BY: ELISE CAMPBELL
BIRTA, MOROCCO – Dunia Chamoun sat in the warmth of the sun that cast a hazy glow through the dirty window. Her notebooks, worn by her fingers tracing the corners and words, sat on her lap. Since she dropped out of school seven years ago, at age 11, she’s spent the majority of her days inside the family’s small, clay-walled house.
After Chamoun’s father passed away, her older brothers decided to keep her at home in order to preserve her body, her beauty, and ultimately her reputation as a “good girl.” Despite her domestic isolation, she finds ways to express herself through writing. Her three small, worn paper notebooks are her prized possessions. Reciting a poem from one, she said:
I have nothing but my heart.
No knowledge, no power.
No money, no cure.
The only thing that keeps someone alive is love.
Chamoun’s deep brown eyes traced the lines of words, then looked up as she continued to share more that she’d memorized but not yet committed to paper. A jewel-studded headband delicately sat across the crown of her head, a subtle reminder of her youthful innocence.
A wedding DVD was playing in the background. Last year, her older sister got married. She left to live with her husband, and now spends her days in their new home. Watching the DVD is the only way Chamoun can see her sister now.
Like her sister, Chamoun has begun adjusting to domestic life. She choreographs each meal with contrasting colors, beets separate carrots that separate piles of rice. She peels a tomato and carefully winds the red peel into the shape of a rose for the center of the plate.
She sings while she prepares each meal, her voice ringing out strong from the kitchen like the whistle of a boiling kettle.