“The women would stand in the river in two rows. In the first row, they stood, almost fully clad, in water up to their knees. In the second row, where only the women who swam well were allowed to stand, the water reached their waists and they were often half-clad in qamis only, tucked up high into tightened belts. Their heads would be uncovered too, because they could not fight the current while worrying about the possibility of losing scarves and turbans made of precious embroidered silks. The first row would undertake the initial cleaning, scouring the pots and pans and tagines (earthenware stewpots) with tadekka, a paste made of the sand and clay from the riverbanks. Then they would roll the pots and pans through the water to the second row for another cleaning. Meanwhile, the rest of the kitchenware would be circulating cross-current, from one hand to the next in a chain-like progression, with the water rinsing away the tadekka.” from Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi
One thing which lends itself to our young narrator’s confusion surrounding the concept of the harem is her maternal grandmother’s life on the farm. Her grandfather does have many wives, but they seem to have much more freedom than the single wives living in her father’s household. They get to ride horses freely and walk around the countryside. There are no walls to hold them in. They even, as you can see above, sometimes get to go swimming in order to make a game out of washing the harem’s many, heavy pots and pans.
I didn’t get to wash my tagine in the river, but the owner’s manual did say that I should season it by pouring in some boiled milk and letting it cool. I guess this is to remove any earthenware reside or taste. The milk is cooling as I type this and tomorrow you should expect a blog involving a vegetable omelette tagine.