Discovering Sisterhood in Boujad

By Mónica Lindo

This essay appears in “Publish Her Anthology: Better Together,” a collection of essays on women gathering.

I’d made Algerian friends during my term at University of Paris, so it was my first-choice destination for traveling in North Africa. However, that became impossible when it began experiencing civil unrest. It felt safer to visit one of its more stable neighbors. That’s how I ended up in Morocco. Instead of backpacking, like I had done around Europe, I decided to go as a volunteer. Joining an international work camp would allow me to experience the culture while donating my time in service.

I signed up for a three-week project in Mohammedia, a west coast city between Casablanca and Rabat. There were 30 volunteers—21 local and nine international (from France, Germany, Japan and the U.S.). There was a main boulevard going through the city with palm trees planted in the median at about every 5 meters. Our job was to clean all the trash that motorists and passersby had thrown in between the trees, till the soil, and plant flowers on a 1-kilometer stretch of that road. Because temperatures regularly passed 40 degrees Celsius, we only worked until lunch time. Then we had the afternoons to explore the city, relax or visit a nearby beach. At the community center where we slept, we took turns preparing meals and cleaning. Some evenings we had impromptu parties in which we danced, drummed and sang to music from a dusty boom box.

During the last week of our volunteering stint, some of us talked about doing a bit of traveling before leaving the country. My new Japanese friend Makoto and I decided to team up and travel for 10 days. Driss, a local volunteer, invited himself on our trip with the excuse that he could guide us since we spoke no Arabic. Then Abdel also decided to come along, but only until we arrived at Boujad, his hometown.

Makoto and I had expected to take buses or trains and stay at hostels, but Driss and Abdel had other ideas. They phoned friends or acquaintances around the country and asked to stay a few nights. This worked because hospitality is of utmost importance in Islam. The prophet Mohammed encouraged his followers to be good hosts and to receive visitors and strangers with kindness and generosity. That also meant that the itinerary was out of Makoto’s and my hands. We made stops in Fez, Errachidia, Boujad and Marrakesh. All were cities where we knew people. In Marrakesh (which was the only city Makoto and I got to choose), we stayed at a friend of a friend’s home.

It was also decided that we would hire a taxi to drive us for the first part of the trip. It had no air conditioning. Each time we arrived at a new home for the night, my main focus was to bathe. By the time we arrived at the third city, I was so done with riding in the sweltering back seat with these three boys who were competing to see who could go the longest without showering. To top it off, my period began, which heightened my sense of smell. More than ever, I needed to feel clean. Thankfully, I usually got a window seat, so I stretched my neck out the window, gulping fresh air to keep from retching at the stench of unwashed bodies in this ridiculous Stinkfest.

When we got to Boujad, Abdel’s older brother and friend formally greeted us outside the family home and then again inside. We sat on red carpeting and leaned on red sofas within reach of low wooden tables. Women silently served us the customary sweet, mint-infused black tea along with flat loaves of bread to tear and dip in saucers of ripe olives swimming in oil. I put on my best face, followed whatever conversation was in French, and tried not to look too out of it when it switched to Arabic. I was sweaty, crampy, and desperately wanting to feel soap and water on my skin.

After a half-hour or so, one of the women came and discretely pulled me away. Four of Abdel’s sisters were there. I was tickled to learn that two of them were named Latifah and Kadijah, like the hip-hop Queen and the character she played on the 1990s sitcom “Living Single.” We sat in a little circle on the spotless floor near the kitchen. It was rare for them to meet and talk to a foreigner. Two had never finished school, so they only spoke Arabic. The two who did speak French translated for them. They asked about my road trip. “You poor thing, stuck with those brutes,” one said. Another sister exclaimed, “Stay with us! No need to return to the living room.”

I marveled at the decorative trim down the fronts and on the cuffs of their djellabahs. It turned out that they had hand-embroidered it themselves! They brought out a couple of garments to show me their ornate handiwork. Assuming that American women didn’t do crafts at all, they were surprised to hear I crocheted.

One sister was a married teacher and mother of one. I’d just finished my first year of teaching, and we bonded over our common occupation. Then another sister asked the sweetest question: “Do you want to shower?” I felt such gratefulness, I could’ve just hugged and kissed her. It was as if she’d offered me a gift of great value. She knew exactly what a woman traveling the dusty roads squeezed into a hot car full of reeking bodies needed. After a shower and change of clothes, I felt decent again.

That night, I fell asleep filled with gratitude, wrapped in the warmth of unexpected, newfound sisterhood.

Photo credit: Mónica Lindo

About the Author

Mónica Lindo has a passion for seeing new places, people and cultures. She taught literature and Spanish at public high schools in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., and TESOL in South Korea and Japan. She is currently working on a travel memoir about her experiences teaching in the U.S. and Asia.

About Publish Her

Publish Her is a female-founded publisher dedicated to elevating the words, writing and stories of women. We are passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to make publishing an attainable, exciting and collaborative process for all. Publish Her specializes in print-on-demand books, workbooks, journals, magazines and more.