Hammams are communal baths which are found throughout Morocco. There is one near the hotel we're staying at here in Essoaira and this afternoon I went for a visit. I'm still reeling from culture shock! First walking around the streets of Morocco I've only seen women veiled and draped...and suddenly in the Hammam, my eyes do a double-take as I walk into a world in which the children are completely nude and the women are wearing just panties. Altogether it seems that Moroccan women actually have a greater degree of comfort with their bodies than most Western women! I was guided into a room in which most of the women were either scrubbing themselves or their children. Being new at this I was assigned a washing assistant. First I was handed a slimy piece of brown soap and instructed, in sign language, to lather myself up. Then buckets of water were poured over me.
Next my assistant put on a very abrasive glove and began to exfoliate my arms, legs and feet. She was really rough and at moments I would motion for her to stop. Then she began scrubbing areas I've never scrubbed before like the sides of my neck and under my arms. No parts were left untouched as she grabbed at my breasts and well under my panties..
Then my hair was washed and combed into a Berber style with a plastic head massager. Finally I was led into another room and told to lie on my back. She virtually got on top of me and started to pull at my arms. This was part of a massage which included lots of pouncing and grabbing, smacking and twisting. In that no one seemed to be concerned about what she was doing to me, I figured it was all standard behavior. Eventually she began pouring pitchers of water on me--I joined in and poured water on her...I was almost tempted to slap and pull at her, too--just to get even!
I left in a culture-shocked daze...
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
There are many women's cooperatives which engage in the labor-intensive practice of processing the argan nut. Argan primarily grows in Morocco and Mexico, but it is only in Morocco where there is a nut/seed. The nuts are harvested, cracked open to harvest the oily meat (which has a decidedly bitter taste) then toasted (or not) then pound with a stone and then run through this hand-crank extractor to access the oil. The oil can be used for cooking as well as for a range cosmetic creams, soaps and oils.
We visited the High Atlas mountains and I wandered through a Berber Village. Being on the edge of a river bed, the houses were made from stone rather than clay. (I was charged a couple of dirham for the right to photograph the cute cow...)
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Our teacher shows us how she selects the meat
This is the finished stew
After we left the Sahara Desert we drove through a number of small towns each with particular cultural ane religious practices: in one, women appeared in public wearing full black veils wherein only one-eye could nakedly engage the world. I'd seen pictures before but it was quite chilling to to actually witness the practice. Later we stopped at a local market and I just mingled among the other shoppers. At one moment a gregarious Moroccan woman extended her hand to shake mine. My right hand was full and so I offered her my left. She refused it, laughing as she reached for the proper hand. I laughed along with her, considering what a cultural misfit I must be! Then I went over to a vendor who was selling scarves and I selected four pretty ones...
Riding camels (actually dromedaries in that they have only one hump) is primarily a tourist activity. Nonetheless it was super picturesque. We set off around 5 in the evening and rode for a couple of hours and then stayed at a Berber-like camp amongst the Sahara Desert Dunes. We were fed tangine (traditional Moroccan stew) and fell asleep watching the stars. It was an absolutely beautiful night!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
My tour guide Hussein wearing traditional Berber Dress, other days he wears jeans and t-shirts.
When I first arrived my eyes kept landing on the veiled women. And I kept wondering what makes a woman decide to veil herself. Does she gain safety? Respect? Does the covering of her skin add to her allure? Do veiled women feel restricted?
Moroccan culture is actually very varied: There are Arabs, Jews (though most have left for Israel), Berbers (with many distinct tribes) and tourists and business people from all over. There is complete tolerance of self-expression through dress. Some days a man might wrap scarves around his head and wear a full caftan while other days he might wear jeans and a t-shirt.
Shopping Carts at Marjane, Morocco's Costco-like Mega Market
At Marjane one can buy everything from dried fruits and nuts to western clothing and furniture and alcohol (which is not widely sold due to Muslim prohibitions).
Nonetheless, the local markets serve the masses, here are how goods are displayed:
Important in Roman Times, too!