We have reached the halfway point! Six weeks in, six to go!
Traditional Medicine in Morocco
For my culture course, I am researching the health care system in Morocco and the presence of traditional medicine. My professor helped me translate a questionnaire that is being distributed to Moroccan healers, doctors, and members of society, and Youssef kindly agreed to take me to interview the most famous traditional healer in the country. We made an evening out of it—starting with another exhilarating and terrifying motorcycle ride through the city (see photos!).
We stopped for delicious juicy “hindiya” fruits that would probably sentence me to death if I ate the skin. We walked up to the men and Youssef exchanged a few words with them before pulling me with him in the other direction. A moment later, and the man you can see in the photo was yelling a different price to us. Haggling at its best. We ate 4-5 hindiya each at half the original price (equivalent to about $1) and moved on into the medina. Next stop: raisin shakes! We stopped at a stall in front of Al-Karaouine (oldest university in the world) where I’ve bought small pastries before. No menus, of course, so only locals could possibly know about the delicious red raisin shakes behind the counter. Well, now I do too. I’ve been twice since. Walking with Youssef averted a lot of the comments and stares that I’m usually subjected to, and I was even more thankful of his presence when we reached the traditional healer and he served as translator. The business has been in his family for generations, and no one in the family has ever seen a doctor. My first question was, “What do you believe is the biggest health problem facing Morocco?” The woman purchasing herbs next to me chuckled to herself and interjected, “Albataaqa”. Unemployment.
We spent about thirty minutes leaning over the counter, inquiring about everything from his own education, to gender and generational differences in seeking care, the efforts underway to regulate the efficacy/safety of herbal drugs, the beliefs surrounding the treatment of HIV/AIDS and mental illness, and his most popular requests. I was grateful he was so willing to deal with my questions and painfully slow Arabic. Soon, I was invited to take photos and explore behind the counter. Goat horns hung from the ceilings next to stuffed lions, and colorful herbs, roots, and fluids were stacked ceiling-high. Between the “Man Soap” and the “Breast Enhancer” I spied what appeared to be chunks of chocolate. Though the majority of customers seek treatment for respiratory infections, aches, pains, and sexual impotence, one of his best-sellers is this hair mask treatment. Just add hot water! Yup, I bought a big bag of the chocolate-but-not-really stuff for 30 cents. He spoke with conviction about his all-natural, pure ingredients and ability to “cure HIV/AIDS in 1.5 years,” guaranteed. As for cancer, give him one year and it will be 50% cured and will have stopped growing. When I asked why he didn’t share his knowledge with the world to save lives and gain fame and fortune, he shook his head and responded “this is Morocco’s secret; it’s not for the world.” All in all, fascinating interview.
Hair – Do
That night, I showed my magic-hair-mud purchase to Amina and Myriem and they revealed their homemade stash! I’m still very unclear as to what it is. But check out what it looks like scrubbed into every hair follicle. Between the heat, humidity, potential malnourishment, and infrequency of haircuts in the states, my hair has been in dire need of some stylin’ and the magic mud left disappointing results. Good thing there’s a coiffeur next door! After waiting around for twenty minutes with Myriem (the one and only coiffeur, or hairdresser, was “at coffee”), I found myself settled into a cushy chair in front of a mirror. So far, so good. The coiffeur nodded enthusiastically when I asked him to shampoo my hair. He proceeded to spray the very ends of my hair with water then work through the knots with hairbrushes filled with strangers’ hair! Above the bottom half, my hair remained completely untouched. My hair usually parts off-center anyways. Ten minutes later I was bouncing out of there, a new woman J
Reflection on Gender Roles
On a less cheerful note, I’m struggling to come to terms with Amina’s role in the family. She is Mama Hakima’s sister and acts as the second mother to all of Mama Hakima’s children. She also is the “chef de cuisine” and is responsible for all the cooking. And laundry. And cleaning. In my Women in Society class, we were discussing gender roles in Islam. A good Muslim woman strives for two things in life: becoming a wife, then becoming a mother. I asked our flamboyant Feminist professor Fatima how Amina, unmarried and childless, might be considered in society and in the family. Her first question regarded her appearance, and I didn’t know how to respond. Amina is such a wonderful, caring presence in the home—from making my omelets to bringing me mint tea when I’m drowning in work and teaching me Moroccan Arabic. Fatima shocked me by explaining that Amina essentially has failed as a Muslim woman, and has thus been shunned by society and left to live with her sister’s family as a maid. Pieces of this puzzle are coming together now. While I have my own room, Amina sleeps on a cushion on the floor with a blanket. When Mama Hakima is thirsty while watching TV, she orders Amina to bring her water. Recently, as I was washing the dishes and talking about my homework, Amina told me “my life is great—I get to watch Turkish films all day!” I told this to my professor Fatima and she assured me that Amina simply must be unhappy but she has no alternative. It’s hard for me to see Amina in this light and makes me even more adamant about helping her in daily tasks.
Amina deserves the most credit for my new favorite expression in Moroccan Arabic: ana madigadiga bizaaaaf. Translation: I’m very exhausted. Without fail, my family erupts in laughter every time I say this. Instead of greeting me with “salaamu alekum” per usual, I’m now greeted with “salaamu….enti madigadiga bizaaaf??” As soon as I repeat it, Hajj nearly falls off the couch laughing so hard. I’m glad I can serve as such entertainment!
Other highlights of the past week include exploring the souks and stumbling upon a honey market, magical hidden pottery store, and traditional “bread man,” going to a meat-less “barbecue” at the riad of some other students, answering my taxi driver’s questions about what’s going on on Wall Street, and sitting down for ice cream with a backpacking nomad from Lithuania. Besides taxi drivers, most of my speaking practice is with Salma. Her favorite activity is trying on my makeup then inspecting herself with this handheld mirror…I love the photo I slyly snapped of her, which you can see in my gallery.
On Friday, Nadine and Antoine—my wonderful host parents from Talloires—will come to Fes for the wedding of Antoine’s cousin. I will go with them to this traditional Berber wedding then fly back to Talloires with them to spend my vacation in a familiar, and beautiful, place! Mama Hakima has given me a traditional Moroccan robe to wear, complete with a set of jewelry and shoes. She also took me shopping this week in search of a tea kettle to give to Nadine and Antoine. We wandered from souk to souk in the metal-smith area, as men welded and hammered around us. Mama Hakima handled the haggling. We meandered through the rest of the markets and I bought jewelry for my “sister” in France, a beautiful dark brown leather backpack (for $25!), and a ceramic water jug and plate hand-painted in Fes—the stall owner proved their invincibility by standing on the plate then scratching the jug with a coin! Stay tuned for wedding highlights and enjoy all the photos (some are disposables)!