Where to start? I had my first experience at the hammam, or public bathhouse. It’s kind of like a large, three-room sauna of sorts, where you literally go to bathe. In one room, there is a small pool of warm and cold water, and you can mix the two in buckets to get the right temperature for your “bath.” From there, you carry your buckets until you find a good spot, wash the floor and plop down to start cleaning yourself. Driss tells me in more rural communities, the hammam is the only way to take a shower. I wonder if that’s how things will be when I move in a few months, because it’s starting to look more and more like I’m going to be moving to the desert.
It’s not uncommon for someone to offer to scrub you down in the hammam, or for you to return the favor. In fact, there are special washclothes used like sandpaper to tear at your dead skin. Then, once you’ve scrubbed yourself with those, you apply soap and water to wash off the grime the “sandpaper washclothes” left behind. Like any sauna, I assume, the room is filled with a warm, overwhelming mist that kind of takes your breath away. Or maybe for me, it was just the entire experience that took my breath away. I don’t think I’ve had anyone give me a bath since I was a baby, so on one level, sitting in this room full of half-naked men and having my friend essentially bathe me was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life. But at the same time, there was something to it that was deeply sacred, a kind of shared kinship in sitting together and washing away the dirt and grime we had collected walking about in our Moroccan world. Here, at the hammam, we were clean, even if for just a moment.
Speaking of awkward, good ole’ male-to-male kinship, my American friends and I have been joking about the “bromance” in Morocco. It’s not uncommon to see men holding hands or walking arm-in-arm as they walk down the street. Nothing about this is sexual. It’s nothing more than a sign of good friendship. In fact, I’ve had a few English-speaking Moroccans hold onto my arm as we walked down the street after only knowing me for a few minutes. I’ve also received a few greetings that included two or four kisses on the cheek (more from men, as it’s less common for a woman you don’t know to greet you this way).
Oddly enough, all of this “bromance” makes me think of Wabash and living in a fraternity house. I guess the more patriarchal a society, the more “bromance” there is too. I usually think of patriarchy as a negative thing, and of course, I think an egalitarian society would be more ideal, but it’s kind of sad how, in most places in the United States, males can’t really be friends with males without having some kind of negative, stereotype slapped onto the friendship. Which is ridiculous since that shouldn’t even be negative if it was gay. For everything in a patriarchal society that is negative, it’s nice to know there are some things that are worthwhile, some things (like a strong sense of fatherhood) that get lost as the society becomes more feminized. We do such a terrible job of trying to negotiate masculine and feminine characteristics or their place in a society; we can’t even agree on what we mean when we talk about an “egalitarian” society. It’s never enough to just love people. Why is it never enough to just love people?Maybe because we don’t know what love is. Maybe we don’t know what anything is.
But I feel like I’m finding out what love is in Morocco. Shwea b Shwea (little by little). And maybe for the first time. Real love. I’m not talking about the mushy-mushy stuff. I’m talking about something far greater than that – the simple things really. There are times here where I sit back and just say to myself, “I’m in Africa.” It’s good to do that, because it reminds me to take it slow and soak it in carefully. Every tiny little thing suddenly becomes so important and so meaningful.
Along that train of thought, there is another phrase that keeps popping up in my mind too. When I walk into a small shop that is selling pastries and bread, and it’s filled with bees flying all around me; or when Khalil and I are on his roof spinning twine together to make string that his mother can use for jebella decorations; or when my host mother gives me a hand-me-down G-Star jacket to wear because I left mine in my packed bag in Fez; when all these simple things add up and overwhelm me, I simply think to myself, “This is Morocco,” and I smile. I smile for the simple things, even the things that don’t quite work like they would in our more efficient society back in America. It’s nice to find the most mundane reasons ever to smile. It’s something I wish I had done more of when I lived in the States; and it’s something I hope I carry with me the rest of my life.