Moroccan Folktale Part 1: Lamya and Manthiha
When I was a young girl, I asked my grandmother to tell me a story. I was in Morocco visiting family, and my grandmother was always one of my favorite people. She would tell me stories late at night in darija, when I'm covered up in blankets about to fall asleep alongside her. Many of these stories were told often by Moroccans, although she had a habit of adding her own details and twists to these tales. Some stories had happy endings, some most definitely did not, but I loved them all nonetheless. One of my favorites was about two girls, one named Lamya and the other Manthiha.
"Once upon a time, there were two step-sisters. Their names were Lamya and Manthiha. Lamya was a kind and hard-working girl, but she was despised by her step-mother and sister, whereas Manthiha was a spoiled girl with no empathy for others. Ironically, she was always jealous of her sister Lamya, for it seemed that most people outside the house preferred Lamya's company over hers. Growing up, the jealous Manthiha and her equally jealous mother forced Lamya to sleep on a hard bed with loud springs and eat the food scraps the family gave her when they finished eating. She was always dressed in rags whereas her step-sister had the finest clothes, better bed, and more food than her. Lamya was constantly taken advantage of, but she was so used to it she thought it was the norm to be treated this way.
One day, Lamya was commanded to fetch water from the river, and as a cruel joke her step-mother gave her a jug with holes in it. Lamya patiently tried filling it with water over and over again in vain, for the water kept sloshing out. At one point, the jug fell and she chased it down the river to retrieve it. She chased it for very long time, until it became dark and she was lost in a forest.
In her despair, she saw a light from a distance, and desperately went towards it. She ended up at a house in the middle of the forest, where there lived a ghoul. She knocked on the door and he opened it.
"What do you want?" the ghoul begrudgingly asked, taking in the sight of this pitiful girl in rags.
"Uncle Ghoul," Lamya began. She told him the story of where she came from and how she ended up at his door. The ghoul appeared unfazed, but his heart was softening towards the girl without her realizing it.
"Alright then, come in," the ghoul told her. He opened the door wider to let her through. "Are you hungry?"
"Yes, Uncle Ghoul," she replied as she entered his home.
"Then would you rather eat bugs for dinner or beef?"
Now, a normal person would have been offended by this question. They may have scoffed or thrown up their hands in confusion and demanded for the second option. Alas, Lamya grew up differently and was taught to take up the least amount of space necessary, and to never impose on others. So this is what she said:
"Cooking meat must take a very long time and way too much effort. If it is easier for you, Uncle Ghoul, I will just eat the bugs."
The ghoul grunted in response. "Very well then," he said. "Sit here and I will bring you food."
The girl sat and waited, and within a few short minutes he presented steaming plates of hot rice with seasoned beef cubes. He laid them on the table and told her to eat to her heart's desire. And she happily did.
When she finished eating, he told her to follow him so that he could show her to her bed. As they walked through the hallway he turned to her and said "What kind of bed would you rather sleep on- a hard bed with loud springs or a soft bed with feathers?"
Lamya did not falter in her answer. "I'm fine with just the first option, Uncle Ghoul."
"Hmph," he grunted. "Follow me then."
He led her to a room and bid her goodnight. The room was small but cozy, and when Lamya lied down to sleep she noticed that the bed was the softest thing she had ever lied on. It did not take long at all for her eyelids to drift shut in happiness.
The next day, the ghoul fed her a delicious breakfast, packed food for Lamya's journey home, and even gave her special gifts. He bestowed upon her beautiful jewelry, more expensive than anything Lamya has ever owned in her life. He told her to sell it and use the money to live a better life for herself. Lamya's heart was full, and she thanked the ghoul a hundred times before finally setting off on the journey home.
When Lamya arrived back home, her step-mother immediately demanded to know where she went and where the water was. Lamya completely forgot about her misfortune with the jug with holes, and explained to her everything that happened. She then presented to her step-mother and sister the gifts the ghoul gave her as proof. Manthiha and her mother both felt very jealous at that moment, and Manthiha's mother decided to create a scheme so that her daughter could also receive the same fortune that Lamya received.
Manthiha's mother gave her daughter a jug with holes and told her to go fetch water from the river. As Manthiha tried to fill the jug, she grew very frustrated with the water that kept sloshing out, and threw the jug in the water in anger. She then followed it until she, too, found herself lost in a dark forest at night. She saw the light from a distance and followed it. The same house that Lamya described was there.
Manthiha knocked on the door loudly and waited for the ghoul to come out.
"What do you want?" the ghoul begrudgingly asked the finely dressed girl who reeked of an attitude.
"Give me food and shelter, Uncle Ghoul," Manthiha demanded, arms crossed. "I got lost after following a stupid jug of water that got carried away by the river. I'm tired and hungry."
The ghoul grunted and opened the door for her. She entered his home and went straight to the table. The ghoul was getting agitated by her attitude. "Do you want bugs for dinner or beef?" he asked her.
"Bugs? What do I look like to you?" Manthiha replied crossly. "Of course I'll take the other option."
"Hmph. Very well then," he replied. He left and came back a few minutes later with a steaming bowl of stew. Manthiha put her spoon inside to stir and noticed the tiny legs of all the bugs that were cooked in it. Disgusted, she put her spoon down and did not eat. She was about to rudely protest when she noticed his dangerous glare across the table. It was then she remembered that this was a ghoul, after all. The monsters that were rumored to eat human flesh. She silently sipped a little of the stew, holding back her disgusted facial expressions, and then told the ghoul she was finished. He told her to follow him to the hallway, where he then asked her which bed she preferred. Manthiha scoffed and asked for the soft bed, of course. The ghoul grunted and led her to her room.
Manthiha laid down and noticed how hard the bed was. It was full of holes and she could hear the creak of the springs with every movement she made. She heard a scampering noise across the room and almost shrieked when she realized it was a mouse. Needless to say, she did not sleep well that night at all.
When she woke up, she went to the dining table and saw a breakfast that did not appeal to her anymore than last night's dinner did. The ghoul did not pack her food nor bestow her any gifts. He sent her off empty-handed with a grunt. Disheartened, Manthiha went home to a disappointed mother.
Lamya, on the other hand, sold her jewelry and used the money to better her life. She moved to her own place and bought her own delicious food and a soft bed and fine clothes. She sent some money to her step-mother and sister once a month in gratitude for raising her, although they never thanked her once. Nonetheless, she lived a happy life.
Now that I'm 20, I look back at this story and realize how simple it is, but ironically it's the simplest lessons that we tend to forget. That's the beauty of these stories.
Until next time, stay tuned for the release of Moroccan Folktale: Part 2.