I got my first pedicure yesterday. I’d never had one before. I don’t know why. For years, I’d wanted one, but somehow there just was never a good occasion.

In Mauritania, there really wasn’t opportunity. I always painted my nails myself, until I found out that everyone assumed when they saw my painted nails that I was having my period. Mauritania is 100% Muslim and has traditionally been very isolated. My friends explained to me that if you are wearing nail polish, you can’t properly wash before praying and so are “unclean,” so they only paint their nails during their periods, when they’re “unclean” anyway. No one assumed I was Muslim, but their automatic response to a bit of bright pink poking out from a sandaled foot was to assume that the woman was, most likely, having her period. So I sort of got out of the habit. I’m used to having that be a little more private.

It was there I also learned the joys of “muslim nail polish” which is the kind that you can peel off. My friends loved that kind, and gifted me with several bottles in various shades of orange and bright purple. (They insisted I look good in orange, which I don’t, because it washes me out. In other words, it makes me look pale and wan, which is the goal! I kept forgetting that)

In the US and then again here in Morocco, I went back to doing it myself. But Denise, on her way to her daughter’s college graduation, wanted to have a pedicure. So we decided to go together.

Here in Rabat, one has options—many, many options. You can have your nails done in everything from Westernized, glisteningly-clean, modern salons that are part of a French chain to little hole-in-the-wall places with pitted cement walls in varying shades of turquoise. Denise and I wanted somewhere in the middle. That is, we wanted Western standards of hygiene at Moroccan prices.

So I picked a place. It’s in a market area not that far from where I buy my chickens; a place of crowded stacked apartment buildings and narrow alleyways, a place where you can buy anything. I taught a short-term English class in a business on the edge of this district once, and this salon had caught my eye. It looked quite modern, but was in a more basic area.

We parked the car near a café and a taxi stand, hoped for the best, and walked down the narrow alley. There was a sign outside that listed their services. The ads for hair styles and products weren’t too sun faded and the styles quite modern, which is always a good sign.

So in we went. “Pedicure?” I hazarded after the standard greetings. “Oui, oui,” the woman responded, shooing us over to white Moroccan style couches in the corner. Turned out that she was the only one there who could do them, so we couldn’t both have one at the same time.

I went first, since as it was we were cutting it a bit fine for me making it to class that afternoon. It was very nice. She soaked and buffed and massaged my feet and trimmed and shaped my nails quite brutally, managing to nick me in the process, but given the shape my feet were in I felt she was doing a good job. Denise had it worse—we exchanged glances when it looked like the woman was fitting a new razor blade. It turned out to be nearly as bad—the woman peeled her heels like they were carrots.

Denise left the following morning so I don’t know how she feels, but I am loving the new look. I keep sneaking fascinated looks at my toes. I’m totally addicted to this already.

However, we were a bit surprised at the cost—100 dirhams, or about $12. I went into work that afternoon and I asked the secretary, who always tells me I’ve paid too much for things, what a pedicure would normally cost. “100 dirhams,” she told me. Then she looked at my beautiful toes. “But that’s a terrible pedicure! And it should be much less in Takkadoum,” she assured me. So I can’t win, I guess, but at least I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

And, in reference to my last post, after teaching Denise how to use fresh yeast, that you don’t need to fear it just dump it in like the dried kind, guess what I found at Marjane yesterday? Yes. Dried yeast. Denise, it’s safe to come back.

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