The Art of Public Bathing

Over the past month, the weather has been strange. Rain, wind, lightning, hot sun, humidity, dust, all in one day? Check.

As you can see, the 7mmam is a necessary place in my site. I live on the edge of the desert and, for a few weeks each year, my city sees ajej. I should say “my city fears ajej” because, as it turns out, sand pelting your face in 50mph wind gusts hurts.

Once the dust and wind settled down for this season, I craved the 7mmam. I hadn’t visited one since my training in Tiflet six months before, and, despite showering two or three times a week, I could feel the layers of dirt and dead skin covering my body. Sometimes, if I was sweaty enough, I could rub on my arm and pull off little shreds of dead skin, much like I do whenever I get sunburned.

And so I finally made it to a 7mmam with two of my best friends, Abdelghani and Adam.

Some 7mmams have two entrances that delineate two completely separate sections – one for men and one for women. The 7mmams with just one section have specific hours for each sex. Such 7mmams in my town are open for men for a few hours early in the morning and a few late in the evening; women claim it the rest of the day. The one Abdelghani, Adam, and I went to is the two-section kind, so the men’s side is open all day. I was surprised once we stepped inside that we were among the few men there, but after some thought, I reasoned why.

Though my site is big on agriculture, the city center is full of cafes, shops, banks, tailors, retailers, and government buildings. Men are much more likely to work in such places and so they must go to the 7mmam before or after business hours. It’s a probable explanation for why there were so few at our 7mmam.

Women, who tend to work in the home, have time throughout the day to wash. A symptom of their extended hours (though maybe it is the cause) is the ability to chat. The women’s 7mmam is perhaps the only purely female space. As such, they are free to talk about whatever they want, including things they might never say in front of men. They also have the ability to talk for extended periods of time unlike in the home. Naturally, they tend to stay inside the 7mmam much longer than men.

7mmam dressing room
A 7mmam dressing room.

My 7mmam experience this time was similar to that of six months ago, though with far fewer people. First we stepped into the changing room, a small space about half the size of the one in this photo. There were two long wooden benches lining the walls and shelf space above and below to store our bags. We stripped down to our underwear (nudity is shameful), stored our clothes, and took our shampoo, soap, 7mmam-owned buckets, and other necessary toiletries through the door to the 7mmam.

The first room we stepped into was about – and I am completely guessing here – 100 degrees Fahrenheit, about 15 degrees hotter than outside. There was one man sitting there, leaning against the tiled wall. We pushed aside a heavy mat hanging from the ceiling into the second room, about 20 degrees hotter than the first (maybe). Here we set up our base camp.

We filled our buckets from two faucets jutting out from the wall, one dispensing scalding hot water, the other freezing cold. While Adam tended to the buckets, making the water just the right temperature, Abdelghani and I ventured into the final room. It was a sweltering 140 degrees, I imagine. It was nearly impossible to breathe normally, and even more so when we took advantage of the heat to loosen up our muscles. We stretched for a few minutes and attempted to talk, but our voices echoed too much through the room the 10ft by 20ft room to understand one another.

I returned to room #2, sweat already pouring out of every pore, and helped Adam finish filling the buckets. We blocked off a corner using the buckets as a wall. Meanwhile, Abdelghani, armed with a bucket of water and a squeegee, washed away any remnants of whoever had been there before us. Then… we sat.

And sat.

And sweated.

Until it was time to get clean. There’s this scrubber thing called a “kees”. It looks a little like an oven mitt without the thumb part, but rather than padding to keep your hand safe from a burning pot, the kees is rough and scratchy and is designed to exfoliate.

Moroccan exfoliating glove, the kees
This picture makes the kees look WAY too elegant.

Most men scrub themselves with their keeses, removing layers upon layers of sweat, dust, skin, and anything else they may be covered in. Once they finish scrubbing their face, arms, legs, stomach, and neck, they employ someone else to scrub their back.

That was my intention. But then Abdelghani insisted on giving me the full 7mmam experience. With all my dead skin and dirt loosened from the heat, he took my kees and annihilated my arms. He liquidated my legs. He butchered my back. He wrecked my neck and beat my feet until I was like a tomato, red and raw. The only part of myself I got to clean was beneath my underwear, which I performed delicately in the bathroom.

That was just the first round, because after all the dead skin and dirt was removed, it was time to use soap and actually clean into the pores. So, using my kees, Abdelghani went to town again until I was like a soapy tomato. He also tried to stretch my leg and arm muscles, but half the time I didn’t understand what was happening and instead flexed instead of relaxed. I’m sure the man and his young son in another corner were laughing, but there was too much echo and I couldn’t see anything anyway since my glasses were a long way away in the changing room. The whole time I was confused, in pain, and blind, but fortunately I got to wash my hair myself, and used a rough rubber-bristled brush to exfoliate my scalp.

By this point we had been in the 7mmam for about two hours. More than enough. I escaped into the relatively cold changing room and gulped down liters of water, replacing quite literally all the water that had evacuated my pores. And then I sat on the wooden bench.

And sat.

And sweated.

Until Adam and Abdelghani exited room #1 and started to change back into street clothes. We dried off and pulled on track suits. Generally used for sport among young men our age, they protect slowly-closing pores from the environment as one walks back to one’s home.

Traditionally, once one returns from the 7mmam, it is time to nap. I welcomed such a treat because, let’s face it, I nap almost every day anyway, and at least this time I had an excuse. I turned on my new fan, turned it toward my face, and woke up four hours later.

Overall, just as I thought in Tiflet, the 7mmam was not a fun experience, but it was a necessary one. Thanks to Abdelghani’s determination, I have never been cleaner.

Essaouira, the “Little Rampart”

Essaouira (“es-swera”) is a port city on the Atlantic. Though it was formerly named Mogador, its current name means “little rampart”, referring to the old fortress wall that surrounds the old part of the city.

It is a very touristy place which, if it was like Marrakesh or Fes, would usually mean shop owners would harass passersby to come look in their shop and consider the “very good price” of random items. However, Essaouira is not like Marrakesh or Fes. It has a familiar aura of a beach town in America: people are more relaxed, life moves more slowly, and everyone really seems happier; plus, it’s cooler and breezier than any place inland.

Arguably its best quality – as I observed during my… two days there – is its focus on the arts. Rug makers, musicians, artisans, weavers… it’s known particularly for gnaoua music and has art galleries on virtually every corner.

When I visited Essaouira I brought along my DSLR, as I intend to do the next dozen times I visit, inshallah. These photos are some of my favorites.

Language, Part juj

There’s a word in Darija. It means “to collect”.

This word is pronounced jm3 (how do I pronounce 3?), and it’s written جمع.

I chose this particular word to illustrate a very common pattern in the language here. Many times, if you take a verb and add some extra sounds to the front, back, and/or in the middle, you end up with words that have a connotation related to the original verb.

Maybe that’s a little confusing. Let’s listen to jm3 and some of its related words:

  • to collect/gather (verb stem): jm3
  • mosque (where people collect to pray): j-jam3
  • association (a collection of people doing something similar): jm3iya
  • university (where people collect to study): jami3a
  • municipality (a government building that oversees people): jama3a
  • Friday (the main prayer day at the mosque): jumu3a
  • group (a collection of people): mjmu3a
  • total (the collection of all prices): mjmu3
  • the name of some girls: Jma3

If we really think about this pattern, we realize that it isn’t especially unique to Darija. We have such patterns in English, too. Look at the verb “to employ”. We have employer, employee, employment, employable, and employability that are all related to it.

So this concept isn’t a new one for me. However, these patterns do make learning the language a bit tougher.


Someone else: “Meet me in front of the mosque.”

Me: “The university? We have a university here?”

Someone else: “No, the mosque.”

Me: “Which association?”

Someone else: “No, the mosque!”

Me: “Oh, in front of the municipality.”

Someone else: “NO, THE MOSQUE!”

Me: “Okay, the mosque, I get it! Sorry.”


There’s another layer I don’t think I’ve yet mentioned fully in my blog. In my site many people speak an Amazigh dialect called Tamazight. There are many dialects of the overarching Tamazight language in Morocco which can be separated into three dialects: Tamazight (called “shilha” in my site, it is spoken generally in the east and southeast of the country), Tashel7it (in the south and southwest), and Tarafit (in the northern mountains).

Eventually I will learn the Tamazight dialect in order to integrate further into my community. Fortunately, my work here doesn’t absolutely require it. Until I start learning Tamazight to communicate with some of the older – sometimes illiterate – people in my community, I can focus my studies on Darija.

My language goal in Darija is to become “advanced low” by the end of this year. This shouldn’t prove too difficult because I achieved “intermediate middle” during my language placement interview. My Tamazight goal is to be “intermediate low” by the end of my Peace Corps service. And my French goal is to be “novice high” by the end of my service.

On Sunday, My Bike was Stolen

Here’s what I know:

  • On Sunday morning I awoke in anticipation of visiting another volunteer in a site two hours from mine. The plan was to watch a documentary she made with one of her counterparts and give them some notes.
  • I walked toward the taxi stand but, on the way, I remembered I needed to briefly visit the gendarme. I am still in the midst of applying for my Moroccan ID, and I needed to give them original copies of some documents.
  • I returned home to get my bike and then rode it to the gendarme.
  • Having missed the 10am bus and not wanting to be any later, I left my bike at the taxi stand and took a taxi. I fully intended to return in five or six hours, and I had previously left my bike unlocked in some places for longer than that without any issue.
  • By the time the other volunteer and I began watching the documentary, the last taxi returning to my site had gone. I stayed the night there, worrying that my bike would be stolen.
  • The next morning, after eating delicious banana and strawberry pancakes, I returned home and was completely unsurprised to find my bike was no longer at the taxi stand.

I explained the situation to the police and one officer took an informal statement. He told me to come back the next morning to check if they found anything, or if the situation would be taken to the chief (with whom I have a positive relationship). Other than the police, I notified a couple used bike shops, the curti (taxi stand facilitator), and several of my friends and students.

Lo and behold! While I was walking toward the police station the following morning, the curti stopped me and told me the other curti had seen a newer bike left at the station and took it to his house for safekeeping. It was mine!


Authorities.

This situation got me thinking about the system of law and order in Morocco, or at least the institutions of authority in my site. I am still confused about which authority does what, and their jurisdictions… all I know for sure is that I should never be unsafe in my site.

First, at the lowest level, is my muqaddem. He is essentially the warden of my neighborhood. This man, Mustapha, dresses in plain clothes, a fact that made it difficult to find him once I was told I needed to give him a passport copy. Fortunately, he found me one day and, after some confusion on my part of why this man needed my phone number, I realized he is the muqaddem. If I understand correctly, I am to call him if there are any issues in my neighborhood.

Next is the qaid. I have no idea what its jurisdiction is, or if I ever need to communicate with it. Some volunteers, particularly those in very rural sites, only have qaids as authority figures; my guess, then, is that they are responsible for specific villages.

Then we have the gendarmes. I dealt and am dealing with the gendarmes while working on my ID application because I began the process when I lived with my host family, whose house is in their jurisdiction. Though I now live in the police’s boundaries, I still need to finish the ID process with the gendarmes.

Finally, we have the police. Whenever I leave my site or have other volunteers visiting me, I am to notify them. I am also to go to them for any safety concerns or typical crimes (such as bike theft). Fortunately I am on very good terms with the police chief who has been very patient throughout the ID application process.


Legal living.

I mentioned the Moroccan ID above. Because my initial stay in Morocco was limited to 90 days and later extended to six months without residency, I have to eventually get an ID known as a carte de sejour. Many times when attempting official things like reporting the bike theft and trying to get WiFi (still, I don’t have it), I am asked for my carte. I have to tell them I don’t have it yet before I show them my passport.

Other than official conversations, I’ve had a few chats with students or friends about living in Morocco. And without fail they eventually ask how they can move to the United States. I think a lot of the time they ask simply for comparison purposes rather than actually wanting to move, but everyone has a different motivation.

I end up telling them that it is very hard to gain residency in the United States, particularly for Arabs and/or Muslims. This has been true for some time but is especially true in the current American political environment. I try to emphasize that my residency in Morocco has been relatively simple primarily because of Peace Corps’ reputation and relationship with the Moroccan government. That’s true – if I tried to live in Morocco without Peace Corps’ help, it would be much more difficult.

Still, it is undeniable that it will be much harder for a Moroccan 24-year-old person to move to America than it is for this American to live in Morocco.

Term of Today: Tiyb

As it turns out, I can cook (Tiyb), more or less.

I’ve never truly been in a situation where I’ve had to Tiyb for myself. College is a big exception, but even then I had many options – healthy and otherwise – to eat outside my dorm or apartment. Another exception is when I worked at the Oregon legislature and lived in a small house nearby. I had a functional kitchen, but I shared it with two others, and I still had delicious options on the legislature’s campus and elsewhere.

20170213_120759-01

Now that I’m in my own house, my kitchen has become a little home within my home. Though I do have several little food joints in my site, I am trying to use PC as a way to learn to Tiyb.

My first full-on meal took three hours to make. Enjoy the recipe below!

Pollo Asado Fries on February 3, 2017

Ingredients:
  • 1 buta tank (125 DH for the initial purchase, only 50 DH for refills)
  • 1 valve with rubber washer (15 DH)
  • 1 extra rubber washer (0.5 DH)
  • 1 two-meter buta hose (8.5 DH)
  • 2 valve clasps (1 DH each)
  • 1 pan (25 DH)
  • 1 three-burner stove (200 DH)
  • Lighter (free, leftover from previous Volunteer)
  • Leatherman multi-tool ($65, bring with you from the US; optional)
  • 1/2 chicken (30 DH)
  • 3 avocados (~15 DH, bought in bulk)
  • 1 extra-large potato (~2 DH, bought in bulk)
  • 1/2 red onion (~0.5 DH, bought in bulk)
  • 1/2 tomato (~1 DH, bought in bulk)
  • cilantro (1 DH for one bundle)
  • olive oil (45 DH for 1.5 liter)
Recipe (serves 3 or one very hungry person who didn’t realize how much food he actually had):
  1. Purchase and transport buta tank from the local 7anut to your house (allow for 30 minutes).
  2. Open buta tank’s safety seal (allow at least 30 minutes for first time; don’t give up! It’ll get easier with future tanks). You may need to saw it open with your Leatherman. Feel free to listen to the whole soundtrack of Spring Awakening while you work.
  3. Attach one end of hose to the valve and secure with valve clasp (1-2 minutes).
  4. Attach other end of hose to the stove and secure with valve clasp (20-30 minutes, depending on your strength and tenacity).
  5. Screw valve onto buta tank (2 minutes max).
  6. Make guacamole by adding salt to three pitted and mashed avocados, diced tomatoes and onions, and finely chopped cilantro (20 minutes). Store in fridge if you have one yet.
  7. Slice up chicken – breast, thigh, leg – into bite-sized portions (15 minutes).
  8. Tiyb chicken on stove with leftover onion, tomato, and cilantro, and add salt and any other spices at your disposal. Chili pepper and cumin work wonders (20 minutes). Set chicken aside.
  9. Cut potato into thin strips and fry in olive oil with a little salt. Bonus: this is a great way to determine whether your PC-provided smoke detector works (15 minutes).
  10. On a plate, make a bed of guacamole. Place chicken on the guacamole, and top it off with fries fresh from the pan. (3 minutes).
  11. Enjoy with potentially tainted water from your faucet or boxed, unrefrigerated, ultra-pasteurized 0% milk.
Total price: 470.5 DH (around $47), not including the Leatherman.
Total prep and Tiyb time: 2-3 hours, depending on how fast you realize you can saw the safety seal off the buta.