I’m a swimmer.  But I don’t come from a family of swimmers.  We have kept our feet firmly on the ground for decades kicking soccer balls.   I estimate my sweet mother has sat through at least 1,000 soccer games in her life…that’s a lot of hooting and hollering.  But during the 2004 Athens Olympic games I became obsessed and started swimming in our local pool.  As my skills improved I purchased goggles and a cap – because I felt ridiculous doing the dog paddle in full gear. Overtime it became my go to for exercise.  To the point that high levels of chorine in the University pool ate away the backside of my swimming suit in college… I didn’t notice for some time.  Good thing it was my college bum and not my almost thirty bum.

When we got to Morocco I was very excited to start swimming again – between the move from Jerusalem, our temporary status in DC, and fertility injections that made me sick, it had been a long time.   Surprisingly enough I couldn’t find a lot of lap pools in the area!  There are pools along the ocean front corniche, but most of them are filled with ocean water and accessible only with expensive club memberships.  And really, like I want to swim laps in front of people wearing diamonds with their bathing suits.

Another, larger concern of mine in Morocco is interacting with actual Moroccans.  For my job I do a bit of it, but it’s always in a work capacity.  Max and I have come to realize it’s a lot harder to have regular conversations with people now than it was before as students.  We drive a car so we aren’t interacting with bus drivers and fellow passengers, we have a housekeeper who buys our groceries during the week so we only talk to people at the markets on the weekend, and we work with Americans all day long  (with the noted exception of locally employed staff who are awesome – thank goodness for them). 

When we set about looking for a gym we wanted three things 1) a gym with a pool 2) a gym with different floors for genders instead of different days like most places in Casa and 3) a local gym where we could engage with actual Moroccans.  Thanks to the help of my Moroccan office-mate we were able to accomplish all three. 

A few weeks ago we showed up for the first time on a women’s swim night – even though there are floors for men and women the pool is separated by gender each night.  I pulled my stuff out of our shared gym bag before Max disappeared into the men’s floor and I made my way down to the pool.  As I descended I heard crazy loud disco music and all manner of yelling and splashing.  To my delight, and a bit to my nervousness, I discovered a water aerobics class in session. 

“Venez! Venez!”  the drill instructor/aerobics teacher hollered from her position at the front of the pool.  Come, Come

I dutifully ducked into the changing room but when I unrolled my towel it revealed I had somehow packed only my tankini bottoms….  Bad news bears.  My options were to stick it out in the dressing room until Max was finished in an hour and try to explain myself in broken French to the class, or act like it was normal to wear a high wasted tankini bottom with a hot pink sports bra to water aerobics.   Some of these women were wearing knee length swimming suits and I already stuck out as the only non-Moroccan, but what’s living overseas really about if not feeling uncomfortable from time to time?

I tried to drop my towel and sneak into the water as inconspicuously as possible and it was well worth it.  They know how to work it out here!  When you think water aerobics you think of retirement home pools full of swimming-suit-skirted-empty-milk-jug-swinging 70 year olds, but at the risk of sounding cliché, this wasn’t your grandma’s water aerobics class.  A young Moroccan ran the length of the pool and back the entire time shouting for people to work harder and on occasion even reaching into the water to push someone’s head down, making water treading more challenging.   And she didn’t shy away from bossing me as the newcomer. 

“Plus Dur!  Plus Vite!”  work harder, work faster!  she yelled, squatting next to me in the pool. 

Somehow it wasn’t a confrontational kind of yelling, everyone was laughing and having a great time – kicking their legs about and yelling jokes back to the instructor.  Every once in a while she stopped for a small dance break and then got back to the pool.  It was awesome.  

In the locker room afterwards the 15 + women where having multiple conversations with each other in a web across the small space and passing dates back and forth to eat.  Most were sitting in wrapped towels telling stories and illustrating them with exaggerated hand movements.  At this point they had switched to Arabic and I had little idea of what they were saying, but it was nice to witness, if not be part of in a small way, the camaraderie and intimacy that happens with Arab women behind closed doors.   It is much stronger than I have ever experienced in an American women’s locker room where everyone faces the wall to change clothes and then bustles out before the sweat has dried on their foreheads.  I realized that my swimming suit bottom/sports bra combination didn’t matter a bit and what matters here is being together.

One particularly jovial woman handed me a date.  “B’saha” she smiled from behind her sopping wet hair.  To Your Health   


  1. What a great experience, sports bra included! ;)

  2. So cool. I can't wait to hear more about the women and the gym. Sounds like a lot of fun.

  3. Very fun story! We're in China, and just living in our apartment building, we're mostly surrounded by expats. So I tend to appreciate more my interaction with 'regular' Chinese people... until they ask how I can help them get a visa to the US. Then the moment's shattered.