Interview with Malika Ouacha

This interview is based on the story My mothers cloak.
We recommend you read the story first!

Interview by Barbara van den Bogaard

I connected with Malika through a story that she shared online about the cloak her mother made her before she died. The story touches me because of her mothers’ loving wisdom and the wish of Malika to know more about what she left behind. The story is called “My mothers’ cloak”. I asked Malika if I could bring the story into the Global Storytellers Community so that more people would get to read it. This way we would capture the story for present and future generations. She said yes. I transferred the story to the inside of a ceramic cup and sent it to her. A day later she called me, her voice made me aware of the tears in her eyes, which brought tears to mine. I’m so thankful we´ve met, that we created something together and that the world is able to know about this story. I’m thankful for the conversation we´ve had, which we also share with you for no other reason than to connect.

You shared this amazing story about your mother with us and with the world. Can you tell me more on how you grew up?

I’m born here in the Netherlands. But my mother was born and raised in Morocco. She was 42 when she died, and 25 years old when she moved to Europe. She and my father moved to France and then they moved to the Netherlands. The moment they migrated to Europe, she already had three kids and was carrying the fourth in her belly. The first seven years of my life have been amazing. And our household was just… it was home. It was very warm and loving and we could do whatever we wanted. If I look back on family photos, we were walking around in our underwear and were playing all these fun games. We were just so happy. And my mother made sure that we never missed anything. I think that’s one of the blessings that we’ve had. There was always someone home while my father was always working. 

And then your mother died when you where seven. What happened?

She died on August 13th, 2000 and that was the dramatic event that changed my life. Not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. I spoke with one of my brothers about it a few weeks ago. He said: “After she died, we would always have this big elephant in the room and everybody was aware of it, but we didn’t really mention it. And we were projecting our pain on other stuff in life.” And he is right. I think it was during my teenage years when I became aware of this projection. And also of this wound that I had. I always knew I had one, but I wasn’t really talking about it. I was more of an introvert. I would curl up in a book. Just to forget about what was going on. And then as you grow older, of course, you meet people that force you to talk about what’s going on, because they feel that there’s something. And so I learned how to open up and talk. I also went to see a counsellor that I still see. Over the years, he became a very good friend. Talking to him from a very young age has shaped my life. He made me embrace the human part of me, which might sound crazy when I say this, but this is really the way I feel it. The loss of my mother has been one of the horrible things that happened in my life, but it has definitely been one of the blessings also. I think it really grounded me in a way. It shaped me completely. My soul, my life, the way I think and the people I’ve met.

This is a remarkable and hopeful perspective you share with me…

Life is just not always fun. The death of my mother is not something I wished for of course, absolutely not. But it happened. And my journey has been about getting my strength out of it instead of constantly seeing it as a burden. We can heal from our pain. I think one of the biggest things that I realized in life is that you are really everything you need. It’s amazing to have people around you. But it’s okay if they die. You’ll always be fine.

You describe both sides. I feel inside of me that I need some time to let these words sink in. It is so strange for me to really say that it is okay for people to die… So how did your father cope with his wife’s death?

Well, we had a lot of support from my mothers’ girlfriends, and my aunts. My older sister lives in France and often came back to the Netherlands to help us out. We just had each other’s back. We were a team and everybody was dealing with their own wounds in their own way. We were just really blessed with meeting people along the way who helped us and who were there for us. But also, faith, you know. I think life cares for us the most. Mother Earth and Father Heaven and us humans in between. We should have faith and never forget that the universe has been here for so long. Sometimes I would hear a friend say: if my mom dies, I think I will never survive. But then I’m like: you will survive. You’ll get over it. You’re not going to get over it completely but you will be able to give it a place. And that’s what happened in our household. All the people that we’ve met taught us how to give it a place. I mean, I’ve met my adoptive mother on an older age and she really helped me out. And she was there for my siblings as well.

What do you want to share about her? She is a very special lady in your life.

Well, without getting into many details, because this is really a very personal chapter, we were brought together by life. And when I sometimes ask her what actually happened when we met, she says: “Well, I met you and I loved you from the very first moment on. And even though I didn’t carry you for nine months, I will carry you my whole life because you are one of mine.” 

I was traumatized on so many layers. I was like this ice block that had to become water for it to be able to flow.

And this is also what I realized. Certain things don’t have to be created by us, to love them unconditionally. We just have to open our hearts and feel that divine love we have and that we are part of. I think especially as women we are able to share our love in a remarkable way. We’re able to give life and I think that gift makes us special human beings. When people see my adoptive mother and me together, they’re like, “oh my god, you guys are so close.” And we are. She’s my best friend. We’re very close. But it wasn’t easy. In the beginning, I was traumatized in so many ways, on so many layers. I was like this ice block that had to become water for it to be able to flow again. So for her it was also a challenge. How was she going to help this traumatized kid? It is the tip of the iceberg that people see but underneath, there’s just a lot of hard work, dedication, vulnerability, honesty and a lot of tears. She taught and still teaches me interesting stuff. And she always tells me that I teach her as well. So it’s two worlds coming together and blending into a very colourful, feminine bundle of love. A few weeks ago I gifted her with the Cup of Stories with my story inside. That was such a beautiful moment. Everything is healing. I really believe that this conversation also brings a lot of healing. For the both of us. This is why I believe in dialogue, this is why I believe in talking. No masks, just being who you are. I think that if we realize that what we have is something that others may be helped with, benefit from, it could just change the way we see ourselves in society and the way we see others. That’s a very important realization.

Wow the cup really looks good on you I must say. Seeing you with it makes me so happy. Can we talk about the story that is inside? Can we talk about the cloak that your mother made for you and your sisters?

I was about to move to the mountains of Morocco, but it’s very cold during winter. During the summer it can be very cold at night. And one day I was at my aunt’s house and we were talking about the mountains and these cold winters and then all of a sudden she was like: “Hold on, I have something for you.” She went upstairs and took something out of this old closet. It was the cloak that my mother had made for me. It was wrapped in wool. But the thing is, I still remember how she smelled. And her smell was in that cloak… I could smell her again, after so many years… On mothers day…

It was overwhelming. And I think I had tears in my eyes for days, even when I was travelling to the Netherlands to catch my plane to go to Morocco. This experience was the start of yet another realization. My mother was so spiritual. She was so aware. She didn’t talk about it because she was such an introvert. And maybe that’s also one of the reasons why I think it’s so important to talk about things. To create and take the platform and talk about life and what we learn. I have people around me who encourage me to really do this. My mother didn’t have that. She kept it close to herself. And maybe that’s the magical part in it.

How did she know that she would leave the earth on an early age?

She knew. She just knew. She shared it with my father as something she was afraid of that it would happen. But she knew she wasn’t going to be alive for a long time. She was 42. That’s so young. I think this is also the power of intuition. The unconditional trust that she had in the Divine, in God. She just never questioned that. Even though she knew. I’m sure she felt like: “oh my god, I’m gonna leave my babies.” But what touches me in this act of creating the cloak and making sure that one day I would receive it, is that it is all about being able to surrender. Which is so powerful. Letting go of all the control that we were taught in western society. It’s such wisdom.

Where do your parents come from? What are your roots?

We always went back to Morocco. Ever since I was two. I spent many summers working on the land of my grandmother, washing clothes in the river, walking through the mountains, swimming in the rivers and in the lakes. They weren’t the vacations my friends had. I mean we didn’t have these fancy get-aways, to the beach and stuff. But those travels were so enriching. I mean I’m able to speak a local language in a way many who grew up in Europe don’t speak. I was always forced to talk in Tachelhiyt to my parents or to the elderly people in my family and in the village. It’s funny, every time I go to Morocco, and I go to the mountains, people are so surprised. They just don’t get how someone who grew up in Europe and is so Western speaks this language. 
So yes, we went back every summer. This is how I also know the poetry. I know how the women sing, their lyrics, and how they make those cloaks. I think it’s also the reason why I was and still am so connected to my mother. I just deeply know where she comes from. I would visit her grave every Friday. But it’s a bit weird, right? When you’re a kid of eight years old, and you go on a vacation, you actually go to visit your mother’s grave. If I think about it now as an adult, I shouldn’t have to deal with those things as a child. It’s just way too complicated.

So how do you think about death? What did you learn about your mothers passing?

I learned that when you die, you don’t actually go away. When I was a child I thought people go to this place somewhere on Earth where you can go and visit them when you grow up. And so I thought, I’ll just do my thing and then I’ll become an adult and then I will meet her again. But as I grew older, I felt the wound. I felt there was something missing. Sometimes I just had this chill and I didn’t really understand what was going on. But I always met these very spiritual people that said; “You have someone who takes care of you on the other side.” I never really knew it was my mother. Until one day, I think I was 14 when I met this old wise guy and he said: ‘I feel in my heart that it’s your mother. I feel it’s her and she’s looking out for you and you are really protected.’ When I consciously decided to feel this, to let this in, I also somehow interpreted death as a different concept. Because people die but they can be with us because we have a soul and we’re all connected. We are souls in bodies, not the other way around. For a long time, I felt my mother’s soul around me, but I think it was last year when I really felt her soul pass over into the light. And I felt this amazing peace in the deepest layer of my heart. At that moment I knew: ‘we’re okay, we made it, we’re fine.’ During my prayer, I said to her from my heart: “You can go and rest now.” But of course we are physical beings. So there’s always this desire of wanting to physically share something with someone. And I think that longing will always remain but it is also the knowing that she went into the light that is very comforting.

Tell me about your journey towards becoming an anthropologist and the research you did in Morocco?

Culture has always been a very dominant concept in my life because I could always tell the difference between my Turkish friends, my Iraki friends, my friends from Algeria or my Dutch friends. We were the same yet not always the same. From a very early age I’ve had this deep connection with civilization, with history, with humanity and society. I didn’t care about numbers and calculations, and even though I was good in math, I was like, who cares about that? What good does come from knowing how to make some calculations? So, on an early age, I started reading history books about Morocco, the American Revolution, about the Netherlands and Europe. I think what is so interesting for me is knowing what our world looked like maybe 200 or 300 years ago, because things were so different back then. It is fascinating to see what we still have left from that time and what not. So the evolvement, the dynamic part of society was always something that caught my attention. The more I was reading, the more I became aware of the part of Morocco that I was from. But I just couldn’t find good, solid descriptions similar to the way I experienced it. My mother said to me: “You really have to do something with that. You speak six languages fluently and you know how to move between these cultures so easily. That’s something important to give back to the world.” I wasn’t aware of that. For me, it was just very normal. Then I graduated for my bachelor’s and I moved to Morocco. I did a Master’s at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakesh. And that’s where I became aware of the differences between Europe and North Africa but on a much deeper layer because I became part of Morocco’s society. I came to the conclusion that these thousand and one faces Morocco has is not enough represented in literature. So then I started reading more and my professor in Marrakesh said:  “You need to do something with these gabs that you feel, because I feel this could lead to interesting work.” When I came to the Netherlands, I went to do my second masters at the University of Amsterdam and my professor said the exact same thing: “You have to fill that gap.”

In the essence, we are all the same. But seeing that, and then not respecting the details, that’s something we shouldn’t do. That’s just rude and blunt.

So in September of that year I wrote a paper on my mother’s jewellery. I shared it on social media and I received so many positive reactions. This is when I understood that people are hungry for this. My professors were enthusiastic as well. I think the world is just in need for other voices and perspectives that are a lot closer to indigenous civilizations and traditions. Many are so eager to understand, but will never get that close because they’re often non-natives and just so different from them. And so I became an anthropologist. What shapes us as human beings is what shapes us as a culture. In the essence, we are all the same. But seeing that, and then not respecting the details, that’s something we shouldn’t do. That’s just rude and blunt. And it’s a pity because we miss so much beauty and so much wisdom.

I’m intrigued, because you have these beautiful pictures of yourself in these traditional clothes of the women living in the mountains of Morocco. Looking at those pictures it feels like you can research the culture more closely by really diving into the details of the culture, the clothing, the rituals. Is this how it works for you?

I’m a physical person. I’m a runner. I’m a ballet dancer. My body is everything. 

I have to feel things physically to be more aware of what is going on. So during my time as a model, I had a lot of shoots that were very much connected with Morocco’s indigenous cultures. And I tried everything. All the photos that you see reveal a connection to all these women and the woman I am. I am part of these wild, strong, free women with so much passion and fire.

The best way to experiment is with your own body first. To be your own model and see what suits you. What you wear is a reflection of who you are and whom you attract. And this is so interesting because I always remember what I was wearing when I met someone who turned to become very important in my life. It’s just my way of understanding things better. One of my researches that I did in the mountains was about the bridal customs and bridal traditions of the Ait Hdidou. I wanted to experience it because I would never fully understand if I never go through it. And I was not getting married. So the women were like: let’s do it. So we had a fake ceremony. They did everything they would do with a real bride. They sang the songs. They recited the poetry. And dressed me with all the customs and jewellery. And that is the moment I knew that I could write about it. That I could talk to people about it because I went through it myself, in a way haha. You can’t really talk about stuff when you didn’t experience them with your deepest part. 

This detail in people and in the many cultures that exist in this world, is also why I decided to try and bring these stories on the inside of a cup and hold them for present and future generations. To share these life fragments of people around the globe and to meet someone inside a cup that otherwise would probably not have been met. The reason that I do these interviews with all of you beautiful people is because I’m in search for the answer to the question: “Do you believe that there is a global story? A story that that binds us? Do you think there is?

Absolutely. I think we are challenged by the thought that a story has to have one line, or that it has to have one face. That’s just simply not true. One time my father said: “You’re a woman with a thousand faces.” And I thought of it as a compliment. He said: “You’re so rich, you have so much to offer. And you are never alone.” And that is the global story. It’s not one story. It’s just all the stories that exist in everybody around us. 

It is such a gift that I can make this journey with you today in search of something that binds us on a more energetic level. I can see that you’re so comfortable with yourself. And you know yourself so well, but you also embrace the fact that every day, you can discover something new about yourself. You accept that as part of the journey. This is why life is a journey. And just recognizing that in myself and also in you, someone who’s 20 years older than me, makes it so easy for me to just open up and call you with tears in my eyes because I received the beautiful cup with the story of my mother inside.

We need people that show us that we can still be amazing when we are 47. The more you grow, the less important age becomes. I love it. There’s this whole body image thing going on and young people are very influenced by that but it’s superficial. And there’s only one way I think to get over this and that is seeing lifetime examples and real people like you. So thank you for being that person for me, and others. 

Next Stories