Back to My Roots: Aisha Kandisha’s Leaky Body

You knew it would come up at some point, right?  Leaky bodies are never really too far from my mind.  Last summer, I took pictures of the ‘feminine hygiene’ aisle at Marjan, Fes’ local mega-mart.  I’ve already stumbled through the awkward dance of buying ‘feminine hygiene’ items (i.e: pads) this summer.  But so far this one takes the cake.  This week, I experienced Fes’ very own leaky body, Aisha Kandisha.

First, a bit of background: In Arabic, jinn refer to spirits, not always bad, that tend to congregate around those liminal spaces with which we’re so familiar: doorways (the spaces between inside and outside), midnight (the space between two days) and, of course, women’s bodies.  The word ultimately yields ‘genies’ (think Aladdin, magic lamps and three wishes).  (And on a side note, for those of you looking for a really good summer beach or lake read, check out Rabih Alameddine’s The Hakawati).

Of course, jinn take many shapes.  Yes, there’s the blue genies (oh wait, that’s Disney); here in Fes, Aisha Kandisha enjoys repute.  Aisha is associated with water: drains, rivers, etc.  Common lore says one should never pour boiling water down the drain as it will incite her wrath; she’s thought to dwell in rivers such that ritual purification in some rivers protects one from her powers.  No matter the extent to which one believes in Aisha, in Fes, everyone at least knows her name and her reputation.  Some truly believe she exerts power over them and their lives; others grew up hearing the stories.

For those of you who know my fascination (perhaps bordering on obsession) with leaky bodies, my interest in Aisha and her association with water will come as no surprise.  I find it really interesting that in a city and a culture in which water plays such an important role – from ablutions before prayer to the scarcity of water in a desert – she’s so closely associated with it.  Images of Aisha range from a beautiful young woman to an old woman: from menarche to menopause.  As is so often the case, I think, a woman is again placed alongside water, blood and milk: the fluids of life.

Every Thursday, a crowd of mostly women gathers at the river that marks the edge of our neighborhood in Fes Jdid.  Interestingly enough, they’re led by a man, though I’m still not quite sure what position he holds in the ritual or the group.  They burn candles and incense, leave bread and milk and sacrifice chickens, all in Aisha’s name.

Last Thursday, M took me and A to see the ritual.  Two young boys (perhaps 10 and 12 years old) stood at the base of a bridge perhaps 7 feet below us; they took the candles and bread from the women gathered above as the women poured out cartons of milk from their perch.  For several minutes, the three of us remained unnoticed.  Then I got rather bold and took out my camera.  I in no way intended disrespect, but I’m afraid that’s how it was perceived.  We were quite forcefully asked to leave, which we of course did.

Below are the bread and candles left beneath the bridge.

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