WAFAE and Her Scarlet Letter

Wafae sits with me in the back of a rumbling green Nissan, both of us getting greener by the minute -  the bad driving, the roundabouts, the Hills between Fez and Sefrou.  But I cannot take my eyes off of her, cannot stop listening.  This quiet young woman with a head scarf tied around gentle eyes is saying amazing things.

Wafae is twenty-one with a four year old son and a five year old marriage; the three living with his mother/father/brothers. In her second year at the University studying English, she has just finished reading The Scarlet Letter and is planning her senior project around working with unwed mothers in Morocco.

“I want every woman to have a choice, to know her own independence, to be in charge of her own life. It is the only way ahead”  says this young doe of a woman.  Does her husband stand with her? Yes, she says.  After all, his mother, sitting in the front seat, is one of the leading movers in the women’s movement in Morocco.

It is the mother-in-law that I have come to see.  Amina is the fearsome Queen of Buttons - the tiny, knotted kind that romp down a jellaba, that earn a woman bread to eat.  But not just buttons - she is also introducing weaving to women for the first time in this culture -  half a dozen looms buzzing on the ground floor of her own house; and she is teaching women about natural dying, about marketing and accounting, about self-sufficiency, self-respect, sovereignty.

Nine months ago, in Santa Fe, I gave the Queen of Buttons a Moroccan jacket of my own and asked if she could make more like it.  Mais, oui!  she exclaims, exploding with possibility.  

Today, Amina and Wafae take me to their cooperative of women who have prepared the jacket for me.  I am welcomed with warmth and curiosity.  I study their exquisite embroidery, roping, tailoring. I learn about their complex techniques of button crafting - they are eager to share.  I drink mint tea and ask their names.  Wafae models the elegance which they have crafted for ibu. 

Perfection.  I cannot find a flaw.  I praise.  I rummage through baskets, choose color combinations with their help, place an order, express my deep unfiltered thanks for their skills, collaboration, hard work.  Their eyes fill with tears. 

Wafae walks with me, arm and arm, up the quiet hillside, past the neighborhood mosque, toward home. I want to give all of me to this life. she says.  Every bit of me.  And not hold anything back.   I am moved by her forth-rightness, flowing like a force, unfettered.  I used to be shy.  My mother died when I was young and I came to work with Amina on the buttons. Amina has taught me not to hold myself back.  I can talk now.  I can say what I mean.  I know I can do anything.  Anything.  

No doubt she will teach the unwed mothers she is drawn to the same.  Wafae is embroidering life with a Scarlet Letter - not that of an old shame, but an A it is still - for Ambition. Audacity.  An A for the grades she pulls down, her son, Ali, whom she loves, the Achievements to which she aspires. She is playing her A game, for sure.  I want to watch her soar.

All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker
Easter Sunday, 2016