Attempted Acculturation

September 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

The sound of a fly’s impatient hovering  eased me out of my slumber. It was early but I could hear the street yawn and stir itself awake.  I walked up to the rooftop terrace.  

A moment of stillness, through a ladder

A few minutes later, Robert joined me and we decided to go for a stroll.  Taking a shortcut through the graveyard, we made our way to the beachfront. With the vast setting, even the boisterous squeals of boys heading to the waves are eventually swallowed up in the low growl of the ocean.

Next, a stroll through the markets.

love on a cart

A concern of mine was staying relatively in shape while here.  Luckily I stumbled upon this inviting advertisement, the Ass Paradise Club.  In very broken French, I discovered that, though currently closed for the holiday, the Ass Paradise Club offers aerobics, yoga, dance, and beauty services on a regular basis.  I can’t wait to come back.

Meryam, Aoufiya, and I settled on a post-dinner plan of firsts: a first mosque experience and the hammam. Amused, clumsy, and tense, I made my first public appearance in a full djebella and headscarf. The djebellas come in all colors and prints, with wizard-like sleeves and a pointed hood.

Aoufiya and me, heading out for a night on the town! Oh wait, I mean going to the mosque...

Like flies to a lantern, we made our way to the glowing mosque. Despite my attempt to camouflage, I perfected the art of standing out in a place where all are supposed to act, breath, and be as one. Here’s a recap of my mental notes:

1. Wear slip on shoes. Fumbling with Romanesque sandals and balancing on one leg is not graceful.

2. For God’s sake, use a prayer mat!   Aoufiya had taken off and settled into a row 50 feet in front of us, leaving Meryam and me stranded and searching for a good place to settle in. The mosque was full, so we looked for an opening in the rows just outside the building. We found a gap in a row and joined in. However, after the first prostration directly on the ground a horrified woman shoved an extra mat under our feet.

3. Make sure your headscarf is tight. Minutes after receiving our carpet, another woman grabbed my arm and motioned that my bangs were falling out.

4. Don’t get cocky. I thought I had a rhythm down but was one “Allahu akbar” off. I took the wrong cue and knelt to the ground in submission while everyone else had remained in a 90-degree bend.  Classy.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t the only one with an awkward but enlightening mosque experience. After the service we waited for the mass of people to exit before Aoufiya took me inside. I was so enraptured by the intricate walls and rugs to notice a crowd forming on the edge furthest from the men’s section. I woman still lay on her back with knees bent. She looked feverish and cold at the same time.  The circle of women fussed over her in hushed voices. Suddenly she started having convulsions, smacking the ground with the backs of her hands, and shrieking. No one but me seemed surprised, and the explanation Aoufiya gave me as we walked away was incomprehensible. I still don’t know what to think.

Hammam time. The hammam  (bath house) was a perfect juxtaposition of attitudes towards the body.  Squinting without my glasses, I did my best not to stare at the naked women around me, and bashfully I joined them. Meryam filled some large buckets with water and we found a place on the floor. The women use a glove to exfoliate the entire body. I first I cringed at the roughness and did only a rudimentary scrubbing, but noticing how meticulously slow everyone else was, I repeated until I grew accustomed. After I was sure I’d never have another dead skin cell, we moved on to hair. I washed mine, rinsed and waited. Meryam washed her hair about 11 times and showed no signs of stopping. So I washed mine again, just for kicks.  When Meryam felt satisfactorily clean, we dried and dressed ourselves, as shriveled as the prunes in last nights tagine.

For breakfast we had bread of all types.


As I sat digesting in my room, I heard a knock and the ahgee ahgee!  I was flattered. The women had invited me to help make riyfa l-eid, a fried bread drizzled with honey.  Apparently this bread is a must on eid, a party. After insisting that they take my picture (“to show for husband!”), they also insisted that I try some.  Still stuffed from the baked goods of the morning (bread, bread, and more bread), it took incredible will power to eat the smallest piece.

The final product: riyfa al-eid


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