Cleansed

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“Tremendous pleasure from the mere cleaning of ones body and turning it into a sensual ritual, constitutes one of the major differences between Muslim and Christian cultures” Mernissi states in her book, Scheherazade Goes West. If we in the West ever heard about women showering with one another our minds would immediately flood with sexual fantasies of what could be. It would be turned into something erotic, which is not what it was at all. Needless to say I was I was anxious, I had mixed emotions about the whole process. I kept telling myself to have an open mind. We walked in and I was hit with the moisture in the air. The first thing I saw was the woman at the desk, she was older, veiled and had wrinkles that covered her dark skin. I couldn’t help but wonder, was she the woman who would be scrubbing me today? She smiled, although she was missing teeth and rather frail, her easiness filled the room and triggered me to relax some.

We dropped our belongings and began to undress. I had debated whether or not I would keep my sports bra on or not earlier and I was adamant about keeping it on if I could. The gray sports bra clung to my skin comfortably along with the bathing suit bottoms that I was sporting. Iman walked us back into the farthest room; there she gave us each a small pink bucket and a place to sit in front of a spout of water. I was overcome by the heat and found it difficult to breathe as soon as I entered but eventually my body caught up with my brain and I was able to carry on. We were instructed to fill the bucket with hot water and get ourselves wet, so we all did as we were told. The water was refreshing and it fell nicely on my skin. Iman then came around with a bucket, she put a small portion of the green clay in our pales and added some water, then told us to mix it around until it was thin enough to rub all over our bodies. It was a dark green substance with a mushy feel, it smelt like henna, in fact it was henna.

As I sat there mixing the cold material between my fingers, in the back of my head I knew I had forgotten something, and right then it struck me, I didn’t have a hair tie to put my hair up. Iman came around again, checking up on everyone of us, she walked up to me and cautioned “You might want to take that off,” as she pointed to my sports bra, “the henna will stain it and it will be ruined”. I looked down and forced a smile, looking both to my left and right, I hesitantly took it off over my awkward shoulders. She then proceeded in giving me her hair clip so that the henna wouldn’t get in it, “You don’t have anything for you hair? Here take this.” She said with a kind-hearted beam. She handed it to me and instantaneously I could feel how soft her skin was. I rubbed the henna into my skin and sat there; content with where I was at in life, and for once calm. Being uncovered in front of all of these girls wasn’t what I thought it would be, especially since we were all covered in dark green goop. They weren’t judging, they were laughing and talking with one another, relaxed enough to carry on a conversation while being exposed. The last thing we were worried about was looking pretty. It was interesting to me, back home I would have been worried about peoples empty stares, my weight, how I looked, and what people were thinking, but being in the hamam was different. I wasn’t getting that feeling. It became more of a community. Instead of constantly trying to look better than someone else, or exclude someone that wasn’t cool enough, we were conversing. We were having a great time even though we were practically naked.

I was the second person to be scrubbed by the woman sitting in the middle of the walkway. She motioned for me to go over, so I scooted myself along the tile floor about three feet to where she was located. Immediately she began to scrub, first it was my stomach and chest, following this were my arms and underarms. I closed my eyes and let myself unwind. The scrubbing felt like sandpaper. At first I thought it hurt. But after a minute or so of scrubbing I realized that it was enjoyable. I opened my eyes to turn so that she could scrub my legs and saw all of the dead skin that had resulted from the cleansing. Before I knew it I was done and she sent me to get a bucket of water for her next client. I can’t explain the feeling I had after, but I just wanted to lie down and think. Iman didn’t have to help me as much as she did, but that didn’t stop her from assisting me. I had predisposed notions of this country as well as the people who lived here, and thinking about how people don’t truly know things until they experience themselves hit me hard. Being cleansed in such a way was powerful, fascinating, and one memory that I will always cherish from Morocco. I had to experience it for myself to fully understand what Mernissi was talking about. I get it now. The west has inclined philosophies about Morocco, ones that need to discontinue in order for us to get anywhere. We all need to try and understand where everyone is coming from, without this there will be no reconciliation. It took traveling to Morocco for me to fully understand this concept and it opened my eyes and my mind completely, changing the way that I thought from there on out. The hamam cleansed me of my illogical outlook.

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