Miriam Hicklin, BA Arabic and Persian
My first few days in Fez have been part of a mystical journey. For a while now I’ve grown used to getting what I want when I want it. But here, the world has been telling me to take a break and think about what really matters. We can’t control things. You want something? Then wait, and in the mean time, think about something a bit more meaningful… No experience has taught me this lesson, not to take myself too seriously, than my recent trip to the hammam.
I knew that Moroccan hammams involved some scrubbing and some massaging, so I thought, I like both those things, excellent. I wasn’t alone either, so I really felt quite prepared. We’d read that you had to take a bowl for scooping the water, so we grabbed one each off the side and went off on our way. Stopping in downstairs with our neighbours, I learnt my first lesson. We were laughed at by the whole family, including the grandma. Out of pity, they gave us their hammam kit, which consisted of much more than a bowl. More embarrassingly, we were escorted to the hammam by our landlady who, explaining, said something along the lines of ‘they don’t know what the hell they’re doing’.
That was made abundantly clear as we sat and looked gormless at everything taking place around us. What seemed like a whole series of languages I didn’t understand were being spoken on all sides (welcome to Morocco – assume what you don’t understand is Berber), and so when Nabila left, it was really no more clear what we had to do. Since the other ladies in the room were all sat in their pants, and nothing else, the most obvious thing to do was take our clothes off. But I’ve never been in a position where this was the most obvious thing to do ever before, so here was my next lesson. Yes, that woman in the corner is most probably laughing at you, not with you.
Yet more woman arrived in this waiting area, and without any explanation, we were escorted into the next room. Of course, an explanation would have been redundant for a number of reasons, not least the aforementioned language issues, so, fair enough. It’s really hot in this room, and the over-arching theme is boobs. Boobs, boobs, boobs. Everywhere. It’s not that I haven’t seen boobs before, obviously, but I only arrived in the country yesterday and now, there are boobs everywhere. That’s ok though, I adjust remarkably quickly to my new landscape, and we find a cosy spot in a corner where our lady starts surrounding us with buckets of steamy water. Cool! Apart from we don’t know what to do. Once the buckets are full, we’re left on our own, surrounded by tiny oasis. I had just got used to having our wordless escort doing everything for me, so this is disconcerting.
But there is a woman opposite who definitely knows what she’s doing, so we start copying her. However, it seems that she’s at a different stage of this process to us, and when our escort finally returns, there is some rolling of eyes. Now, I realise we were supposed to just sit there and sweat for a while. So I guess, there’s a lesson there too. Sometimes, you’ve just got to sit down and sweat. Cool.
As if what has already happened hasn’t been embarrassing enough, our friend/lady/escort abruptly bends me over and starts scraping at my back. I say scraping, because scrubbing is a misleading term. For her, I am a dirty saucepan she’s been trying to get clean for a week now and she’s thoroughly annoyed. Sure enough though, my skin starts peeling off by the kilo, and before I know it I’m red as a tomato and of questionable physical composition. I mean, I always thought that skin was key to the human body’s functionality, but I’ve started to question that. I don’t know if there was a lesson to learn here. Skin isn’t really that important?
The worst is yet to come, however. With my back done, by her judgment, she points to her leg. She wants my leg? Oh, no, she wants me on her leg. My bum or my hand or my head? Ah, my head. She wants me to put her head on her leg. But I quickly realise that this leaves me curled up in the foetal position between an old lady’s thighs, and I start to laugh. Sana has been laughing for a while now, so I guess it’s fair enough. It seems that the previous scrubbing style wasn’t quite enough, and she’s going at me even more angrily. But since I’m now in a much more intimate position, this is getting a bit awkward, so I tense up considerably. Apparently this makes the whole spectacle a lot more entertaining, and Sana can’t control herself. This seems to make our lady more angry, so I try not to laugh to much myself in case I actually die.
Next she turns me to her other leg, but it seems she can’t quite reach everywhere she wants to get to. So she pulls me closer. Ok. But, oh no. My head is between her enormous tits. And I can’t move. This is just where I exist now. Between an old lady’s boobs. It goes on for a considerable amount of time. It may have been shorter than it felt, because I could barely breath for both practical and emotional reasons, but here I am. And there are her boobs. I think to myself, it’s not that bad. This must have happened when I was a baby, right? I’ll just channel my inner baby. It’s not working. But still, there’s always a lesson to learn, and here there are many. Firstly, if you take yourself too seriously for a while, God might just plunge you between an old woman’s boobs to put you in your place. Again, you can’t control everything. Sometimes, you have to just live through sticky situations. (It was a bit sweaty in there). Also, who doesn’t need to channel their inner baby every now and then?
So there you have it. My first twenty four hours in Morocco. Things have been working in a similar vein since then, too. Here in Fez, the lunch break lasts for three to four hours. So my idea of ‘the most useful time of day to get things done’ has turned into ‘be frustrated or just give in and take a nap’. And that’s an important lesson too. Time is a blessing, don’t use it up doing stupid things. Just eat and sleep. And I’m learning to count my blessings too. Skype isn’t working? Well at least you have loved ones to speak to! You’re not an ABSOLUTE LONER. Nothing works, at all. I mean, nothing? Well, we all have a higher purpose to pursue in the mean time.
So, to summarise, I believe that God has taught me to be grateful for what I have by plunging my head between an old women’s breasts.
Read more at Hicklin’s blog hotfez