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Marrakech: the hammam

posted by Jamila

Marrakesh is a mysterious city. It's also a fairly dirty city, and some of the innominate doorways in the medina lead to an oasis for the very purpose of cleansing. It was into one of those covert doorways I entered one evening.

Here I undressed amongst many Moroccan women and girls. I could feel their eyes curiously noting the blanched creature in their midst; my tan lines exposed a contrastingly white figure in the darkened bath. My friend had paid the woman at the door and informed her in Arabic (as I stood speechless) of what I needed. Another woman came to my assistance and supplied me with a bucket of warm water. I spoke the little French I knew but pretty much settled for body language. There on the hammam floor I sprawled on my matt, naked and vulnerable, and let her scrub my body.

Like a cat.

Around me women bathed and cast occasional glances at the white cat in the corner as she lifted limbs for her assistant to attend with the sponge. Her skin was creamy, like goat's milk, though her eyes were dark and somewhat familiar. Her whiteness centered around her breasts and rear, highlighting her rosy areoles. Obedient and indulgent, she spoke little, instead moving gently into various positions of lax to the company of her stroking companion.

I speak not in first person because I never felt so full of my own identity before.

After twenty or so minutes she rose, padded out of the steamy wash room and settled back into her sandals and chemise. There she sat, as more women arrived, derobed, or reapplied their garments as they shared the gossip of their world, so foreign to this white feline. She resolved they must be probing the topic of her existence in their coveted hammam; she sat perched, calm, conclusive with this knowledge.

It was an exchange of vulnerabilities: the sharing of her blanched coat was her key into the only place in Marrakesh devoted to the female body.

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The Germans: on efficiency

posted by Jamila

I'd like to say a word about my encounters with the Germans.

Let me frame this story by reminding my reader that I currently live in Italy. To get to Germany, more specifically the airport in Frankfurt, subjecting myself to Italian transit was necessary. This led me to the Pisa airport where my travel crew arrived promptly to our flight. An hour to wait. My memory of this hour continually centers upon the bizarre machine full of stuffed animals and a claw that would sporadically play techno music to lure prospective players. After countless techno outbursts from the claw machine, not to mention several failed attempts at the game (and a lot of wasted money, frown), people rushed to queue for our flight even though boarding was not announced. It was here, in this queue, that my travel companions and I fell asleep on the tiled floor as our flight was continually delayed.

the techno music-playing game at the Pisa airport

After about the fourth time of waking up and recalling my odd sleeping circumstances, one of my travel companions nudged me and said she thought our flight was canceled. At this point, everyone else began to realize that the screen above our gate flashed "cancellato." I looked around for one of those female attendants who had been pacing around the gate earlier, but they had vanished. And so, both the intended Frankfurt flight passengers as well as those of two other canceled flights descended upon the ticket booth in a mad rush that embittered the desk clerks, who yelled at the travelers, who yelled back. There were old people trying to cut in line, people yelling, women crying... complete madness. After munching on a banana, I decided that this was ridiculous and we should leave the Pisa airport. So we did. We waited until the evening and hopped on a night train, instead.

At some point during the night train, the attendants switched from Italians to Germans. I looked out my window and saw the familiar landscape that always lurked in my assumptuary image archive: church spires, rolling green pastures, misty mountains. Suddenly my mouth was watering for a sausage. "You all have sausages in there, I know it!" I lamented, pointing a finger out the window and into a cozy German town. "The thing is, they really do," my friend assured me.

our train ticket from Munich—Rothenburg

After descending the night train, we purchased a new itinerary that would lead us to the town of Rothenburg. Ordinarily, we receive a ticket stub in Italy and wander around the station until we realize we have missed the train or manage to find someone who seems to have a vague idea of which train we should board. The ticket man at the Munich station handed us one sheet of paper that listed our trail of 4 trains consecutively. Departing station, departing time, departing gate, arrival station, arrival time, arrival gate. Each train gave us 4 minutes after we arrived to board the next. And through this efficient little system, we managed to descend and board all four times and finally make it to Rothenburg, a place we had almost given up on while chewing that banana in the miserable Pisa airport.

The following days were filled with all sorts of delights that cannot be found in Italy. But most important of them all: efficiency.

[photo by Stephanie Wendelin]

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Italy: an observation on the flies

photo by John Talbot

You know, the flies here in Italy seem to linger much longer. And when you swat them away, they return, as if they have no consciousness of a being who dislikes their company.

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Morocco: image prints

the images will never leave my brain—

a plain leading to a blue horizon, a strip of sky otherwise shrouded in cloud

a barren land surrounded by dark hills with just one palm at the center
its own oasis

a graveyard of lampposts
against cropped clay buildings

a complete arc of a double rainbow over a bustling market
—Jamila, 28 October 06

[photo by Jamila]

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Morocco: entering Maroc

if I don't write I just might die—the need is a matter of life or death and the interactions that follow will be brusk unless I get these words out on this lined paper on this cramped train car in the midst of a broad plain broken only by the occasional sheep herder and flock. out there in the immensity I sense an otherness not unlike the otherness of my own mind. I choose to contain it and choose to set it free; choose my moods either pleasant or distasteful.

right now
I choose to think broadly and get out of the crowded train car
and tend to my sheep
—Jamila, 28 October 2006

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