On Saturday evening, two other volunteers and I paid a visit to the local Moroccan hammam. For 10 dirham (about one euro), we were allowed entry to the private world of Moroccan women.
Upon opening the door to inside, we are immediately hit with a wall of warm, steamy, air. Inside, is a changing room full of hammam patrons dressing and undressing and a sort of reception desk for the robed employees.
We follow the lead of the other customers by stripping down and then exchanging our personal bags for buckets, rubber mats, and cups from the women working behind the desk. We’re ready to enter the steam rooms.
Behind the next door, the air thickens. We enter and are faced with rooms packed with women and children bathing. There are little boys sitting in buckets, children crying as they are washed by their mothers, and boobs everywhere. We are the only three girls in the whole place who had opted to keep the top half covered. I blame our western shyness.
Anyway, we look around for a minute at the four different rooms of increasing temperatures and eventually find a free corner in the second one to set up for our wash. There are spigots in the wall used to fill the buckets full of water. The process is to fill a bucket full of warm water, sit on the mat on the floor, and use the cup to scoop out water and pour it over your hair and body as you wash.
This is a real operating hammam used for bathing – not at all a luxury spa. It’s even more authentic than the bathhouse I visited in Turkey. All around us, women are soaping up, scrubbing off their dead skin with rough mitts, combing their hair, and lounging in the steam.
We take about an hour inside before we are finished. However, I’m told that Moroccan women spend multiple hours here bathing and socializing. Then they walk home and throughout town in their bathrobes so you can tell which ones have just come from the hammam.
I went back to the bathhouse on my own yesterday. This time I did it properly and avoided being laughed at by the employees for wearing my top. I also came prepared with a scrubbing mitt and a kind of olive dirt soap that the women put on their body before scrubbing.
This time I choose the hottest room, fix my set-up, and begin to bathe. As I am scrubbing myself, a girl excitedly approaches me. I’m confused for a moment and then recognize her as one of the students from the academy. She walks right over, boobs out, to come to hang out with me in the hammam. It doesn’t seem to matter that both of us are half naked and that I am a speaker at her school.
This is very foreign to me but anyway I go with the flow and she shows me how to scrub and use my olive dirt soap properly. You rub the soap all over, let it sit for at least five minutes or so to soak into your skin, and then scrub vigorously until the old dead skin starts to rub off. I mean vigorously – this girl scrubbed my back so hard that it hurt. I opted to do the rest myself but appreciated the lesson.
This was a very funny culture encounter for me. At home, we tend to cover up our bodies and are uncomfortable around other naked woman. At the hammam here, everyone walks around inside completely at ease in the company of women of all shapes and sizes.
In this town so far I have been bathed by an unclothed student as well as spoken face to face with a mother as she nursed her newborn baby openly right in front of me. Maybe back at home we should learn a lesson from this and embrace our bodies rather than being self-conscious of them. If little girls were exposed to bodies of all kinds while growing up rather than only seeing models on tv and in magazines, I think we would have a lot less trouble with body image in the United States. I say bring over the hammam!
Again, thanks for reading. Leave a comment if you have anything to add!