the smartest traveler.



Pre-order Women Artisans of Morocco at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your favorite bookshop, or purchase now exclusively at ClothRoads.

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