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July 10, 2008 Hammam II: Return of the Bucket

Today I took my second trip to the hammam. This time, the place was crowded. Overflowing. I don’t know why it was so different from before, when Ama, little sis and I had the whole place to ourselves. That was a Wednesday noon, this was a Thursday midafternoon…go figure.

When Erma Bombeck visited a hammam, her response was, “All women are NOT created equal.” I disagree. There were women of every shape, size, and color in the hammam with us, at every stage of life (including infant, pregnant mother, and elderly woman), but even though some were convex where others were concave, what I noticed was the joy that filled the room. This was an enclave away from the eyes of men – even family members – and it was a cheerful, cooperative place. Women scrubbed each other’s backs, girls carried buckets for their mothers and friends, sisters shaved each other’s armpits… There was an almost tangible spirit of mutual support and… I can’t think of the word I want, but it’s something like community/cooperation/conviviality/coherence/communion… I admit, I never completely lost my self-consciousness, but I did realize that nudity really wasn’t the point.

At one point, while I was waiting for my bucket to fill with hot water, a woman I’ve never met before stood up, walked over to me, and invited me to share her water and her mat.

“Parlez-vous francais?” Do you speak French? (French)
“Shwiya, eyya.” A little, yeah. (Tam)
“Shwiya?” A little? (Tam)
“Gigh merikani. Da-tsawalgh s ingleez.” I’m American. I speak English. (Tam)
Voulez-vous $%^&*( ghori l-kes i3mmrn aman?” Do you want [something] I have a bucket full of water? (Mix of Tam and French, gesturing to her mat)

Ama intervened (almost territorially!) but I appreciated the invitation. I think it was the first time where I was approached by a stranger but it didn’t feel like she wanted anything from me, or that I had some sort of rock-star status because of my blue eyes or freckles. She just saw a woman standing alone, and wanted me to share in the sense of community of the hammam. :)

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