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So Fes

Salam alaykum Victor Manuel

My host family loves soap operas.  Actually, that would be an understatement.  From the time I wake up, until well after I’m asleep, a soap opera is playing on TV.  The thing is, there aren’t any Moroccan soap operas.  Their soaps of choice are Turkish and Mexican.  They are both dubbed into Moroccan Arabic, but the names of the characters are kept in their original languages.  This is hardly noticeable for the Turkish soaps, but it is hilariously apparent in the Mexican shows.  “Salam alaykum Victor Manuel! Wa alaykum asalaam Juan Garces!”

Your girlfriend is trying to reach you…

Kuthur, one of my host sisters, has a puffy Rebecca Black sticker on the back of her cell phone.  Her ringtone is R2D2 like sounds followed by a valley girl saying, “Your girlfriend is trying to reach you…your girlfriend is trying to reach you…”

Hello, you speak English?

Although it is happening less and less, a couple times a day, a Moroccan guy who is between 5 and 35 years old approaches me and ask, “You speak English?  You want to see tanneries?  I take you.”  The tanneries are where traditional leather goods are made in the Fes medina.  They are a cool place to visit.  In fact, if you come to Fes, you have to visit the tanneries.  But only visit them once.  After all, you can buy all of the goods sold at the tannery at other places in the medina for a fraction of the price.  And, the tanneries smell awful.  So no, I don’t want to go to the freakin’ tanneries.  And no, I don’t want to have this conversation again.  And no, I don’t want to be followed by somebody who wants to take me to the tanneries so that he can get a kickback.

Today: “Monsieur, monsieur, you speak English? “  Muhammad (this is how my Arabic teacher refers to all males in Morocco; females are Fatima) is inches away from my face.  I want to push him away and reclaim my personal space, but I know this will only egg him on further.  I hear the word tanneries escape his lips.  Before he can say anything else, I ask him in Arabic, “Do you want to see the tanneries?”  Muhammad looks confused.  I ask again, “Do you? Do you want to see the tanneries?”  He replies, “Why would I want to see the tanneries?”

“You don’t want a bag? Maybe a gift for your mother?” Muhammad looks very confused.

“No, I live here…I don’t want to see the tanneries”

“Ahh ha” I proclaim.  “Me too.  Salam Alaykum.”

Do you want to see the tanneries???

Hammam’in it

Today I went to the hammam for the first time.  A hammam is a bathhouse that serves the local community and foreigners alike.  There are many different hammams in both the old city and new city in Fes.  I’m living in the old city, so I figured I’d head to one near by.   I bought the necessary tool, a scrubbing mitten, and met up with two friends to head to find a hamma.

The first hammam that we stopped by was serving women at the time.  There are different hours for men and women.  And they are different for any given hammam. After finding a hammam that was having man-hours, we bargained for a price.  It ended up being too high, but still less than $10.  We disrobed and entered the hammam.

We left our clothing with a casual looking guard that is supposed to watch our things.  The hammam itself was comprised of many tiled domed rooms.  I see a cockroach run by – my friend assures me, “by Fes standards, this place is clean.”  We are escorted into the back room, where we’re given buckets of steaming hot water.  Some is used to rinse the floor.  Before we sit down.

I start to warm up from the heat of the hammam, and I am ready to relax.  A man spa, why not?  With the chaos of Fes outside the walls of the bathhouse, I am still in the quietness of the hammam halls.  “Sit” commands the aged hammam employee and the man who is going to be giving me my message/scrub down.  It is hard to tell whether his wrinkles are from aging or from spending so much time in the hammam.  I wouldn’t know what the latter would looks like; but I expect this is the reason for his wrinkles.  “Turnover.”  I’m lying on my stomach  next to my friends, Toshi and George, in the middle of the hammam and before I can imagine what the scrub will be like, it starts.

Back-and-forth and back-and-forth the mitten scrapes arms.  I’m breathing heavily, very heavily.  I can see my skin reddening and hope that I don’t start bleeding.  “Control your breathing, think about your breathing and you’ll be okay,” I tell myself, as my skin sheds onto the floor beside me.  Twenty minutes later and I’m clean.

Then comes the message.  I am not looking forward to the message.  But it starts.  It is painful.  I heard bones crack that I have never heard crack.  I can’t describe my message well, because I didn’t see it.  But I saw George get his message and it looked like a form of medieval torture.  One moment the masseuse was pushing aggressively on his chest and the next his knee was in George’s back.   Oh, that’s what that was…

Now I’m clean and ready for my hammam recovery to begin.

Hello world

Hello hello hello from Morocco!  I invite you to accompany me on my 11th month-long journey as a Fulbright researcher in Morocco.  I’m currently in Rabat for orientation, but will be heading east to Fez on Friday to start a six-week Darija and cultural studies program at ALIF — the Arabic Language Institute in Fez.  Darija is colloquial Moroccan Arabic.  So far, I have been able to successfully navigate my way around Rabat with my knowledge of modern standard Arabic.  I admit, however, I’m doing a lot of guessing based on context and have had limited interactions with Moroccans due to the nature of being in a large English speaking group.

We’ve been traveling as a pack of Fulbrighters.   Picture a large group of Americans doing a guided tour of any foreign city.  I love it.  I feel so comfortable; so American.  Anyhow, I’m still incredibly jet-lagged and have to be up early to be walked over to, where else…the American Club.