By Hannah Rehak
Photo by Will Matsuda
Fatna Farhat never thought she’d live in a village like Birta. But when her husband decided to move from Casablanca, the largest of Morocco’s cities, to a rural village just outside of Fez, she knew she had no choice but to go with him. She was 30 years old and the new bride of a polygamous man who already had two wives.
Roughly two decades later, she has gained seniority as the first wife because those before her left through divorce and separation. For years, Farhat and her two biological children shared a six-room house with Jemma, the fourth wife who had five children, but when Farhat came into her father’s inheritance three years ago, she made a decision that would forever alter the family dynamic. She used the money to build a four-room house on the same plot of land and moved into it with her son and daughter. Though her new home is made purely of cement, lacks doors, and is too small for her to have her own room, Farhat and her children agree their lives are better now.
But, in moments of nostalgia, Farhat looks at her life in Casablanca through photos she keeps shuffled together in a worn leather bag in her bedroom. Some are dated with the faces and hair from a past life; others are not, full of family now living abroad and people long forgotten, but all have grayed and fraying edges from the years of purpose they’ve served. There is one of her holding hands with her younger sister, another of her surrounded by a group of friends in a busy cafe, and another of her wearing blue shorts and sunglasses with her hair tied up in a ponytail, smiling. She says she never thought she would leave Casablanca, and though it’s been a lifetime in Birta, she still does not feel comfortable in the village.
Farhat now keeps her head covered both inside and outside of her home and her skin is tanner than it was in the photos, but when she laughs, traces of black eyeliner show from beneath her lashes, and the girl with the ponytail is smiling all over again.