It was a cold winters night in ChefChaouen, a small town in the North of Morocco. The original ‘Issaouia’was attending a birth in a run down home. She saw a snake in the house. She quietly grabbed it, wrapped it in her clothes and took it outside.
From that day on she would be known as ‘Issaouia’ (pronounced: ee – sa – wee – ya.)
The Isaaoua are a group of people from the South of Morocco who are part of a mystical group known for their spiritual music where they dance in a trance until they fall; believing that evil spirits leave them.
They are known to be fearless and strong; hence the nickname given to Rahma’s mother-in-law, which was passed on to her. Rahma joked that most people did not even know her real name and just referred to her as ‘Issaouia’.
The original ‘Issaouia’ was Rahma’s mother-in-law, who was a Qabla (traditional midwife) and healer. They are from a long line of Qabla’s and healers, at least 4 generations, spanning hundreds of years.
Rahma’s mother-in-law was called Fatima and she had 8 children, all boys. She passed away about 28 years ago when she was 90. As she had no daughter to pass down her knowledge to, it went to Rahma, her daugher-in-law.
Rahma told me that she was not ‘chosen’ by her mother-in-law, but that God led her to this path. Rahma is now the new ‘Issaouia’ serving women for 34 years.
My family is all from ChefChaouen, from both sides. All four of my grandparents lived in ChefChaouen and my grandmothers birthed their children there, many times with Fatima (the original Issaouia). This summer my uncles wife told me that she remembers her first birth and Fatima was there assisting her while she grabbed onto the sling which was tied to wooden beams on the ceiling.
These amazing Qablas have been a part of my families lives and it honours me to be able to meet Rahma, learn from her and try to reclaim, revive and restore their knowledge.
You see, Rahma has 6 children, 2 of them are girls. One is married and one is starting university in another city. I asked Rahma if any one of them will be taking over from her, but she said that they are not particularly interested in this work, as the pay is extremely low/non-existent and it is a lot of hard work.
But she remained positive and said if God desires it to be passed on to them, then it would be.
I do worry that after this generation, all the work of Rahma and the lineage will cease; it will fade and no longer be a part of ChefChaouen.
Rahma told me about supporting women with infertility, using a Tangia (clay pot) with coal inside to make it hot and used on the womb area, like dry cupping.
She told me about making her own vaginal suppositories with herbs and sheep wool for these women; along with a herbal drink.
She told me about vaginal steams which are done over 7 days, not leaving the house, to not catch any ‘colds’.
She told me about postpartum foods, closing the bones and also taught me how to do it.
She told me about her life, her hardships and how her husband did not want her to come and see me in Tangier, because he could not understand or believe why someone would want to learn from her, rather than learn from the hospital. Later he had a change of mind when he knew who my family was, as their home is very close to my grandparents home.
Rahma has to deal with this lack of support from home, can we blame her daughters for not wanting to take on this role?
To us, it is beautiful, it is something to be preserved, something we dream about, something we yearn for… we are able to make a living, a decent living, and so having Rahma’s knowledge seems like something we all want to share.
But would we want it if we had Rahma’s life fully?
Low/no income, hardship, pain… I saw the pain in her eyes when she told me her stories and I felt for her.
I felt her pain.
I forgot to ask for a picture as my mind was busy processing all the information, being in awe of her and feeling a little sad too.
These women, so much knowledge, so amazing, yet not recognised.
You know when you have a bad day and do not feel like doing anything, or you feel like quitting, when life gets too much…
I have those days at times, but then I know that this is what I am meant to do, perhaps what God has led me to do and these women motivate me so that I hopefully can share their work and give back to them.
I must inform you that the work I do, has and will always provide me with an income. I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur and I do love making my own money, improving myself and growing my business… as do many women.
One thing for sure is that I would NEVER exploit anyone, NEVER use anyone for my own benefit, NEVER leave someone behind on my way up and I try to be as ethical as possible.
Women like Rahma inspire and empower me, I feel a connection to them and want to and will continue to support them.