I realize now, at my ripe old age of 52, that I have been such a fool. I did not appreciate all the wonderful things that I took for granted in the past.
I still remember grumbling and pouting as I was forced to take a nap in the afternoon next to my mother in the blistering heat of Kolkata as a child. I wanted to listen to stories (or read when I was able) from my mother but she needed a break from me, I am sure. So she mandated that I close my eyes and fall asleep in the afternoon. I would open one eye to see if she was sleeping so I could quietly sneak away from her and have a few hours of freedom. Some days I could, most days, I got caught. It seemed like a punishment in those days and now afternoon naps, when I can get one, are such decadent luxuries that happen once in a blue moon.
Every morning, before I left for college, the woman who cooked for our family prepared pomfret fish in mustard gravy and hot, steaming rice for me. I barely touched it. I was so eager to leave home and eat junk food from Milanda’s canteen at Jadavpur University that I turned up my nose at the lovingly prepared meal at home. I picked at the rice and fish and Jhumadi (the chef extraordinaire) yelled at me, “Didi ar ektu bhat khao. Oi jonye tumi oto roga.” (Eat a little more rice. You are so thin because you don’t eat.) I grabbed my bag and shut the door behind me. I would kill for someone to prepare that exact same food for me. Especially when I come back home from work and have to prepare dinner.
Last night, I was massaging argan oil in my hair. It was a chore when I was little. Not that I had to do anything myself. Someone sat me in front of them, massaged coconut oil in my long hair, braided them tightly before I could go to bed. The belief was, if you tied your hair very tightly in plaits before going to bed, your hair grew faster. And hair oil was necessary for a full head of hair, of course. I dreaded this ritual. I hated anyone touching my hair. And the tight braids before bed time hurt my head. I was a demure child but I did rebel against hair tying before bed time. My mother, who cut her hair short, relented and let me go to bed with my hair open. That was such a win! But hair oil was a must. As I massaged hair oil last night, I longed for those loving massages again. I could go to a salon, of course. But it was not simply the massage though, it was the entire ambiance. Me sitting on the floor with my long hair down my back in our one room flat. The TV blaring in front. Ma sitting on the bed chatting with the household help and Jhumadi telling us her life story while putting oil in my hair. I can almost see the scene in front of my eyes.
So, the moral of this blog is soak up any nurturing that you are getting at his point in your life. If someone is doing something for you, enjoy every minute, don’t take any of it for granted. When you are adulting real hard and there is no one massaging oil in your hair or making you pomfret fish in mustard gravy or forcing you to slow down and take a nap, you will look back and sigh. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Since my visit to Morocco at the end of last year, I have transformed my beauty care regimen. My bathroom cabinet now holds only natural oils. I have become a big proponent of argan oil, so much so that I wrote a blog on it. If you are interested, you can read it:
You can ignore the bad memory part. Bolstered by my success with argan oil, I delved into research and included rosehip oil as well. I use argan oil on my face after shower and rosehip oil before going to bed. It does not clog the pores and keeps the skin moist and soft. My pandemic hair has a mind of its own and is often wild and untamed. Massaging argan oil not only tames the hair, makes it soft but also relieves tension from my shoulders.
Anyway, all that I have written so far is good. You are wondering what price did natural oils exact then and when exactly is she going to stop rambling?
I was reading Sue Monk Kidd’s latest fiction The Book of Longings where a character in ancient Egypt applies clove oil behind her ears as part of her beauty regime. A light bulb went on in my head. I too want to be surrounded by the smell of cloves all day long. Why not add clove oil to my collection of natural oils? I snatched up my phone and started researching clove oil and of course Amazon delivered. The instructions said to mix a few drops of clove oil with some carrier oil like coconut oil or almond oil. I figured I had argan oil as the carrier. I was set. So the following day, I got out of my shower, poured some argan oil in my hands, mixed a few drops of clove oil in it and applied it on my face.
Now, I am not one for swearing. I don’t utter expletives since my mother ingrained in me since childhood that swearing and using bad language was a no-no. But at that moment as concentrated clove oil burned my face, I may have uttered an expletive…..or two…or maybe, more.
My face was BURNING from the clove oil. I desperately reached for soap and washed my face with cold water to get rid of the oil. But the burning sensation subsided only after splashing ice cold water for a long time. I was afraid to look at myself in the mirror fearing burnt face. No, the skin on my face was normal color, extra soft perhaps and glowing. The fact is, I grew up using cloves. It was used in our food to make rice or other dishes aromatic. We chewed it as mouth freshener. I use it now crushed within my homemade garam masala. It was used to diminish toothache when I was growing up. I know the strong taste of clove. I know clove is spicy and has quite a strong kick to it. I should have known concentrated clove oil will be strong. I did not. I paid the price for my…..for the lack of better word, stupidity.
The next morning, I ran to a natural store, bought a big bottle of sweet almond oil. I then filled a small spray bottle with almond oil, mixed a few dropper full of clove oil to create a mix of natural oils that will not only moisturize my body but surround me with the smell of cloves. I have been using the mixture successfully since. However, I have not been brave enough to try the mixture on my face yet. I think I will stay true to my two other naturals – argan and rosehip. They never exacted such a harsh price ever! They are kind and gentle. But clove oil surrounds me with an aroma I love!
A big debate ensued within the family. Should we visit Sahana in Madrid over Christmas break in 2019 and tour Spain as a family or go someplace else so Sahana, along with us, can see a new country? My vote was for Spain, Sean wanted to go to a new country since Sahana would be touring Spain anyway as she was spending her junior year of college there. I held my ground till Sean floated the idea of Morocco. Why would I NOT want to go to Morocco? Spain could wait.
Sean, Ryan and I left for Morocco a few days before Christmas and flew into Casablanca. We had already rented a car and a very nice man was waiting for us with our vehicle at the airport. Sahana flew in from Madrid and met us at Casablanca airport as well. Finally reunited with our darling daughter after 4 months, we drove 210 miles from Casablanca to Chafchouen, a gorgeous, blue city at the foothills of Rif Mountains in North West Morocco. We parked our car in the dark and went in search of the riad that we had booked for a few nights. A riad is a traditional Moroccan home that are very popular with tourists to get the full experience of staying in Morocco. We lost our bearing completely while navigating the serpentine, narrow and sometimes steep alleys of the ‘blue city’ and after asking several locals, we finally arrived at Riad Nersjaonsar. The owner was sitting on a bench just outside and welcomed us with a big smile. We went into our room, cleaned up in the common bathroom, went to sleep and woke up at 11:00 am the next morning. Although breakfast was only served till 10 am, the very hospitable owner had his son cook Moroccan bread, eggs and Moroccan coffee for us along with fresh orange juice, rich honey. We ate breakfast on the terrace under the shadow of the Rif Mountains. It was magical. Our tour of Chafchouen will always be the brightest spot of our Moroccan trip and I will let some photos do the story telling.
Our next destination was Fez. However we stoped in Volubilis on our way to Fez to explore the ruins of the Roman city. After spending a beautiful day walking among the Roman ruins and marveling at the ingenuity of Roman engineers and builders, we got in our car to drive on to Fez. Again, we wanted the experience of staying in a riad in the old part of Fez. We arrived at beautifully decorated Riad Sunrise.
The medina (market) of Fez was magical and it seemed like we had stepped into history however my memory of the city is tainted by the youth who offered to take us out of the labyrinth of the Medina and then asked for an exorbitant amount of money. We did not pay but I was concerned that he might hurt us.
Fast forward to Marrakesh, a gorgeous city of wide avenues, beautiful gardens, historic Medina, famous Koutobia mosque and fashionable people. We all were looking forward to desert visits and camel rides. The plan was to spend the night of December 31st in the middle of Sahara desert. Sean and I did not book anything in advance and we thanked our lucky stars for that later. We were staying in Marrakesh for 6 days, so we thought we had ample time to book a desert tour. After an early pizza dinner on the day we arrived, we retired to bed, hoping to explore the city and book our desert trip with a local tour company the next day. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of Sahana retching in the bathroom. That was the beginning of our nightmare. She had one of the worst cases of stomach infection that went on for days. While she rested in the hotel room, glassy eyed and dehydrated, Sean, Ryan and I went out for short walks to buy some dinner and to bring back crackers and electrolytes for Sahana. Each day we thought maybe Sahana will recover and we can still book a desert trip. On the third night, I was gently awoken by Ryan saying, “Mom, I just threw up. But don’t worry, I feel fine now.” Well, he did not feel fine for long. From that point on both of them threw up every hour as Sean and I tried to keep them hydrated. When they were not throwing up, they were taking hot showers or resting in their beds. Sean and I went for long walks to get fresh air when the kids rested and toured Marrakesh as much as we could. I fell in love with the city, despite the nightmare that was unfolding in our hotel suite. Here I must mention the kindness of our housekeeper, Nadia, who without saying a word of English, commiserated with the kids, with us, cleaned up their mess and asked me if the children had eaten at the Medina. They had not. She always made sure to bring us extra towels and sheets. I was touched by her kindness in that foreign land and when we checked out, we made sure we left a generous tip for her.
I picked up a small vial of argan oil from a supermarket (of all places) in Marrakesh. I had no idea what argan oil was or what purpose it served before going to Morocco. I simply wanted a memento of the country that I could bring back in my carry on luggage and I saw argan oil being sold EVERYWHERE in every Medina we visited. Argan oil came home with me along with regrets, some anxious moments, bad memories and some amazing experiences.
I started using argan oil on my face as a moisturizer and also on my wild hair. The change in my skin and hair within a couple of weeks was remarkable. This oil not only moisturizes but also protects from sun damage, reduces wrinkles, prevents skin from getting too oily. I am a convert. And for my hair? Well it controlled my uncontrollable frizz! Enough said. After my small vial from Morocco was gone, I bought more of the oil, and now that is a part (only part) of my beauty regime. As I was massaging argan oil in my hair last night, the memories of Morocco came flooding back to me. I could not bring myself to write about that trip right after our return because it seemed like a vacation of nightmares. However, enough time has passed and the bad memories are slowly being replaced by memories of magical Chafchouen and the wonderful welcome we received there from the locals, memories of walking miles and miles in beautiful Marrakesh with Sean taking in the glitz of the big city juxtaposed with the narrow alleys of colorful Medina steeped in history.
Sahara eluded us this time and most likely we will not go back to Morocco for a vacation. I am still not sure what my children ate to cause such violent sickness and why us, the parents, were spared but if I could I would go back in a heartbeat, because, I for one, absolutely loved what I saw in this beautiful country. And the country gave my my magic potion along with some stress related highlights (gray hair) – argan oil!