I sat on the bench at the hammam (a Turkish bath) staring at the wall. My camera, my wallet, my phone, my bag. All gone. The woman who worked there kept saying that it wasn’t her fault, she had given it back to me. She was right. I had left it there, under someone’s pile of clothes. When I came back two minutes later my bag with everything in it was gone, and the hammam which had been completely full was now empty.
I finally got up and told three women who worked there that I would be back later just in case, they kept gesturing to Amile and me to wait. Wait for what? They barely spoke French, we spoke no Arabic, but we trusted and waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally the guy who worked at the men’s hammam came screaming loudly in triumph. My bag! He’d gotten it! But how? That hammam must have had at least 40 people in it! We all screamed with joy, the women hugged us and then asked me to make sure nothing had been taken out. I looked in my bag: 200 Dirhams and my camera were gone. It’s a big deal but I was happy to have gotten something back, and what were we going to do? I told them my camera was missing but it was ok. “Ok?” their face said “No.”
They started walking with a determined look on their face. First was the guy who had found my purse. They argued with him until they got the information they needed. In Arabic, they told us to follow them. So we followed them through Marrakech, passing marketplaces and houses and countless shops. Amile and I kept looking at each other, unsure of what was happening. We finally stopped in front of a door, the neighbors looked on with curiosity.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Go tell your mother to come out!”
She came out and the shouting started. I couldn’t understand anything but the argument was intense. The neighbors got close. Then her sister came out. She spoke French to me and told me that they were not thieves. They had found my bag and had returned it. Someone else must have stolen the camera, and I should go to the police. I told her that I knew that wasn’t true and that I WAS going to the police! She was furious! We kept arguing in French, the others in Arabic. I was ready to give up. What was I going to do? But the woman next to me looked me in the eyes. She was NOT giving up. Finally the grandmother came out with all the clothes they had taken to the hammam, she started dropping them one by one, furious at the thought that people would accuse them of theft.
went one cloth
We all shouted in disbelief! And just like that the tension was gone. The woman who had opened the door hugged me immediately, “Désolé!” she kept repeating. I didn’t care! I hugged her back and thanked her. I turned around, Amile was hugging the neighbors, and then the three women who had helped us, and then the neighbors were hugging me! And then we were all hugging each other. “Congratulations! Congratulations! God bless you!” We were all celebrating together!
We said bye to the smiling faces, and the three women started walking us back to the hammam.
As we walked people in the streets were somehow finding out what had happened. I was stopped by old women on the street “Never take anything to a hammam! Happy New Years, God bless you!” Hugs were coming in from everywhere. One man selling oranges shouted to us from his stand “Next time, don’t bring anything to the hammam!” I was laughing and hugging and thanking people in a surreal blur I could hardly make sense of.
We got back to the hammam feeling a bit dizzy and trying to understand everything that had happened when one of the men who worked there handed me a phone. “It’s the owner, he wants to talk to you.” What? How did the owner find out?
“Hey, are you ok? Were you able to get everything back? Do you need me to go in person to talk to you?” I was in shock! This unbelievable hospitality was making me dizzy–in a good way of course! After assuring the owner that everything was fine and telling him how much the people in the hammam had done for me we followed the three women back in.
I wanted to express my gratitude but I couldn’t say anything they would understand except “Merci, merci, merci”. Not only because they had literally gotten back everything important (except my passport) that I had brought to Morocco, but mostly because they had cared SO much, and had spent an hour of their lives helping me even though they wouldn’t gain anything from it. They genuinely cared, and I was so grateful.
“Merci, merci” Amile and I kept repeating, and they kept answering me in Arabic, giving me a look that said, “You’re welcome, I’m so happy for you.”
As had been literally everyone we had crossed: the neighbors, the children, the people in the street, the food vendors.
“Au revoir” I said, and we hugged so tightly. We couldn’t communicate with words but those hugs said it all.
Amile and I walked back to the hostel in a haze, trying to digest everything that had happened, and happy to have crossed paths with these three amazing, fierce women who scoured the city and fought countless people to get my stolen bag and camera back.