SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW
by Eileen Colucci
“The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn.”
So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it? As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York.
Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW, which will appeal to teens as well as adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.
The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn. Perhaps I should begin my narrative with: “Once upon a time there was a very pale, whipped cream-colored girl who woke up one morning to find she had turned dark chocolate.”
It wasn’t quite that sudden actually. It wasn’t like what happens in that Franz Kafka story, Metamorphosis, where poor Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a bug. It wasn’t that yucky and gross really, at least not in the beginning. No, mine was a much subtler transformation, a gradual darkening of the skin much like what happens when you spend hours in the sun every day for an entire summer; except that my “tan” was a dark brown and did not fade.
We usually spent our summer vacations in the South. Mother’s younger sister, Soumiya, and her husband, Anis, owned a big farm near Agadir, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Mother had mentioned taking us to the Costa del Sol that summer. By 1985, Spain was already becoming the preferred vacation spot of the Moroccan bourgeoisie of which Mother so aspired to be a part. She certainly had enough money to take us there. The small fortune that Father had left her when he died must have doubled or tripled by then. In addition to renting out several apartments, Mother ran a small but trendy clothing boutique in Rabat.
In the end though, despite having the means to travel abroad, Mother declared that it was better to spend time “in the countryside.” That meant in our own country, and so we found ourselves once again on the plane from Rabat to Agadir and then on the hot and winding road to the farm. I have often wondered if we had gone to Spain that summer whether my life might have taken a different turn. But I don’t really think so. I believe some things are destined or “written” as we say in Morocco; that our fate, like the color of our skin, is non-negotiable.
Uncle Anis picked us up at the airport in his big new Mercedes, purchased from an emigrant worker visiting for the month of July. As we left the city and climbed into the mountains, the scenery changed from chalky white to reddish brown to green. The tufts of sun-baked grass and mile after mile of all kinds of cactuses gave way to olive groves and argan trees. We passed a few boys selling argan oil on the side of the road, but there was no need to stop. My auntie, Tatie Soumiya, lived near the local cooperative and had a ready supply of oil as well as the skin-smoothing soap made from the same trees.
We did stop when we came to the Palm grove. Already tired and sticky from the journey, Zakia, my seven-year-old sister, and I insisted we sit on the white rocks a few minutes, dabbling our feet in the river. Uncle Anis offered us some fruit he’d brought along, small, bright yellow bananas called plantains.
But, even though we were hungry, Mother said, “Don’t eat anything until we get to the farm. You know what happens if you do.”
So, we splashed the cool water at each other and admired the little oasis, surrounded by evergreens and spiky palms and the beautiful mountains, while our stomachs growled. Back on the road, we were reminded why Mother was right about not eating. As we climbed into the mountains, the road became more and more twisty and the drop down into the river gorge more impressive.
“It’s too scary. I can’t look,” cried Zakia, covering her face with her hands.
“You’re such a baby,” I said. Just to bother her, I rolled down the window and stuck my head out. The tires of the car seemed only inches from the edge of the cliff; so close that I felt a little dizzy.
“Close it right now,” Mother said. “You’re letting in all the dust from the road.”
“Sorry, the air conditioning isn’t working right,” Uncle Anis apologized. “I have to take it into the shop next week.”
He switched on the fan, but it did not help much and I ended up closing my eyes like Zakia and hoping we would get there soon.
~Buy SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW:
It is my hope that SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW will promote peace and understanding among people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. My aim is to stimulate discussion on everything we have in common as human beings regardless of our particular heritage. We are all connected.
AN INTERVIEW WITH EILEEN
-What inspired you to become a writer?
I can remember writing stories and poems as far back as elementary school. I wrote two books, WANTED and THE PLAY TREE HAS TO GO. Part of the assignment for WANTED was to create a “real” book with a cover and binding. That made it all the more exciting.
My mom had already instilled in me a love of reading. She read to me and took me to the library often. She encouraged me in my writing too. Mom had a friend, Esphyr Slobodkina, who wrote children’s books. When I was about seven or eight, Mrs. Slobodkina gave me three books (with a note and signature inside each): THE CLOCK, MOVING DAY FOR THE MIDDLEMANS, and THE LONG ISLAND DUCKLINGS. I read those books over and over again and marveled at the fact my mom knew the author. By the time I was nine, I knew I wanted to be a writer just like my mom’s friend.
-If you could visit your book’s world for a day, what one thing would you do?
I would go and have tea with Lalla Mumtaz. She is my favorite character in the book and was the most fun to write. She comes from the deep south of Morocco and has a rich cultural heritage. The quintessential Moroccan grandma, Lalla Mumtaz knows more stories than anyone. Who doesn’t love a storyteller?
-Give us a fun or interesting fact you learned researching this book.
There is a traditional Moroccan folk dance performed by people from southern Morocco and by one of the characters in the novel. At its climax, the dancer falls into a trance. I had seen the dance performed on television once or twice but I didn’t know the story behind it or even its name. I did some research and learned it is called the “guedra.” It is named after the drums, which are really clay jars covered in goat skin, that accompany the dance. It is a very sensual dance, starting out slow and ending in a frenzy. The purpose of the dance, which originated in Goulimine, is to bestow a blessing on friends or the community. Some believe that the guedra can attract a mate from many miles away, simply with the rhythmic drum playing.
-Which of your characters would you go out for drinks and pizza with?
It would be fun to go out for pizza with Reema. Her favorite restaurant is an Italian one and she loves pizza just like I do. Reema doesn’t drink alcohol so she would order a coke probably but I would have a glass of red wine. I wonder what it would be like to be face-to-face with the main character of my novel. I can’t help thinking of the movie STRANGER THAN FICTION where the writer (played by Emma Thompson) gets a call from the main character of her novel (played by Will Ferrell) who asks to meet with her. She is totally flummoxed. I wonder if Reema would have questions for me like in that movie and would want to know why certain things happen to her. In any event it’s an intriguing question!
-You’re in a tavern, and a dwarf challenges you to a duel. What do you do?
I would choose to “fight” with words. I’m a firm believer in, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I might throw some Kahlil Gibran at him like, “Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.” I think if one of us was going to turn and run after that it would be him.
-Is there a genre you could never write? Which and why?
I could never write Horror. I don’t read Horror except for a few things of Stephen King’s where I skimmed through or flat out skipped certain parts. (I do like some of King’s work, don’t get me wrong). It’s not just that Horror gives me nightmares. It terrifies me in the same way that contemplating riding a roller coaster does. I don’t think I would be good at writing this genre. I’d scare myself silly before I got very far. That doesn’t mean I can’t write terrifying or anxiety inducing scenes. In my first novel, THE STRINGS OF THE LUTE, there is a whole chapter in which a small boy wanders off with a stranger as his mother searches frantically for him. But that is different. There is no “twisted” aspect to the story. I don’t read or write stuff that is “twisted.”
Thanks so much for hosting me!
I love interacting with readers and invite everyone to contact me through my website or through my Goodreads blog. I hope you enjoy SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW and look forward to hearing your thoughts!
A native New Yorker, Eileen Colucci has been living in Rabat with her Moroccan husband for the past thirty-plus years. She is a former teacher and recently retired after twenty-eight years as a translator with the U.S. Embassy, Rabat. Her articles and short stories have appeared in various publications and ezines including Fodor's Morocco, Parents' Press, The New Dominion and Expat Women. SHE'S LIKE A RAINBOW, which was recently published, is her second novel.
Colucci holds a BA in French and English from the University at Albany and an MA in Education from Framingham State University.
When not writing, Colucci enjoys practicing yoga, taking long walks and playing with her chocolate Labrador Retriever, Phoebo. Now that she and her husband have four grandchildren, they spend as much time as possible in Virginia with their two sons and their families.
Find her online:
Eileen Colucci will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.a Rafflecopter giveaway