Sunday, July 17, 2011

Extreme Morocco

In this entry, I am going to describe some of my more "extreme" experiences.  Unlike the ABC reality t.v. show Expedition Impossible, where I imagine some events are orchestrated, all of the following experiences were authentic.  Because of their authentic nature, most of them do not include pictures.  Sorry!

1.  Exteme bathing:  While in my homestay, the sister of the family took the three of us Americans to a Hamman.  What they described to me was more or less a bath/massage combination.  What I experienced was group bathing.  Before you get too disgusted, let me describe...The three of us (all American women) went with our host mother to a bath house.  There, we entered a very warm dressing room, where we undressed down to our swimsuits and left all our clothes on a bench.  We were told that theft isn't a problem, and I believed them because I saw that they locked the door.  Besides, what reason would someone have to steal my very dirty, smelly clothes? 

We were then led from the dressing room, through another room, and into the bath room, which was about as hot as a sauna.  Then the Moroccan "bath lady" came and motioned that we should each sit on a plastic mat, which were all placed about 10 inches apart.  She then decided to begin with me.  She poured warm water all over me, and then she worked from one body part to the next.  For example she would cover one arm with a sort of gel/cream called "black soap," and then she would scrub that arm with a rag that I bought and gave her.  When I say scrub, I mean scrub.  That women is much stronger than most I know, and I literally saw layers of skin floating away when she rinsed me.  She moved from one body part to the next, scrubbing as hard as she could.  She washed and scrubbed everywhere. After rinsing my body, she moved on to my hair and washed my hair and massaged my head completely.  After rinsing my head, she moved onto Diane, who was only 10 inches away from me.  I was instructed to stay where I was because being in the warm air is good for the skin.  So, I sat through the next four baths, and then we all left together.  I guess, we are also supposed to be massaged, but the masseuse had already left for the night.  (I forgot to mention that we arrived to get the baths at 9:00 pm--before dinner.  We ended up eating dinner at 11:30 that night.  (NO pictures of this "extreme activity are available.)

2.  Extreme jay-walking:  On the way to the hamman, we had to cross through an intersection of five different avenues.  We had to cross right through the center, without any crosswalks or lights to let us have the right of way.  My host mother grabbed my arm to indicate that it was time to cross and despite her small stature (she can't be more than 4'10'' tall, she forged the way for us all.

3.  Extreme transportation:  Actually, this experience was the least authentic of them all because what we did was designed for tourists.  However, it was meant to replicate what Moroccans actually do in the desert.  We took a camel ride!  Instead of riding in the middle of the desert, however, we rode on the beach (Atlantic Ocean) at the vacation town Essaouira.  Based on my recent experiences in Wyoming where the trail horses followed one another without a problem, I wasn't worried.  However, once I saw 4-wheelers and thought about how the horses in Wyoming could be spooked by seeing a brightly colored kayak, I was instantly concerned.  Much to my suprise, the camels didn't flinch even though the 4-wheelers came within 10 feet of us.  The only precarious part of this experience was when the camel lowered itself to the ground in order for us to get off.  At that point, you thought you would fall, but no one did.  It was a lot of fun and something that I don't think I would do anywhere else.

4.  Extreme bathroom:  So, we have all heard of luxerious bathrooms, right?  Well, we saw an extremely practical bathroom.  Imagine a hole in the floor, where you are supposed to go to the bathroom (no toilet seat, of course).  You could find that type of bathroom everywhere in public areas, like roadside stores and gas stations.  Now, imagine a bathroom in a house where you have a hole in the floor to be your toilet, and above the hole you have a spout for your shower.  The water from your shower drains directly into the toilet!  I personally never saw or experienced this, but some of my colleagues did.

I hope that the experiences described above did not in any way turn you off from travelling to a foreign place like Morocco.  Usually, with experiences like these, you have the choice of participating or not participating.  If we weren't curious to see something Moroccans do on a weekly basis, we never would have gone to the Hamman.  If we wanted to only stay in hotels, we never would have participated in a homestay and seen the unusual bathroom.  And certainly, we could have found a longer (and probably safer) way to get across the intersection.  So, don't let the stories above turn you off from travelling.  For me, experiencing things like this make a culture come alive because I was able to see how Moroccans live and do what they do, but these experiences aren't a requirement for visiting another country.

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