Laughter’s Challenge

by

Iman circles the dim, damp room snapping sports bras, insisting that they be taken off to prevent their damage by the thick, black soap we can see other women begin to cover themselves with. The moment it occurred to me my own bra was being tugged at, sheer panic ran through my previously relaxed and reflective state. I can remember looking to my left and right as if a second woman would meet my gaze, shrug her shoulders and say “whatever you’re comfortable with dear.” This woman whose job was to look after the unwilling few did not exist. Instead of this encouraging and understanding woman, my eyes fell on three very gruff and very naked women whose presence itself sent shivers down my spine. These three looked at me in a way that made known their clear lack of understanding as to why I wasn’t already naked. After all, I was in a bath, wasn’t I?

 “Don’t look!” I shouted to my sister as I quickly slipped on my underwear, although completely protected by the fortress of towels strewn between my closet doors- an assembly process completed in a matter of 10 seconds, a speed perfected over time. This is the scenario that played over and over in my head as I thought of the ease and comfort of my own home and about my private fortresses lack of existence in this hammam, in the middle of Africa.

What came after Crystal and I looked at each other and said “okay, we can do this” was a mixture of feeling both humiliation and liberation. Laughter immediately ensued and it echoed, bouncing off the four cement walls that surrounded our vulnerable, exposed bodies as if they were laughing at us, for having ever felt hesitation in the first place. It was their laughter that let the caged bird free and their same laughter that maintains her flight.

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