on the roof in Morocco,
the sanctuary of a foreign land,
lost a love but found strength
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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