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"Stories in the Stones"

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Jets and Cartwheels

A Wonder Women Day Trip

On a Rooftop In Morocco

High Spirits Haunted Tour
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Internet Romance



Bruce Springsteen
Ozzy Ozbourne
Lenny Kravitz
Roy Clark
Marilyn Manson
Amy Grant



She's Come Undone
The Hand I Fan With
Only Twice I've Wished For Heaven



The Austin American-Statesman

June 2002

Up on the roof in Morocco,

I discovered me


In the sanctuary of a foreign land,

I lost a love but found strength

By Karen Strawn

Special to The Austin American-Statesman

    I went to Morocco in the summer of 1999 as the bride-to-be. I came back to America, with the steady ache of a broken dream, and an unexpected sense of new direction for my life.

    I discovered that being dumped by a man in a foreign country is no different than being dumped by a man in your homeland. The only difference is that I went to Morocco in love with a man and returned in love with a country.

   My groom-to-be was an American businessman who was opening a Jazz coffee house on the Atlantic Coast in Agadir, Morocco. Our matchmakers were well-meaning mutual friends. Our courting ground was the Internet.

   I had never laid eyes on this Jazzman, but for eight months we wrote more than 680 email messages to each other. I began to fall in love with the idea of living in Morocco and loving this man. We exchanged photos and talked on the phone. He asked me to marry him twice before I ever considered going to meet him face to face to arrange the final details of our Moroccan wedding.

   Jazzman gave me words and promises for eight months, but became speechless in less than five days. Our communication, the very thing that brought us together so passionately, broke us apart uncaringly. But in the midst of this love affair gone wrong, in a foreign country, where women wear veils to cover their faces and throwing away bread is considered a sin, I found love for a culture.

   My dreams were broken, shattered along the streets of Morocco and now I had to say good-bye. Jazzman shook my hand, turned and walked away, forever.

   But even the realization that romance had failed me couldn't chill the excitement I felt as I began to remember all the things I had done, especially the day I spent with the women of Morocco.


The women of Morocco

   There are three places in Morocco where women rule: the women's public baths, rooftops and cemeteries on Friday afternoons.

   All three offer women the same privileges men have on the streets – time to socialize with friends. These places are known as “women's space” and no man would intrude there. Men respect the privacy of women's public baths for obvious reasons, the rooftops of homes because of the association with domestic chores done there and cemeteries because they (men) are supposed to be praying at the mosque on Friday afternoons.

   One day I got to go to all three. But it was my experience on the rooftop of a home with a blue door where I found something I had been looking for all my life.

   My American friend Safari, who has lived in Morocco for 17 years, suggested I come with her for the day. She was taking me to what she described as an afternoon gathering of women.

   Safari wore a jellaba, the one-piece, unisex, coverall garment that looks like a hooded choir robe. It is different than a veil. Veils are worn to indicate marital status. Unlike a burqua, which covers the entire face, veils cover only half of the face or are worn like a scarf covering the top of a woman's head.

   Don't let those veils fool you. Moroccan women unveil at the doors of their homes and host parties, as I was about to discover, that would make an American debutante turn green with envy.

   We walked arm and arm down the brick and dirt streets of an upper middle class neighborhood in Agadir, our arms hooked together at the elbows symbolizing the Moroccan importance of same-sex friendships.

   We stopped at a brightly painted blue door that looked like a picture hung on a stone wall. After a code-rhythm knock, the door opened and we stepped inside.

   The first thing I noticed were the shoes. They literally covered the entire entry. It is a custom in Morocco to take off one's shoes when entering the salon, the Moroccan equivalent to a living room.

    I could tell there were about thirty people attending, with half of them children between the ages of shoe size 2x-7regular and none of them were male over the age of puberty.

   The smell of mint that flavors Moroccan green tea (as common as breathing) and homemade bread (considered sacred) filled the air as we were greeted the traditional Moroccan way with kisses on each side of our cheek by the woman of the house.

   As I stood among the ocean of shoes with my cheek stinging and wet from the greeting, I looked up at an open ceiling and saw what I guessed were about four more levels. The home was tall and skinny. There was an open atrium space, winding white stone staircase, Moroccan woven rugs and green tile in the kitchen that matched the green tea that was immediately placed in my hands.

   From the outside, the house appeared stone, pale and commonplace. But inside, it was like walking into a courtyard. Like the neighborhood we walked through to get here, I knew this was an upper middle class home.

   There was the sound of music coming from the salon. I heard tambourines and guitars, women singing and dancing. I turned to Safari and whispered, “Is it someone's birthday?” “No,” she said as she smiled and tossed her eyes towards the salon welcoming me to join. “A wedding?” I tried. “No,” she said. “Just because.”

The rooftop

  Most Moroccan homes have flat roofs framed with waist-to-neck-high stone walls. Like backyards in America, Moroccan rooftops are used for domestic chores like hanging laundry and planting gardens as well as providing a safe place for children to play.

   After singing, dancing and drinking tea with the women of Morocco in the middle of the afternoon for no reason whatsoever, I climbed the narrow white stone stairs to the top level of the house to find this rooftop sanctuary. Passing three levels, I arrived at a keyhole-shaped doorway that funneled the sunlight and cool breeze onto my face. I squinted as I walked through this life-sized keyhole onto a rooftop oasis shaded with plants, flowers and gardens.

   For me, the rooftop was the quiet haven I had been searching for all my life. Not a refuge from my busy life, but a safe place inside me. “This is it,” I whispered to myself. “I've found home.” For the first time in my life, I felt complete. It's odd, I never knew I was incomplete.

   In the most unlikely place, I discovered a new part of me I never knew existed, yet in some way, felt I had missed.

   The tenderness from the broken dream still lingered. But for some reason it didn't matter anymore. Strangely, I felt strengthened. The path I was to take in life had changed. I didn't understand the details, but somehow I knew I had taken the first step.

   On a rooftop in Morocco I had come home to myself. For me, everything will be different forever.




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