Finding a Place to Sleep

After reaching the train station in Sidi Kacem, an hour away from Fez, we called Hassan, the arm-wrestling coach. Even though I had seen his profile on Facebook, Hassan was much bigger in person than I had imagined. He stood at around six and a half feet tall, towering over all of us. Not only was he an arm wrestler, but he was also a weightlifter with immense shoulders and bulging biceps. As we walked towards the hotel, Hassan asked if we wanted a double room and a single room or three single rooms for our group, which consisted of my boyfriend Ben, the arm wrestler himself, and his friend Devin. We chose to stay in a double and a single room as it would be more cost-effective, but Hassan quickly shot down that idea when he realized Ben and I were planning to share the double room. He explained that Sidi Kacem was a conservative city with strict customs, even for travelers like us. Since we weren’t married or related, sharing a room was not allowed.

I tried to stay positive and calm myself down by repeating “stay positive” in my head.

“No worries,” Hassan reassured us. “I will make some calls and find you a place to stay.”

Hassan and his arm-wrestling partner took our bags and carried them while we walked to a nearby restaurant. While Hassan stepped outside to make phone calls, the three of us played billiards inside. I ordered a margarita pizza and eagerly devoured it when it arrived.

Finally, Hassan returned to the restaurant with a plan. “Here’s what we’ll do,” he said confidently. “My friend Jad has agreed to let you stay at his house for the weekend free of charge. Kianna, you can stay in a room with Jad’s sisters so you won’t be alone.”

“I don’t mind being alone,” I interjected. “I don’t trust people as easily as you do, Hassan.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. You can stay with his sisters,” Hassan insisted.

Realizing that there was no way to win this argument, I gave in and agreed. We split the bill for our meal and made our way to Jad’s house. To take a shortcut, we had to walk through a part of the woods at night – something I wasn’t particularly fond of. But eventually, we reached Jad’s house where his mother greeted us with a warm smile. She led us inside through a tiny doorway, initially without her hijab but she put it on a few minutes later.

We were warned that Jad’s mother only spoke Arabic, so I found myself repeating “shukran” (thank you) more times than I ever had before. Jad showed me some of his favorite card tricks, and then I lay down while the boys played cards for a while. At one point, Jad’s sisters came in wearing their hijabs along with robes and fuzzy pants. They greeted us and welcomed us before quickly leaving. Exhausted from the long day, I didn’t feel like talking much.

We all gathered in the nearest bedroom, which had four beds made up – one with pink flowered blankets and the others with more neutral tones of blue and brown.

The following morning, I woke up and took a shower before joining my family for breakfast. We had eggs, olives, bread, and jam, with tea to drink. Jad’s mother kindly invited us over for dinner that evening.

It wasn’t until after a day full of arm-wrestling at dinner with Jad’s family that I had an epiphany. Jad’s two sisters sat across from me at the crowded table, and I knew that at least one of them could speak English well. So, I mustered up the courage to compliment her hair.

“I love your hair,” I said, admiring her thick black locks that flowed down to her waist.

“Thanks so much!” she replied with a smile.

“Is it real?” I asked, curious about extensions or any other hair styling secrets.

“All natural,” she confirmed proudly.

Her eyebrows matched her hair, dark and full, and her eyes were a deep brown color. Why couldn’t I be as pretty as her? Then, surprisingly, I found myself asking another question.

“Do you know how to braid hair?”

Sanae nodded in response.

“Can you braid your own?” I inquired further.

Again, she nodded. A few minutes passed before I noticed Sanae looking at me again. She leaned in close and whispered, “Do you like makeup?” She cupped her hands over her mouth as if it were a secret that no one else should hear.

I smiled and nodded, and she motioned for me to follow her. Sanae and her sister (who didn’t speak English) led me into the only bedroom in the house besides the two larger sleeping rooms where we all stayed. In a rush, I grabbed my mascara from my bag just in case they didn’t want to share theirs.

The silent sister sat on the bed and smiled when our eyes met. Meanwhile, Sanae began removing layers of clothing until she was left with a tank top tucked into her bra to create a makeshift crop top. Then, she started twirling and dancing in a way I had never seen before. Where did doing makeup fit into this?

“Where did you learn to dance like that?” I interrupted her performance.

“At home. I wanted to be a dancer but my mom said no,” she scowled.

She switched gears and danced for another ten minutes before leaving the room. Now what? She returned with a chair and a bag, motioning for me to sit down. The silent sister got up and plugged in the hair straightener while picking loose hairs from a brush. Without hesitation, she began straightening my hair.

Meanwhile, Sanae dotted foundation all over my face and blended it in with her hands. She then said something to her sister, likely asking for her opinion. After staring at my face for a few seconds, the silent sister replied with a few words and pointed to my eyes. Sanae quickly grabbed more foundation and applied it around my eyes. Next, she grabbed a tube of red lipstick from the dresser and told me to pucker up.

To my surprise, instead of applying it to my lips, she rubbed it on my cheeks! She rubbed so hard that I was convinced the only thing making them red was her vigorous rubbing. Then, she moved onto my eyes and motioned for me to close them as she applied eyeliner. As she worked on transforming my appearance, memories flooded back of all the times my little sister begged me to do her hair and makeup just like mine.

I come from a long line of cosmetologists, tracing back to my great great-grandfather who created the iconic bob haircut in Sicily. My family has always valued the art of hair and makeup. In my conservative hometown of Sidi Kacem, there was a hint of rebellion in doing each other’s makeup. However, my thoughts were interrupted by Sanae’s voice.

“Open,” she commanded, comparing my eyes to ensure that the eyeliner was even. She then opened my mascara and started twirling the wand around like some sort of fairy, pointing at her own natural and gorgeous eyelashes.

“Wow, those are amazing!” I couldn’t help but stare. It wasn’t until now that I noticed just how beautiful Sanae’s eyelashes truly were – long, perfectly curled, and evenly spaced. They looked fake, but I could tell they were real.

“Yeah, see? Now look down but don’t close your eyes,” Sanae instructed me as she applied mascara to my lashes. “Now look up.” After finishing with my lower lashes, she handed me a mirror.

“Do you like it?” she asked with a hint of worry.

“I love it!” I exclaimed. The silent sister was busy fixing my hair, straightening out any stray pieces in the front. Sanae found a loose bobby pin on the dresser and used it to pull back half of my hair.

Both women were beaming with pride and called for their mother, who came into the room and immediately complimented us. As they chatted with their mother, I couldn’t help but admire how much better they made me look in just ten minutes. Their mother then left briefly before returning with a traditional Moroccan kaftan – navy blue velvet with intricate patterns of jewels on the front.

“It’s for you to wear in pictures!” Sanae explained excitedly.

I eagerly put on the dress and found it to be even softer and more comfortable than I had imagined. We took numerous pictures and proudly showed off our makeovers in the living room. In a weekend that began with an arm-wrestling match, I ended up feeling like a pageant queen.

Kianna Sousa is a Biological Sciences major at the University of New England.

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