When the scarves come off, so does a whole lot more… the Hammam

If you are the least bit shy then a Hammam probably isn’t for you, but I figured when in Morocco….

For a culture of women who commonly cover themselves from head to toe, all bets are off when you enter a hamman.  It’s a large tiled room with high ceilings with faucets lining one wall and hooks for clothing on the opposite wall and a whole lot of naked women.  This, my friends, was a Hamman.  Again, not for the modest or shy but certainly for anyone who wants to shed layers and layers of dead, dirty skin.  Yep, the head scarves are gone as well as every other article of clothing, except the the panties, who a few donned and we were happy to follow suit.  (we, meaning Dee Dee, Mimi and myself).

We were given a heads up by one of the women in the house as to what we should expect but it still came as a bit of a surprise when we stepped into what I would consider the “lobby” and just feet from the door, slatted wooden benches lined the walls and had several women in different degrees of nakedness, simply enjoying a chat with their friends.  OK, so we were in the “changing room”… so… when in Morocco…we all followed suit and started undressing.  Check your modesty at the door,  as there’s no place for it here!

Once down to our panties, we handed our clothing to the woman behind the desk, who promptly put them in a storage bin.  At that point, Mimi and I both realized that we had forgotten to bring a towel but figured we’d sort that out when we had to.  I asked the woman behind the front desk if there was one I could buy, rent or borrow and between her Arabic and my broken French, no information was exchanged, which I took as a “no.”

We were then escorted into the warm, high-ceilinged, tiled room (which by the way was, thankfully, was very clean…) and given a mat to sit on.  We were each assigned to a woman, who happened to be from the group of women who were behind the front desk, but now they too were naked, except for swim suit bottoms.  They then began to prep for the “treatment” (due to lack of a better word) by filling several buckets with perfectly temperate water and placing them near where we were seated.  My attendant didn’t seem near as cheerful as the attendants Mimi and Dee Dee had and seemed rather annoyed with me when I didn’t naturally know what to do next, which basically was sit still while she doused me with dipper after dipper of the warm water followed by a generous soaping of my body with traditional black Moroccan soap (a soft, black soap that doesn’t suds up,  but felt very rich, almost oily).  After a few minutes of waiting for the soap to soak in and do its magic (I’m making that up because I had no idea why my attendant left… maybe she just wanted a tea break…), I was once again rinsed and then the fun began.  My attendant used a hand scrubber that looked like a mitt-sized scotchbrite pad, similar to one you would use to scrub a dirty pot.  And as if I WAS the dirty pot, Fatima (seriously, I was all but naked around her, I should at least call her by name…), went over every inch of my skin and scrubbed my skin with short, forceful strokes, while flipping,  turning, and stabilizing me with her free limbs.  With no common language between us, I simply let the bigger and
stronger than me Moroccan woman go about her scrubbing business, moving me as she needed to, rather than try to anticipate where and how she wanted me.   If I were a wrestler, I might know the name of some of the holds she was using, but I’m not, so will just say that although it wasn’t exactly painful, neither the torquing or the scrubbing,  it was nothing to sleep through either.   I was almost afraid to look at all the sand that must have been piling up next to me after spending the weekend in the desert, but no doubt it was nothing that hadn’t been seen countless times before.

So here I was, nearly naked, lying face down on a tiled floor with a large Moroccan woman scrubbing just about every inch of my body, thinking that this might even beat riding a camel in the desert as far as surreal feelings go… I shared this experience with two women who I’ve known for less than ten days, one with whom I slept inches away from in a tent after less than a week of our introduction and both who I found myself next to, while nearly naked, in a hammam.  I’m making fast friends here in Morocco!  After all the scrubbing was completed, Fatima washed my hair (I had a heads up on this so had brought my own shampoo.)  It was a most delightful experience and I don’t think my hair has
ever felt cleaner.

After the scrubbing, the washing, and the rinsing, we were escorted into the adjoining room, which was quite a bit hotter and told (via international body language) to stay there for no more than 20 minutes, then re-rinse in the first room and you’re done!  Of course once back in the lobby, I think all of the women who worked there got a kick out of seeing what Mimi and I were going to do without a towel.  I used my sweatshirt and Mimi just put her clothes on over her wet body.  There was quite a bit of chuckling from our “scrubbers” who were now back in their clothes and behind the desk.

One of the sweetest things I saw was a little girl, about 5 or 6, with a bucket full of Barbie dolls that she was scrubbing.  She had just finished her scrub and was now it was her Barbie doll’s turn.  The hammam is for all ages, a family thing,  although males and females do go to separate rooms, or
possibly even separate buildings as I saw no hint of a man in the vicinity, thank goodness.

The whole process took a little over an hour and cost less than ten dollars, which included a tip for my attendant.   It’s a very popular ritual here that Mohamed told us is done weekly by those who can afford it.  That could explain the beautiful skin the Moroccan women have, although you can see very little of that beautiful skin, outside of the hamman, that is… I will definitely do it again while I’m here as my hurried showers with little hot water are hardly getting the first layer of dirt off let alone several, like I was able to part with this afternoon.  My students this morning were anxious to hear about my Hamman experience and did I like it?  Did  I want to do it again?  And most importantly, is there anything like it in America??  I think they were delighted to know that I not only enjoyed it, but was planning on doing it again.  So far, so good on all things Moroccan that I’ve tried, although I already gave them a heads up that I will not be a part of eating sheeps head.  I publicly drew the line.

Oh yea, for obvious reasons, no photos… I’ll let you go with your imagination on this one…

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