CHAMA AND THE CALIPH
"WHAT EXACTLY is a harem?" was not the kind of question grownups volunteered to answer. Yet they were always insisting that we children use precise words. Every word, they kept saying, has a specific meaning and you ought to use it for that specific one only, and for none other. But, given a choice, I would have used different words for Yasmina's harem and our own, so different were they. Yasmina's harem was an open farm with no visible high walls. Ours in Fez was like a fortress. Yasmina and her co-wives rode horses, swam in the river, caught fish, and cooked it over open fires. Mother could not even step out of the gate without asking multiple permissions, and even then, all she could do was visit the shrine of Moulay Driss (the patron saint of the city) or her brother who happened to live down the street, or attend a religious festival. And poor Mother always had to be accompanied by other women of the household, and by one of my young male cousins. So it did not make sense to me to use the same word for both Yasmina's and Mother's situations.