By Rachel Ferchak
Tighza Valley, Morocco
A pair of henna-covered hands works swiftly and almost effortlessly. Her movements come as habit, like a science. At first, the woman digs into her white plastic box, which resembles a tackle box, and pulls out a handful of bags of multicolored, pinhead-sized beads. Rustling through the plastic bags, she finds five shiny beads with perfectly coordinated shades of amethyst and dark lime green. With an inch-long piece of sterling, looped at one end, in her right hand, she scoops up the beads one-by-one. She repeats the process until she has six pieces of coordinated sterling.
Tool in hand, she makes a small loop on the other ends so the beads won’t budge. Then, she places three of the sterling pieces onto a question mark-shaped sliver of sterling, tightening the loops as she goes. Within 10 minutes, she has finished a pair of earrings, which she sells for 50 dirhams. Earring-making is just one of the few ways she supports herself and her 8-year-old daughter.
Fatima Ouahassou, 32, moved to the village seven years ago, just months after her daughter Ikram was born. A family in the village offered for her to live in a two-room home, rent free; thus, she moved to the village because it was all she could afford, considering she had no income and no family to help her. Prior to the birth of her daughter, Fatima’s boyfriend ran off, leaving her pregnant and alone. Nearly everyone disowned her because having a child out of wedlock is shameful in the Muslim community. But she kept her child regardless, though she had offers from people who wanted to buy Ikram from her.
In tears, Fatima recounted her story for me…
Moving to the village was one of the hardest things she has done, mainly because of the rumors floating around about her. Fatima said that nearly everyone in this village refers to her as a “whore” or “prostitute” because Ikram doesn’t have a father. She said Ikram suffers as well.
Most of the young girls either make fun of Ikram, or the girls’ parents won’t allow Ikram to play with their daughters. At school and around the village, Ikram said she is subject to ridicule and gossip about her mother, which often makes her cry. Sometimes she tells her mother, other times she doesn’t, because when she does, she and her mother cry together. She hates seeing her mother cry.
By this point, Fatima said that she has explained the situation to her daughter and she said Ikram understands. However, Fatima said she is sending Ikram to live with her grandmother in Ouarzazate in September in order that receive a better education than the education offered in the village. But Ikram said that she is leaving because of constant mockery by other children. Either way, both Ikram and Fatima believe that Ikram will have a better life in the city because many children are in the same situation in the city. Also in the city, Fatima said, people are not in each other’s business, and most even keep to themselves.
Caring for a child on her own is not the only major trial Fatima has had to overcome. When she was a child, her father did not want her in the home, so he sent Fatima to live with her grandmother. When her grandmother died, she left 16-year-old Fatima on her own. And she has worked to support herself ever since. Later, after Ikram was born, Fatima discovered a growth on the right side of her jaw, which turned out to be a dental abscess. In 2007, with the help of Angela (a nun from Ouarzazate) and Claire (her sponsor from the United Kingdom), Fatima had extensive surgery to take out the abscess that could have taken her life.
Regardless of her situation and the setbacks of her past, Fatima tries to continue life as normally as she can. She managed to work out a deal with a shop owner from Ouarzazate, who allows her to sell clothing to women in the Tighza region (her village and the three surrounding villages). Fatima receives a portion of the clothing sales, making about 100 dirhams per week. She also makes a little extra money by helping Carolyn around the kasbah and by making small tapestries. The remainder of her income comes from Claire, who sends her 300 dirhams per month to help with Ikram’s expenses.
Despite everything in her life, Fatima will always greet you with a gentle and joyful smile, the kind of smile that will warm your heart and brighten your day.