She’d be sitting there every Friday, appealing to the generosity of the people headed for mid-day prayers.
Almost every mosque-goer would press a dirham into her palm. Even in a country where beggars are so ever-present that you become numb to them, she stood out.
Maybe it was her two little girls, Shayma, a polite and spunky 3 year old, and Khadija, a 4 month old baby permanently strapped to her mother’s back.
I think it was something more though, a shiny aura about her, a calm serenity on her face that made you trust her and moved you to help.
I’d pass her with my own daughter, also a 3 year old, on our way to her private school. Hard to keep tears at bay, like so many other places, faces, stories of hardship.
I’d gather up all my daughter’s clothes. The cute dress someone sent her from the states, from land’s end, too small now. The clothes my daughter refused to wear, too tight, too formal, too scratchy, etc. When i’d hand over the bag, it became treasure in their hands.
We’d talk. Our kids playing together on the sidewalk, as people continued to drop coins on the cloth she’d laid out.
“I thought he’d marry me, but when I got pregnant, he told me to leave. I didn’t have any sense.”
She may not have had any sense…she certainly did not have an education…she did not have what we westerners would call “self esteem”…or she would have demanded so much more…a marriage contract to protect her and her kids, for one.
But women make poor choices every day, and pay the consequences. Single moms raising babies all over the world, God bless them all.
What she does have is patience, and strength, more of these virtues than I can even fathom.
I wanted to help. She said she was managing, surviving. How about school? I asked. That would be nice, she said. So we made an agreement, she would find a school for Shayma, I would pay for it (technically, my hubby would pay, since he’s the one with the job around here, but you know, what’s mine is yours, and all that).
Shayma was ecstatic about her new school (which cost 100 dhs, or about 15 dollars a month). She treasured her pens and notebooks. She learned her alphabet, in Arabic and French. I didn’t see much of her anymore, she no longer accompanied her mom and baby sister on all day begging rounds. Her mom was happy, she did not want Shayma to grow up learning to beg. She wanted more for her girls.
Eventually, Shayma started 1st grade in public school. It was free so I no longer paid the monthly school fees.
One day, Shayma’s mom and her little sister came by. Shayma’s mom (ok, I honestly don’t know her name, since she always refers to herself as Shayma’s mom, and we don’t exactly have much need to call each other by our first names), so, Shayma’s mom was dressed “normally” in a nice jellaba. Her outward appearance was strikingly different, in fact the whole way she carried herself was different. She was not hunched and diminutive, trying to disappear. She stood up straight, with a beaming smile on her face.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I got a job,” she said, “at a cafe, I make msemen”. (msemen is a type of fried bread served in many cafes)
“Bessehha!” I gushed. Then I pressed her for details, how many hours did she work, how much did she make, and how did the girls manage.
She obliged me with replies to all my nosy queries. She worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and she made 50 dirhams a day (about 6 dollars a day). She left her youngest daughter, now about 4 years old, with a babysitter, whom she paid 300 dirhams a month (36 dollars), out of which the babysitter paid for a school, and would take her and bring her back, and basically keep her until her mom came home.
She was so happy and proud of herself. I was so surprised and excited. And I do believe her girls will fair better through EDUCATION. It’s such a life-changer. Oh it’s such a key to understanding the world. I believe in it so strongly. I am all for empowering girls and women with an education. Knowing how to read and write, knowing enough about their bodies to make good choices, these things we take for granted can have such a profound and empowering impact on their lives. Yes, hope is alive in Morocco, and it’s called education.
Before we parted I snapped this photo of her and Khadija: