She's Like a Rainbow
by Eileen Colucci
GENRE: Young Adult Magical Realism
“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.
Author’s Mission Statement: Author's Note: 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.
We were not very strict Muslims. We did not pray five times a day, nor did we go to Mosque every Friday (though we did attend on all the Aids or Holy Days, to celebrate the Sacrifice of Abraham, the end of Ramadan, and such). Zakia and I emulated Mother and did not cover our heads. As she got older, Mother took to praying and began to wear a head scarf whenever she went out, removing it at home, leaving it on in her shop. She did not insist that we begin wearing one however. Since Zakia and I went to the French Mission schools, we did not receive religious instruction as part of the regular curriculum like our cousins who went to Moroccan schools did. To fill this gap, Mother hired a tutor who came once a week to teach us the Koran and to supplement the mediocre Arabic lessons provided at school.
Mother had several copies of the Koran. There was one, wrapped in gift paper that she kept in her room. I had come upon the sealed package one day when I was about seven and, not knowing what was inside, I had torn the golden wrapping to have a peek. Afterward, when I’d asked Mother why she kept an old Koran that was falling apart, she had scolded me severely and boxed my ears. She told me that Father had brought the holy book back from the Haj and had carefully wrapped it in order to preserve it.
Needless to say, we did not use this book for our lessons. Instead, Haj Brahim (he was addressed as “Haj” because he, like Father, had made the pilgrimage to Mecca) would take down the large, heavy Koran from the top shelf in the book case and try to help us understand the verses. When this failed, he would settle for having us memorize them.
Not content to just recite the words without understanding their meaning, I had convinced Mother to buy a version that had the Arabic on the left side with the French translation on the right. This was the book that I used for my private prayers and to search for an explanation for my multiple transformations.
I was not having much success however and decided I must talk to Haj Brahim about it. I didn’t want to ask him in front of Zakia, so I would have to choose my moment carefully.
One afternoon, Haj Brahim showed up a little early for our lesson. Mother showed him into the sitting room and asked Naima to make some tea. Zakia was having a shower because she had participated in a race at school that day (that she’d lost, of course). Seizing the opportunity, I slipped into the room and gently closed the door.
Haj Brahim was a portly man, in his sixties and decidedly bald. He was an old acquaintance of Father’s who had helped Mother settle the inheritance after Father died. Mother was in a predicament as a widow with only daughters. In the absence of a male heir, Father’s three brothers had tried to wrest as much as they could, but Haj, who was an expert in Islamic law and connected to one of the Mosques in Rabat, had made sure that Mother’s rights, however limited, were protected. (Those rights would have been even more limited had Father not already taken several precautions while still alive, such as putting many of the deeds and wealth in Mother’s name.)
I cleared my throat and Haj, who sat leaning back on the sofa with his hands folded in his lap, looked over at me and smiled. As always, he wore a little white skull cap that he only removed now. I began hesitatingly to describe my problem. Haj must have been aware of my transformations as he’d been giving us lessons since I was nine and still “Reema, The Palest One of All.” He had never mentioned anything about my “condition” though. He listened carefully as I timidly described my tormenters at school, mother’s failure to sympathize, and my personal doubts as to God’s role in all this. I stopped abruptly when Naima brought the tea and placed the tray in front of me.
Using the knitted mitt, I grasped the silver teapot and poured some tea into one of the crystal glasses. Then, I poured the tea back in the pot and served us both. I glanced at the clock. Zakia would be coming in any minute and my chance would be lost. Haj nodded subtly, as if he understood my urgency, and went to get the Koran from the shelf. He put on his reading glasses, then took them off and wiped them with the cloth napkin that Naima had given him.
He paused before putting them on again and recited to me, “’Endure with patience, for your endurance is not without the help of God.’ God presents us all with different challenges, Reema. You must have patience and His wisdom will be revealed to you. All in good time.”
“But, why Haj? Why is God doing this? Making my skin change color all the time like I’m some kind of freak. What have I done wrong?”
Without answering, he opened the book to the very end and read me a verse:
As time passes,
Everyone suffers loss
Except those who believe
and do good deeds and urge one another to be true
and to bear with courage the trials that befall them.
I could hear Zakia coming down the stairs. I quickly noted the page so that I could go back to it later.
Haj closed the book and said softly to me, “You are young, Reema. What seems like a great ‘trial’ today may not seem so terrible later on. You are a good girl. Just be brave – and patient.”
He patted me lightly on my hand. Somehow, it did not feel patronizing or dismissive. The butterfly touch of his fingers gave me hope.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
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.
Amazon Kindle edition https://www.amazon.com/Shes-like-Rainbow-Eileen-Colucci-ebook/dp/B01GK3YFQ0
Amazon Paperback edition https://www.amazon.com/Shes-like-Rainbow-Eileen-Colucci/dp/1533447276
Barnes and Noble paperback edition http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/shes-like-a-rainbow-eileen-colucci/1123915501
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.
Interview with Eileen Colucci
Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
A major theme running through SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW is the legend of the White Buffalo. This legend was actually the inspiration for the story. I read an article about Miracle, a white buffalo calf that was born on a South Dakota farm to black/brown parents. I learned that white buffalos are very rare but that, due to some strange phenomenon, other species, such as tigers, whales and turtles, were also experiencing white young being born. The white buffalo calf would not remain white, but would turn various colors – black, yellow, red and finally brown. Some Native American tribes believe that Miracle and other white buffalo are sacred and symbolize all the different races of humanity. As I was reading, an idea was born. What if a human baby was born white to black parents? What if her skin repeatedly changed color as the legend of the White Buffalo played out on the human stage? From these questions, Reema’s story grew.
My first novel, THE STRINGS OF THE LUTE, is a story of a mixed Moroccan-American couple and is mostly inspired by my own “Ameroccan” love story. Though it is fiction, many of the incidents recounted in the book are based on actual events.
And now I’m waiting for inspiration for my next novel. Whatever the subject, it will probably fit into my Mission Statement: It is my hope that my books 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. I believe we are all connected.
How did you do research for your book?
Since I am a native New Yorker and lived in different parts of New York over a period of twenty-two years, and have also lived in Morocco for the past thirty-plus years, I know the setting of my book thoroughly. As always, I still had to do some research though. I used the internet, a wonderful old set of encyclopedias (written in French) and other books about Morocco that we own (including some great cookbooks!).
I don’t know if it would count as research (maybe it would fall more into the “inspiration” category), but I used some old photographs of my family on a trip to the south of Morocco for certain scenes. The descriptions of a waterfall and surrounding terrain come from those family photos that I kept by my computer as I wrote.
I also interviewed a couple, Nancy and Majid Slaoui, who went to the original American school at the former U.S. Base in Kenitra, Morocco. They kindly shared their memories, including some photos and yearbooks, with me and their insights were so helpful. I neglected to thank them in the acknowledgments section of my book so I’m happy to do that here.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I would like to travel back to New York in 1951 and meet J.D. Salinger for coffee. We would talk about his book, my favorite of all times, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, which was just published. I have so many questions I would like to ask him, such as which writers influenced his work and which ones he most admired. The question I could not ask him though because it would be reaching into the future is why he stopped publishing novels after CATCHER IN THE RYE. He did release some short story collections before he stopped publishing definitively and it is rumored that he wrote as many as five other novels in his later years. But, I would like to know why he did not share them with us. Did he fear they were not good enough? Was the success of CATCHER IN THE RYE too much to live up to? Salinger was an infamous recluse and I don’t know if he would even want to go for coffee with me. But, as in the Woody Allen movie, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, it is a writer’s dream to meet up with legendary authors and just sit and chat with them like ordinary people. Just like the protagonist in that film though, I would remain in that time period only long enough to get to know my literary idol and then return to the present.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I would like to visit with Reema’s Aunt Soumiya for an afternoon on her farm near Agadir. We would sit on her porch and drink mint tea (or coffee) and eat the Moroccan pancakes she loves to make. I would ask Soumiya to tell me about growing up with her older sister, Jamila, Reema’s mother, and her brother and their parents. Later, we would ask her husband, Reema’s Uncle Anis, to drive us to Agadir so that we could go for a walk along the beach. It is a long drive so we might have to spend the night there.
I chose Soumiya because she is Reema’s favorite Auntie and I think she could provide a different perspective on certain events in the story.
What made you want 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 personal 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.
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!
Eileen Colucci will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.