THE END IS NIGH.
Or rather, the end of my time in Morocco is approaching, and I’ve got some thoughts about that. But first, I’ll let you know what kind of nonsense I’ve been up to lately.
For starters, I’ve learned that if my host sister says we’re going on a picnic, what she really means is that we’re going to the forest to hike, and there isn’t actually any food involved at all. This is an important lesson that I wish I’d learned before I was whisked away to the woods this Sunday morning. Not to say that I was disappointed. I very much enjoyed the experience, and it was a great opportunity to spend some time with my host sister before my homestay ended. We had a lovely view of the ocean, and even got to see one of Tangier’s most famous—and weirdest—attractions: The Place of Nightingales.
It’s a cliff-side mansion built by Greek-American expat Ion Perdicaris in the 1870s. It’s also where Perdicaris was kidnapped by a Moroccan chieftain, whom Perdicaris later befriended in what I can only assume was a case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Interesting though the mansion was, it could not make up for the fact that I was essentially tricked into doing physical activity. My host sister tried to remedy the situation by taking us for ice cream afterward, but I was still pretty exhausted, and my day had only just begun. Next up on the agenda was a trip to the hammam, or an Islamic bath. The hammam is essentially a public bath/sauna, with different bathing periods for men and women. In the past, I’ve been to a “traditional” Moroccan hammam only once, but the experience was memorable, to say the least. My friends and I chose to go together, each of us buying an exfoliating glove (kees) and a bag of foul-smelling, black soap paste made from olives. You can bathe yourself, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can pay a lady to do it for you, because she’s not going to be as gentle when she uses the glove to scour the dead skin from your fragile body. It sounds like an awkward and painful experience, and it definitely is, but I swear you’ll never be cleaner.
This time around I opted for a more bougie alternative, choosing to go to a hammam that was also a spa. Unlike the traditional bath, the soap at this spa didn’t possess a horrendous odor, and the hammam lady seemed like she didn’t want to cause me any pain. Plus, there were massages, manicures, waxing, and whatever else fancy people do when they’re spa-ing.
The hammam also provided a much-needed opportunity for stress-relief, which I desperately needed after the “re-entry” workshop I had been subjected to the day before. Since this is our final week in Tangier, we were required to attend the workshop in order to reflect on our experiences and prepare to re-adjust to life in the U.S., i.e. avoiding “reverse culture shock.” (What is reverse culture shock? This link will tell you, because I don’t feel like doing that.) However, the workshop just turned out to be another opportunity for me to put up with nonsense. I won’t go into any details about what went down because that doesn’t matter, but I’ll give my two-cents on a couple of points.
First: This is a fully-paid opportunity to study abroad, and the program only lasts eight weeks. I believe that reverse culture shock is real and stressful, but if that’s the going to be the biggest problem I have in my life right now, that’s fine by me.
Second: Cultural appropriation is real and problematic. You’re going to want to show off everything you bought abroad and tell the whole world about your experience, but don’t forget that it’s not your culture, and what you say and do with cultural items will affect how that culture is perceived, especially by people who only learn about it from you. Additionally, there’s no one who can simply give you permission on behalf of a whole culture to wear some unique clothing or jewelry you bought. It doesn’t work like that. Furthermore, no one owes you the emotional labor of defending their right to be offended when you’ve somehow exploited or misrepresented their culture. It’s easy to be respectful, and if you mess that up, it’s even easier to admit that you were wrong and to try to be better in the future. End rant.