Naked and Afraid

She was naked, and I was afraid. I stood engulfed in darkness as shadows shifted around the steamy room. Sharp tongues called to one another in a language alien to me.

I stripped down to nothing but a pair of sandals and followed my aunt and mother into an adjoining room. The outlines of women of all shapes and sizes knelt next to one another laughing and conversing as hot water was dumped over their heads.

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I sank onto an icy bench in between my aunt and mother, and flinched as scalding water was sloshed over me. Calloused hands covered with cold dark mud appeared and slathered me from the neck down.

The next room was almost pitch black; only tiny windows, covered with a film of dust, cast a dim glow. Women lay eerily still on stone beds completely naked, almost resembling a morgue. I slowly hoisted myself on top of one of the stone tables and immediately a hard stream of water stung me, washing away the mud.

Impatient hands began to scrub my skin raw, as if not only layers of skin were being sloughed off, but also layers of camouflage that had taken months to acquire were being scrubbed away.

Of every new experience I encountered in Morocco, this was undoubtedly the most revealing. These women, who I had previously only been able to identify by their eyes, were completely exposed, all of their layers of kaftans, class distinction, and disguises completely dissolved. I realized here in these dark and sweltering rooms that these women, with every culturally enforced veil, mask, and concealment stripped away, were not so different from any America-born woman, including myself.

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