I learned pretty quickly that “What are you doing today?”, my standard conversation starter, doesn’t start much of conversation here. When I ask women in my town about their day-to-day plans, there is a sense of confusion and perhaps embarassment. “What am I doing today?” they might say, “The same thing as yesterday and the day before that. The same thing as always.” And then I have to come up with a new topic.
It’s not that women are shy about sharing, it’s just that there’s nothing to share. For the most part, women, especially married women with children, follow a common routine. Before sunrise, many awaken to offer up their devotions towards Mecca at the first Call to Prayer. Then, depending on the husband’s schedule, women prepare a breakfast which normally consists of bread, coffee, tea, jam, oil, and maybe some eggs. After breakfast comes cleaning, feeding the sheep, taking care of the children, and preparing lunch, served after the noontime prayers. Once the bellies are full and the dishes are dried, women and children alike lie down to nap or to watch Samhini (Forgive Me) the behemoth of a television series which has been on TV every weekday for over five years. It’s a big deal.
After the muezzin calls the 5pm prayer, women strap their babies onto their backs and visit eachother — no invite necessary. There’s always a fresh pot of tea and something to munch on. Sometimes it’s just peanuts and sometimes it’s a full kaskroot, which can involve cookies, dates, nuts, and buttermilk.
When it comes to tea treats, Moroccan women know it all. While many women in my town aren’t literate, they can tell you the exact viscosity of batter needed to make an abundance of unique sweets. Recipe books and measuring cups aren’t needed, instead, baking formulas are passed down like DNA, from mothers to daughters. But I digress…
These visiting hours before sunset are my favorite part of the day. During this time, there are often more women walking on the street than men. Strolling in packs with their long gowns and baby-bumped backs, they claim their right to be out of their homes and enjoying each-others’ company, even for a brief period. Soon, they return to their homes to make dinner and clean once again. Then, once everything is finished, they wait for their husbands in bed.
Except for the occasional dress-maker or school-teacher, this is the life of the women I live with. There’s no space on the schedule reserved for yoga classes or sitting at a cafe. There’s no driving kids to soccer practice or girls’ night out. There’s time for food, cleaning, family, and community– that’s it. I won’t pretend that it’s enough for everyone, but I do think it’s genuinely satisfying for some.
So I don’t ask, “What are you doing today?”. Instead, I ask about what really matters. “How are your friends and family? Did your mother’s operation go okay? How do you make these excellent cookies?”