Peace Corps Writers
Maid of Morocco (page 2)

Maid of Morocco

page 1
page 2

     In another email that went out to all of the people she knew who had also known Fatima, Debra also asked us to send her their reminiscences about Fatima; she was thinking about writing something. Shortly after I left Morocco in 1983 I wrote a short memoir of Fatima. It is part of a collection of my writings about Morocco, mostly fiction, that I circulated among agents and publishers for a while. The collection garnered a few admiring comments, but no offers, and it eventually settled down into a dormant area of my hard drive. But I got out the memoir of Fatima after I received Debra’s email and read through it again, for the first time in probably 15 years. At the risk of sounding immodest, I have to say that rereading the memoir blew me away. It brought back to me, far more vividly than I would have imagined was possible, people and places in my life that had slowly drifted out of active memory.
     I sent the memoir off to Debra and put it on my website; it is now making the rounds of various Volunteers and others who knew Fatima. Aside from actually getting published, I have to say that receiving comments about the memoir from people who have read it is the most gratifying thing that has ever happened to me as a writer. I think the experience has a couple of interesting points regarding Peace Corps Volunteers and writing:

  1. For me now, in my early fifties, the great value of that memoir is that it recorded in considerable detail events that happened when I was a twenty-something. Paradoxically, I find that now, at this vantage 25 years after the fact, I have a much deeper understanding of who Fatima was and why her life was so singular than I ever did at the time. In the memoir I simply recorded what I saw and what I felt when it was fresh in my mind — I reckon I wasn’t really grown up enough to understand a lot of it, and there is nothing like the passage of time to drill into you some of life’s more enduring truths. So the moral here is, get it while it’s hot. You will never again have as vividly in your mind the impressions of life as a Volunteer as you do when those experiences are still making your synapses fire.
  2. While we, as Peace Corps Volunteers, are off in exotic places, gathering up impressions and experiences that last a lifetime, we may sometimes overlook the fact that the process is working the other way too: the experience of us in these faraway places may well constitute the experience of a lifetime for the people we meet there. This was certainly the case for Fatima. As I said, we were her family. She had no other. We were also her lifeline in a culture that had no place for a childless, old, drug-addicted spinster except as an object of pity, contempt, or charity. None of these roles was acceptable to Fatima: she was an indomitable, independent thinker who fashioned her own life against every prevailing current. She was lucky enough to find a group of people who enabled her to do it and validated her efforts. Because of that her gratitude to and love for us was every bit as great as ours toward her.
  3. Do not despair if your writing about Peace Corps life, or any writing you do for that matter, does not find its ideal audience as soon as you dot the last i and cross the last t. To everything there is a season. The profuse thanks and appreciations I have received from readers of the memoir who knew Fatima well and who say that I really “captured” her have completely vaporized quite a few of those long-ago rejection slips.
Orin “Buz” Hargraves taught English as a Volunteer and worked as a trainer for Peace Corps/Morocco until late 1983. His first book was Culture Shock! Morocco: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Graphic Arts Center Publishing, 1995), and was followed by two other books in the Culture Shock! Series He parlayed his TEFL experience into a career in lexicography, and he has contributed substantially to dictionaries from publishers including Berlitz, Cambridge University Press, Chambers-Harrap, HarperCollins, Langenscheidt, Longman, Merriam-Webster, and Oxford University Press. He is also the author of numerous articles about language and of two language reference books: Mighty Fine Words and Smashing Expressions: A Guide to British and American Differences (Oxford University Press, 2003), , and Slang Rules! (Merriam-Webster), due out next year, an ESL self-study book about American slang.
     His unpublished fiction includes novels and short stories, some of which can be found on his website www.carr.org/~orinkh/Fiction/

Orin's 1983 memoir of Fatima can be found at
www.carr.org/~orinkh/mo5graph/meskinp1.htm

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