Bread & Mint tea: how a woman tamed life

Bread & Mint tea: how a woman tamed life


bantou tribe


On February the 5th 2020, a woman that goes by the name Al Saadia died at the age of 93 in Salé, a city full of history located on the West coast of Morocco. She passed peacefully on her bed surrounded by her family, while prayers were read in the background. This woman was my grandmother. Now you might be thinking, who wants to hear a story of someone else’s granny? Well, let me start by telling you that this is not a boring account of a casual grandmother. This is more of a narrative on how an illiterate but far from ignorant women shaped the lives of many by the only power of will. Allow me to specify that I don’t want to fall in a sad and melancholic description of my grandmother’s life. She was an extremely funny woman and I would feel ashamed not to depict her story with a positive and amusing approach. 

The Mother of Happiness

Al Saadia in 1927 in a little place called “Romani”, lost in the middle of the Moroccan countryside. “Romani”, not to be mistaken with “Romania” which is a country in eastern Europe, is not the kind of place known for having produced exceptional human beings. To be quite frank, it is not known for having produced anything exceptional at all. However, there in this little village, there was a little woman who would grow to become an extraordinary figure. Nothing presented my grandmother to an incredible future. She had many siblings, most of them men, and had never gotten the chance to go to school. Life wasn’t easy in the Moroccan countryside, and although her father was pretty powerful in the village, she had to live a harsh life and marry very young. At the age of fourteen, my grandmother was married to what would become my grandfather. This little girl with long red tainted hair and a piercing look would be wedded to this tall man with small grey eyes and beautiful blond hair. By reading this physical description of my grandparents, you’d think this story is taking place in some Irish or Scottish village. This is what makes Morocco an incredible place. The long and amazing history of this country has made it a wonderful blend of cultures, people, and colors. Blacks, whites, browns, all living under the same flag; Now back to my grandmother. Being married this young wasn’t a great souvenir to her. She always talked about this period of her life with a bit of pain, which was very rare for someone who never let her weak spots emerge. After her marriage, not happy with the situation, she decided to flee in the wild and hid on top of a tree for a whole freezing night with wolves watching her. My grandmother didn’t learn to read or write before the age of 60, this made her develop and master other skills such as good memory as well as storytelling. She could tell this story with such passion and detail to the point I could feel the wolfs breathing down my neck and cold in my bones. Ultimately after this dark episode, she would grow in love with my grandfather and they both moved to the city of Salé where she had seven children and spent the rest of her life. 

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If you’d ever go to the city of Salé as a tourist, you’d think it is not a special place that would leave an edible mark in the back of your mind. To my grandmother, however, it was the most beautiful place on earth. It is an ancient walled and buzzing city built in the 11th century, and although it is one of the most populous places in Morocco, very few people know about it abroad… which is a shame. The great mosque, the souk, the Jewish quarter, the colonial buildings, Salé always was a thriving city. It was also home to the once infamous “Salé rovers” who raided the Atlantic coast up to Iceland and terrorized the back-then foreign powers. The people of Salé are known for their pride and sense of honor, and you could see that in my grandmother. Having traveled to three continents, she went to visit my father when he was a student in Paris and hated it. It is by far one of my favorite stories. She used to tell me how everybody had dogs and that she thought that was dirty. She also told me about the first time she saw what is probably the world’s most famous building: La Tour Eiffel. She used to call it the big minaret as if some Muezzin would come and make the call to prayer five times a day over the French capital. I sometimes wonder what Gustave Eiffel would have ve thought if he heard about this little lady comparing his life’s work to a minaret. A few years later, she then traveled to New York to see one of my uncles who settled there for work. Will the Big Apple with its gigantic buildings be enough to overrun my grandmother’s pride? Will the immensity of the city make her admit that this was indeed an incredible sight? What a foolish question to ask… of course it wasn’t. To her, Salé was the center of the world and it will remain this way. 

I talked about the pride of the people of Salé, but what made of my grandmother an extraordinary person is the power of her will and how she used it to raise her children. My grandparents had seven children together, all of whom succeeded in their professional careers. When you ask them what was the secret of their success, they would always say that the education their mother gave them was what made them what they are. My grandmother, who never went to school, understood the importance of having a good education, so she made sure every single one of her children would receive one. She would walk miles every day to make them attend their classes, knowing that one day, this would all pay off. Discipline and persistence were key in the shaping of her progeny’s lives. She did not just want them to be good, she wanted them to be the best. She always used to tell me about this story of my father, whom she wanted to participate in a competition of Quranic recitation. My father was too young to take part in the contest, so my grandmother went and changed his age (Yes, you could do that back in the days).

She would even go meet the organizers with an aim to let her son in. Ultimately, she would succeed, and my father would end-up winning the competition and his recitations would be broadcasted on Moroccan television… The power of will.

My grandmother wasn’t a rich person, and she never really owned anything. However, this did not impact her generosity and eagerness to give and share. Every time I visited her, she would always offer me a cup of mint tea and a piece of bread that she made herself. If there is one thing she was the proudest of, after her children, it was her bread. She would go knock on her best friend’s house just to ask her to try it. Just like she did with her children, I think she saw in that bread a product of her own making. Something that in her eyes, she mastered to perfection with her own bare hands. Beware to those who refused to taste it! My father, who is an unshakable and very solemn figure, would sometimes decline, but she would persist until he would take one bite of the sacred bread. She is the only person in the world who could make him bend to her will. After all, she was his mother. 

I said earlier that she did not own anything, I was terribly wrong. My grandmother owned one of the greatest gifts that life can give, the gift of remembrance. All the little stories she told, all the episodes of her life were for us a lesson of humility to look back into and see how someone who started from nothing, could achieve great things. I don’t believe in superheroes, I just think people have heroic moments. My grandmother had a heroic life. 

.الله  يرحمك ميمتي