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Diaspo #130 : The miraculous story of 90 year-old Yamna Maxwell, from Morocco to America

Born near Marrakech to a Moroccan Jewish family, Yamna Maxwell is a 90-year-old real survivor. In Morocco, she led a warrior’s life fighting against poverty. Now, she is an American citizen who reflects upon her own journey and wishes to visit her homeland.

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Yamna Maxwell. / DR

Yamna Maxwell was born in a village near Marrakech in 1929, according to her birth certificate, although she never knew when she was really born. In December 2019, the Colorado-based Moroccan lady celebrated her 90th birthday, reflecting on a long journey that took her overseas decades ago.

«I am amazed at how I survived», Yamna told Yabiladi, starting her story that was marked by struggles, patience and good faith. In Tizguine, a small town in Al Haouz Province from the Marrakech-Safi region, Yamna was born to a Jewish family, to a stay-at-home mother and a father who left for a nearby village to work.

«I never forget the home where I lived in Tizguine», she reminisced. «There was nothing but Jews and Muslims, who were wonderful to us», she recalled. With her father away for work, Yamna never saw him and struggled with her family to survive. «I remember when I was a kid, the Muslims told us to come and pick up their harvest and take everything we want, olives and potatoes … I remember everything from my childhood», Yamna recalled.

A tough childhood

But Yamna’s childhood, was indeed, a unique one that is worth remembering. The first turning event in her childhood was when her father decided to finally come back home. «On a Sunday, I was sitting outside and I saw this man walking from afar, he was not riding a horse nor a donkey, he was just walking», Yamna remembered.

The man was her father that she could not recognize as he had left for so long. Her mother, however, knew who he was. «She told me to go inside, but I stayed behind the door and heard her saying to him that he couldn’t come into the house», she said.

Yamna’s father had to spend the night at his Muslim neighbors’ house, who came later that night to inform the family of his passing. The neighbors, however, had a story to tell Yamna and her mother. «Before my father died he told his story to this Muslim family», Yamna said, adding that he came to Tizguine to die near his family after he had a vision that he would die.

«He walked from Friday night all the way to Tizguine until Sunday night», the 90-year-old said.

Yamna stayed in the village for a while, she did not go to school nor knew how to read or write but she knew that she had to work to survive. «My family were good but they were poor and I was mostly hungry», she explained.

The man who saved the Pasha

Yamna moved to Marrakech and went from house to house to work and live with Jewish families. In the city’s Jewish quarter, she worked for a very religious family and witnessed there one of Marrakech’s biggest history events.

«I worked for this rich family in the Mellah who did not have water, so I had to go to the fountain to bring water and carry it. I would wait until they finish to eat and would walk with no shoes, my heels were cracked from the cold and dry weather».

Yamna Maxwell

One day, when she was coming back to the house where she worked she heard the woman talk to her very religious father. The old man insisted to meet the Pasha, who was Thami Glaoui at the time. «He told his daughter that he had a dream that somebody inside the Pasha’s house was trying to kill him and he told his daughter that he had to save him», Yamna recalled.

Indeed, the man, who turned out to be Jewish saint Pinhas Ha-Cohen, went to the Pasha’s place, met him and saved his life.

«He met the Pasha and the maids brought him tea and milk. He told him not to touch anything and brought a cat and made it drink the milk : the cat died right away».

Yamna Maxwell

In Marrakech, Yamna met her first husband and had her first son. It was a short marriage, she said, as her husband left for Israel. «He asked me to go with him and I refused because I wanted to stay in Morocco with my family», Yamna said.

To support her son, Yamna left for Casablanca. There, a French woman offered to hire her at a restaurant but Yamna did not have papers. The woman helped her with the paperwork and set 1929 as her probable date of birth.

While in Casablanca, Yamna was approached by her stepbrother who came from Rabat to look for her. She accompanied him and lived with him for a while but soon he decided to leave for Israel. «I stayed with him for two years and then he went to Israel, I did not want to go with him. I stayed in Morocco because of family and friends», Yamna explained.

Heaven on earth

The young woman settled down in Rabat, she found a new job and a babysitter for her son. Yamna worked in a factory, where she sewed buttons for military attires. In the country’s capital, she met her husband, an American citizen who worked for the US Air Force. In 1956, Yamna, her husband and her children left for the United States, to start a new life in this place she considered heaven on earth.

In America, Yamna who did not speak English at the time had to adapt and learn new things. She worked in a restaurant and raised her children alongside her loving husband.

Yamna, born as Mina, is now a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother who still keeps a fond memory of her country Morocco. «America is good but Morocco is beautiful, I used to say if only America was literally attached to Morocco where everything is good, the food, the weather everything».

Yamna visits her local temple where she meets friends and recalls her stories from Morocco. She hopes that one day she will be able to afford a visit to the country and go back to Tizguine.

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