by Ryan Powell, Ait Yaddou, Morocco
I have two 10-liter bedos that I fill at the irrigation ditch, using a bandana over the opening to filter out small bugs and debris at the irrigation ditch. The irrigation ditch is only 30 meters from my house, so these heavy bedos don't travel far. The two bedos suffice for all my water needs.
Every morning I wash my face, hands, and feet by pouring about three-quarters of a liter of water into a small, wide plastic tub, called a banyo. When I want a shower, I have to settle for a banyo bath, because there is nowhere for me to shower. I fill a large banyo with a few liters of heated water and another smaller banyo with the same. I pour water over myself from the large banyo and lather up. Then I use a sponge from the small banyo to rinse so as not to mix the dirty and clean water. Sometimes the dirt is almost embedded so I must use a pumice stone to get it off. The pumice stone is an abrasive that basically takes off a little skin with the dirt. Since my house is just one large room, I always hope no one decides to come knocking while I'm bathing; it would make for an awkward situation.
The first time I needed to wash my clothes, I figured I'd do what the women do. My reasoning was that since they've been washing clothes for so long, and since there's no washer and dryer, they must have a good system down. So I put all my dirty clothes in a large banyo with some Tide and went down to the riverbed. I was greeted with smiles and confusion by the women, who were not used to seeing a man wash his own clothes.
I saw that each woman had a large heavy stick called a tahrbat, almost like an oar. They would lay out their clothes on partially submerged rocks so the clothes would be constantly wet. Then add a little Tide to the clothes and begin beating them with the tahrbat to wash them. I quickly realized my dilemma, no tahrbat. I was kindly offered an unused tahrbat, and all eyes turned to me. I laid out a shirt, added some Tide, and began beating it. The women who were next to me screamed and ran as water started flying everywhere while the area erupted with laughter.
After about 30 seconds, I was almost totally soaked and decided to rethink my approach. Some women offered to wash my clothes, but I kindly declined. I knew that if my clothes were subjected to that type of intense washing, they wouldn't last three months, never mind two years.
I returned the tahrbat, discreetly rung out the clothes I was wearing, and headed back to my house. On the way, I realized that they did have a good system down; I just didn't know exactly how it worked.
Now, I just soak. No scrubbing, beating, and getting myself soaked. I put my clothes in a large banyo with soapy hot water, let it sit overnight, rinse and hang on the bushes and rocks the following day to dry.
Even though water is plentiful and available, I use it sparingly. Twice a week, I use a 10-liter bedo for bathing, washing my hair, and shaving, and usually have a couple liters left for drinking. Once a week, I use about 30 liters to wash and rinse my clothes. Besides consumption, and my morning washings, these are the only times I use water. No water is used for a toilet, since there is none.
Calculate how much water you use on a weekly basis. I'll bet you'd be surprised at how much you use. When you are conscious that water comes from a source, not just appearing from a faucet, you realize how precious it is and don't take it for granted.
by Jennifer Bohman, Souss Massa National Park, Morocco
The Moroccan women in my village roll their eyes when they see me wash my clothes or dishes. I am sure they think that my mother did not teach me anything. A mixture of the imp in me and my feminism makes me comment to them that perhaps my father is at fault for my lack of domestic skills. This always makes them laugh; what would men know about washing clothes? As I draw water into the bucket for laundry, they tell me that I have too much water (when I think that the clothes have only just gotten wet). After that, it is that I am not scrubbing hard enough or long enough. Finally, I should rinse two times with a third of the amount of water I was using with my one big rinse.
It seems everything we do here in my Moroccan village takes less water—hand-washing clothes with three gallons of water and line drying instead of energy- and water-hogging machines. The toilets we have are Persian style; instead of sitting, one squats, takes care of business, and then flushes with a quart of water instead of the five gallons used by toilets in the U.S. We bucket bathe which means gathering water in a bucket, heating it in the winter, and then with a cup, pouring it over each area of the body, soaping up, and then rinsing.
In larger towns and villages, there are men's and women's hammams, or public baths. These is generally a system of three rooms: the first for changing, a warm room and a hot room. The general procedure after arriving is to undress in the first room, and then go to the hottest room and gather a bucket of hot or warm water depending on preference. The hot room gets its heat from all the steam rising from the drawing water. Then one finds a seat on a stool or mat and begins the task of scrubbing. This culture is ages ahead of the west in terms of exfoliation technology; they have special mitts called keeses which they use to scrub off layers of dead skin. I see families all sitting, scrubbing each other's backs and really getting clean; it's a busy social time filled up with gossip and socializing comparable to perhaps beauty parlors and barbers in the U.S. People can stay for hours, relaxing in the sauna-like hammam after their business is done.
by Erin Olson, Agadir L'henna, Morocco
Living in San Diego, California, I have always been watchful of my water usage, but it takes on a new meaning when I actually have to haul all the water in my home on my back. I take a bath in a bidon, or small plastic tub. I also do dishes in this tub. I take the tub down to the irrigation ditches to do my laundry. Families hold on to the water after they wash and give it to the animals.
As part of my volunteer service I'm working on a project to make the primary irrigation ditches concrete, because much of the water is lost along the way in the irrigation ditches and it has caused a lot of problems with erosion.
Water plays a large role socially—the well is a place where women meet and discuss the day's events. They also socialize at the irrigation ditches when they get water and sit and do laundry.
by Jessica Seem, Zaouia Village, Morocco
I tend to bathe less here—about once a week, the same as everyone else. In the cities, people can go to the hammams, or public stream baths. I normally bathe at home. In the summer this is simple—I take a bucket of water and stand in a large plastic wash basin and wash by pouring water over me and scrubbing with a wet cloth. In the winter, when its cold, I heat water and shiver a lot. My neighbors hang up a makeshift sheet plastic tent and bathe in there.
Also, floors here are dirt, so people sprinkle water on them before the daily sweeping. This helps combat dust clouds building up as you sweep.
by Beth Giebus, Tetouan and Agadir, Morocco
As a Volunteer in Morocco, I taught English and American literature at Abdelmaalik Essadi University, in Tetouan (1990–91); following the Persian Gulf War, I was transferred to Ibn Zohr University in Agadir (1991–93). Both Tetouan and Agadir are popular tourists sites.
Tetouan, located in the north of Morocco, shares close historical ties with Spain. This is evident in the city's architecture, which reflects the sophisticated tradition of Andalusian style. Here, Spanish is the second language, and the peso is as familiar as the Moroccan dirham.
Tetouan means "open your eyes" in Berber. The city is aptly named, for those who travel through Tetouan's square must be on guard against its horde of fast-talking hustlers, anxious to sell stashes of kif from the nearby Rif Mountains. But despite the somewhat hostile atmosphere, Tetouan is a beautiful coastal area. The medina , or old town, is perched atop the slope of a wide, amber valley; olive and orange trees are scattered across the horizon.
During the school term, a fellow Volunteer and I shared a house that overlooked the Mediterranean sea. It was actually the summer home of a wealthy Moroccan businessman from Tangiers who gave us a "very good price" because we were a) foreigners, b) females, and c) teachers. Not only did we have running water from a faucet, we also had three bathrooms, two of which had showers. The tap water in Tetouan was drinkable—a bit metallic, but drinkable. Most often, I drank Sidi Alli, a very inexpensive (2 cents) bottled water; I continued to brush my teeth using tap water, however. I took a shower most mornings.
In July 1991, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, I was transferred to Agadir. Student demonstrations in Tetouan had turned violent, and the university was considered too risky a place for American teachers.
Agadir, a resort area, lies in the south of Morocco, along the Atlantic coast. After an earthquake in the 1960s, the city was rebuilt in a "modern style," and thereupon lost much of its traditional Berber charm. Hotels such as the Club Med line Agadir's shores, and sun-slick tourists (especially German) gather at its beaches.
I set up house in a suburban area called Les Amicales. Although two other Volunteers lived close by, no other foreigners wandered this far away from the Agadir "strip." In Les Amicales, Berber, rather than Arabic (much less, French) is the preferred language.
Once again, water was not a problem for me. I had running water, a standing toilet, and a large, purple bathtub.
Peace Corps Volunteers working in the outlying southern regions visited Agadir often—drawn to the taste of the boardwalk's burgers and the easy availability of Heinekin beer. For a while, my apartment became known as "Peace Corps Central." News about my large purple bathtub quickly spread. Each time the Tale of the Purple Bathtub was told, it grew larger and larger, until finally reaching Olympic-sized proportions. For Peace Corps Volunteers out in the southern bled, many of whom were limited to one bucket of water a day for cleaning, drinking, and bathing, the Purple Bathtub was a source of fascination, reverence, and envy. On Friday nights, I'd often receive a Volunteer visitor; as soon as the polite chit-chat was over, there would be a pause. The arms would stretch. A brow would raise. And the anxious request worded: "Can I ...?"
After having more than a few such weekend visitors, dark rings of soap scum became permanently etched in the bathtub's fixture. I gave up trying to clean it.
In the end, I preferred the camaraderie of the hammam—though, admittedly, it took some getting used to. The hammam felt more real, more alive, more natural. There, I was part of a community of women—old, young, beautiful, deformed. In comparison, the Purple Bathtub seemed like a solitary tomb—its waters, still and stagnant.