The Magic Carpets Of Morocco

by Catherine O'Hare (United Kingdom)

Making a local connection Morocco


“Alhamdulillah”. Fatima smiles, a broad, genuine grin, in sharp contrast to the story she has just told. I am in Fatima’s front room halfway down the fortified hill at Ait Benhaddou in Morocco. Outside the sun is murderous. Donkeys stand in the heat, motionless, obedient, eyes half shut. This morning it had rained. Hard. So hard, it turned all the tiny streams that wind their way down the hill into gushing rivers of coffee-coloured water. “Oued”, Fatima corrects me. “Not river. Oued can be sometimes dry. A river, it is never dry…” much like Fatima’s courage I am soon to learn. Fatima had caught me on my way up. “When you come back, I will make you henna. I will have tea”. I thanked her and left with promises that I would visit on my return not really expecting her to be standing in the same dark doorway and certain I would not remember which house was hers in the meandering, narrow maze of burnt-orange, earthen dwellings that climbed up from the river (the real one). But she was there, hours later, running up to me like a long-lost friend and ushering me through sparse rooms and faint whiffs of maghrebi tea into the cool inside. Not an inch of floor was left unadorned by intricate, woven Berber rugs. Even more were stacked high in every corner. Vibrant greens, blues, pinks. Bold block designs and geometric shapes. Fatima pulls up two tiny wooden stools and starts preparing the henna paste. She gently holds my hand with her thick, work-worn fingers as the needleless syringe weaves the strong liquid in delicate patterns from my wrist to my fingertips. At first glance, huddled in the half-light, hair bound tightly in a knotted scarf, I had guessed her to be perhaps 60, but she had a sparkle that suggested a woman much younger. Fatima was telling her story. A mother of 7, her husband had divorced her, leaving her to fend for herself and all 7 children. With no money, never a chance for education, she could only weave her rugs and offer tea to the tourists who climbed here every day. Past her small front room. Past her village. The kindness of strangers. I look at her with a sad appreciation of her struggle. A mist creeps across her eyes and, for a moment, softens the perma-smile lines she has worked so hard to etch into her face. With a self-deprecating laugh she waves her hand dismissively, shooing bad memories away. “Alhamdulillah”, she smiles, peacefully. “I am happy. I thank God every day for what I have. Alhamdulillah”. That day, I bought a lot of rugs.