Three Generations of Moroccan Women
By Marina Hammoud, age 15, grade 10, Toronto, Canada
The way I imagine it, the day she left was breezy, almost a token of encouragement for the long months to come in treacherous heat. She bent down to give her young son a kiss on each cheek before moving her things onto her camel. And so, as the sun rose that morning, she and her eldest departed on the most sacred and dangerous journey one could make. Hajj. They didn’t return for seven years.
Pilgrimage to Mecca is an important part of Islamic belief but being a woman with limited resources in the 1930s, a 3,800 mile journey by foot is a true testament to Allah. It is hard for me to know what exactly my grandfather’s grandmother experienced as she and her son made their way across the Sahara desert but I can say with complete certainty that her bravery was not just a manifestation to God. Climbing sand dunes of 180 metres with only the resources that fit on a camel’s back and facing the hidden risks of looting, violence and sexual assault for months is a testament of her will and of her strength. After the three year trek to Saudi Arabia, she could not return due to the impending war. The dangers of leaving were too great and so they stayed for four years until French soldiers brought them back. I only wish today, as I consider my identity, that I could have met the courageous Zhor.
One generation down, in a supposedly more modern world not too far away, Rita possessed a different kind of strength, a far less appreciated fortitude because her story is definitely not out of the ordinary. Child marriage, teen pregnancy, an apparent success in a young woman’s life. Sixteen year old Rita got married (see her wedding photo) and in the years to come she had five daughters.
She watched her children grow up differently than she did. She saw them become educated, and run around. She probably questioned her husband’s draconian outlook on studying. These are guesses on my part, but what I do know is that she was happy. At least in the fifteen years I have known her. She lives with her own sisters, her old nanny, her daughter. She cooks with them to make a couscous like none other. She stretches. She buys me gifts. Mama Rita questions police officers as to why she cannot go to the medina (market) without a quarantine pass. She found contentment in a life she did not have complete control over. She may not have been physically ground breaking but she raised a generation of well-educated women. She is happy in her nineties, and I am glad I have known her.
A metaphorical world away—but really just a few steps from where Rita prepares tea—Nora sits at her desk. She crams information into her brain until she can’t focus anymore and then she starts again. She impatiently sits through tea until her father lets her go back to study, knowing that he doesn’t need to remind her she can’t go out until she finishes. Nora is the first woman in her family to graduate.
Nora ran around Kenitra with her cousins. They ran past the market, past their mosque, past their school. They made up stories for the cats that owned the streets, they watched the boys play soccer with a tennis ball, they found a goat and kept it as a pet until their parents made them return it. She told me once that her family, her father especially, was ahead of their time. She had more freedom than any girl she knew, yet compared to my life, she had very little. Nora got married at eighteen, and a year-and-a-half later she had my father. She finished her education and became a grade school teacher. She raised three high achieving children. They moved around the country and settled on a lemon tree farm outside of Rabat. Her children moved away, to England and to Canada. She bought her grandchildren a swing set and made them msemen(Moroccan square pancakes, usually eaten for breakfast or tea time).They call her once a month, supposedly because of the “time difference”.
I grew up—I am still growing up—believing that I could be anything that I wanted to. I could write books, I could travel the world, I could become a racecar driver. I grew up privileged in the sense that the world is my oyster. I often think about how different the lives of my ancestors were. Zhor spent seven painstaking years crossing the desert and I can fly halfway across the world for 150 dollars in a few hours. Rita got married before she grew up and Nora, by just graduating, broke the glass ceiling. 50 years later, I order Cambodian or Peruvian food with a tap on my phone. But when thinking about these things, I have to remind myself that it is not just a question of time or of modernization, because in the same town that my father was raised, there are girls younger than me getting married with just as little freedom or education as my ancestors. As I reflect on the powerful women who through generations shaped who I am today, as I apply to one of the most prestigious journalism schools in America, I remind myself that a young girl who may have the same last name as me, begins her adult life. Perhaps my North American side has washed away the influences of Zhor, Rita and Nora throughout my life but they have still inspired me to open my eyes, to tell me that I have the resources to help give other girls a voice. And I want to start now.
By Marina Hammoud, age 15, grade 10, Toronto, Canada. She adds: “I love to read and write. I have been writing creatively for as long as I can remember and want some more experience and exposure under my belt! I’m also trying to start a literary magazine at my school.”