Her name is Lalla Tahra — A portrait of my adoptive mother

May 26, 2018



Lalla Tahra’s soft hands, feeding her youngest grand-son, Daoud. 

January 2018




I collect memories. I dream of words that are often unspoken, and I like to introduce myself as a storyteller. My sources of inspiration have come from many hidden corners. It was a hybrid of patterns, habits and stretched muscles. Although, I know for a fact that it had first started with Lalla Tahra. My aunt always had fascinating stories to tell. When I was a child, her warm presence made me feel complete, whole. The bed-time stories were often about her mother's wisdom, cinderella's missing glass shoe, and the snake who bit her when she was about twelve years old. The oral storytelling made her an icon, a historian, and a guardian of secrets. Her mind was a maze of tangled narratives. My younger self used to clutch my body next to hers and follow her with wide-open eyes, even when the lights went off. I was always captivated by her voice, even when she repeated the same stories every night. I remember it all so well. The smell of the blue furred blanket, the beige colour of the walls, the size of the room, and the tone of her voice. It might not have been too long ago after all.  


Her name is precious. Tahra,  طاهرة. The "h" must be read similarly to that of the word “heaven”. And if you ever happen to meet her, you’d instantly understand that her name is part of who she is, as it translates to purity and often refers to the cleanliness of the soul. You'd then feel orchids blooming inside you, grace embracing you, and mostly reassured, that a being like you can be loved, just by the way she would welcome you into her home. I used to think that she was too forgiving, and exaggeratory kind. By the age of five, I had lived about one full year with her in the city of Meknes, and spent most of my summers and holidays running around her garden and looking after the goat she had got for me. 


She received visitors every day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner. None of them came empty handed. They either carried empty plastic bowls, or brought back her dishes. She would then take the plates and boxes and fill them with what she had cooked that day for her children. By the end of the day, her fridge was empty, but that never felt 'out of the norm'.


Lalla Tahra raised me. With cinderella stories, half-spoiled habits, and a fascinating world to observe and be part of. She was the mother of ten children, and still took me under her sleeve as the eleventh. I often met other women later on who might have had similar routines, divided between care work and household chores, but her energy was and still is too special, almost unreal. She even taught me how to bake homemade bread, measuring the ingredients with my eyes “عينك ميزانك”…  


    Courtesy of Soukaina Kherdioui. @Moroccansenses - 2017


  • A little bit of corn flower

  • A little bit of white flour

  • Two small pieces of sugar

  • A pinch of salt

  • Baking powder (placed in the middle of the flour mix)

  • Warm water from the Kettle - البقراج 


Unlike other women, Lalla Tahra doesn’t own gold bracelets or necklaces, she doesn’t have seven different precious sets of dinnerware or spoons. There were days when the main gate of her house wouldn’t lock, yet she still slept in ease and comfort. 


To me, Lalla Tahra is more than an achieved women. She has taught generations of children at her kindergarten, and always hid food in my luggage at the end of my visits. Lalla Tahra offered me unconditional love since the first day she met as a toddler, and I still learn from it, everyday. She visits me in my dreams, now that we live oceans apart. She always wears one of her gowns, a type of 'humble' caftans. She loves soft pastel colors, and always smells of motherly tenderness.



She inspires me. Teaching the art of being soft. Kind. Cheerful. How to give from what we love most without holding on to material objects. And perhaps how to create a soup kitchen without necessarily labelling it, letting it speak for itself.


Lalla Tahra is a safe harbour for her children. For me. And even for those who have never met her. I hope that the thought of her reassures your soul, that people such as these exist, that they live to offer iridescent light to the world around them. That they are worlds of their own. 


Lalla Tahra is one of my favourite worlds. 



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