al-Jiran (the Neighbors)

A Body of Sculpture by Leila Khoury

May 20, 2016


Aleppo, Syria

I wasn't even slightly cooperative about being there. It was packed with grown, nude women and I was still at an age when my own nude body frightened and eluded me. The bath house was dense with steam, and unbroken streams of warm water and Arabic chatter snaked between the grounds of its every chamber.

A brilliantly teal swimming pool resided in a seperate room, undisturbed by the crowds of bathers beyond its walls. I longed for a plunge in its exclusive waters as I was shepharded away from it. What I remember most is sitting on a wet tile floor and watching in horror as my mother exfoliated her skin with a coarse wad of horse hair, and I couldn't comprehend how anyone could consider this a relaxing activity. You have little to shed when you're fifteen. 

I eventually exited the building and felt the hot air against my raw, new skin. My old one, the one that was tanned with the last remains of my American summer, had been peeled off and flushed down a drain with the flesh of dozens of neighbors.