Sunday has become my own private Independence Day. It started last week when, rather than waiting for a ride home from church, I bravely embarked on my first solo taxi ride. I was terribly nervous. It turned out to be terribly fun. I chattered (if one can call it that) in French the whole way, and had a good laugh with the driver after declining his spontaneous marriage proposal.
So this week I decided to be doubly brave. Go to French church. Leave the dictionary at home. Understand the first half of the sermon. And then (to prevent a messy brain explosion), slip out and trek, explorer-like, to the city’s old medina.
It wasn’t until I moved to a hot, dusty country that I understood the significance of footwashing in ancient civilizations. Unlike the symbolic ceremonies sometimes observed today, this was no delicate ritual; it was a yucky, gritty, never-ending necessity.
I know this because occasionally my soft, Western feet leave the smooth asphalt of my campus paradise and venture to the little hanout in the village on the other side of the wall. Within ten steps, my feet are filthy – so filthy that I now own special dirt shoes (fake crocs, to be precise), which I reserve solely for dirty walks in dirty places. When I get home, I head straight to the bathtub and hose my feet down, shoes and all. That is why there is pretty much always a set of plastic footwear drying in my washroom.
Oh, but I wish someone had advised me to buy dirt shoes before my first trip to the Hay Hassani souk, which was such a smorgasbord for the eyes that it never once occurred to me to direct my gaze downward – until I found that I had stepped in a puddle of – something – and that the contents of said puddle (“puddle” being a generous descriptor of the many animal and vegetable liquids potentially decomposing on the premises) would squish and squirt out of my sticky sandals for the next six hours.
Yes. I went home and washed my feet. Thrice. And I felt terribly, terribly sorry for anyone who might possibly have the morbid task of washing the feet of others in similar conditions. No wonder it was a servant’s job.
Now, we as Westerners pride ourselves on our fetish for personal hygiene. We live ultra-purified lives and equate uncleanliness with poverty, misfortune, and destitution. We sidestep anyone and anything that we consider soiled, and wonder how they can stand to live in their own filth. But today I had an experience that takes our sanitized self-image and turns it on its head. I went to a hammam.
In Morocco, I measure my successes by kilometres travelled and items purchased. To get anywhere, and buy anything, is pretty much always an ordeal in one way or another. And my own fears have prevented me from accomplishing either of these tasks independently for far too long.
Fear of what, you ask? Pickpockets? Lewd men? Crooked taxi drivers? Corrupt policemen? I was warned about all of these, but not nearly as emphatically as I was warned about that most notorious of North African villains: the Moroccan Driver.
I am beginning to think that everyone in this world has an analogue somewhere on another continent. And that a great many of them live in Morocco.
I’m sure you know what I mean: that niggling feeling that someone reminds you of (or perhaps is) someone else. In fact, one of the very first people who greeted me in Casablanca has a vocal cadence much like one of my synchronized swimming buddies in Canada. So, in my head, I call her “Morocco Sharon.” In the confines of this small campus, I have also met Morocco Dave, Morocco Catharine, Morocco Sarah; Morocco Tania, Stephanie, Krystal, Vera, Crystal, Paul, and Darlene; and, most curiously, Morocco Snow White and Morocco Barbie.
My goodness, it takes a long time to get anywhere in Casablanca. A bus, a tram, a walk, a taxi, another taxi… Will I ever be able to navigate this place independently? I so want to be independent here, and I so want to be out there in the real Moroccan world, shopping at the hanouts and talking to the people.
Oh, but I love Morocco. I feel sorry for all the people out there who don’t live in Morocco. And what a lot of adventures I’ve had since the big trip to church!
I have been “Outside” three times so far – twice to Marjane, a sort of Moroccan Walmart, to buy dull things like mops and toothpaste, and once to church. St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, to be exact. Yes – just like the St. John’s back home, only not. Continue reading
My apartment — Third floor middle balcony
It is my second morning in Morocco.
I was a bit of a recluse yesterday. I barely left my apartment. I indulged in sleep, sleep, and more sleep, and I spent the rest of the day cleaning and unpacking. Three of my suitcases are empty now, and tucked away in my closet until the next big adventure.
It is my first morning in Morocco.
I am swaying on my rainbow hammock, eating my breakfast and taking in the sights, sounds, and sensations particular to this new habitat of mine.