Ready to drop all shame? No point in being modest at the hammam, or Turkish-style public bath house, where all from young to old, rich to poor, bathe together, and let it all hang loose. In public. That’s right, all.
While Western-style showers are becoming more common and available in Moroccan homes, the traditional way to bathe is at the local hammam once a week, where you sit and chat with neighbors and friends for hours while scrubbing away the weeks’ worth of filth.
Initially, I was very nervous about my first trip to the hammam. I have to be naked?! With people I know? And that I don’t know?! For Westerners, nudity and bathing are such private experiences that this was a very daunting thing. So, here goes.
So, first you gather up all of your hammam supplies. A little plastic stool to sit on, a kes, or nylon scrubber glove, some ghashoul, a natural clay-based soap, towels, toiletries, and buckets with which to fill and dump water on yourself.
Ready, let’s go!
Accompanied by another girl on my program and her host mother and sister to guide the way, we entered the hammam (which often doubles on its other side as a bakery. The locals use the ovens which heat and keep the hammam nice and steamy, to also bake the bread distributed throughout the medina. Talk about multipurpose).
After paying the attendant about 12 dh (equivalent to $1.50 USD), you enter a room where you strip down to just your panties, leave your things with an attendant and enter the actual hammam, buckets and all. Now, this was the hardest part… I pulled off my pants and shirt with no issue, but hesitated with my bra. Ahh, too weird, ahhhh. I can probably count on both hands the number of people who have seen me stark naked, ever. But I did, and carried my things in, hunched forward to cover myself until about 15 minutes later when I was able to relax and realize that nudity really doesn’t matter in a room full of all women.
We sat on our stools in the steamy, sauna-like tiled hammam and began to rinse ourselves with buckets of water. Next comes the ghassoul soap, which you rub all over yourself as a sort of body mask and let sit for a bit in the steam. It was actually really nice, and luxurious-feeling. Next, we rinsed off the soapy ghassoul and began to scrub… and I couldn’t even believe it. I am pretty good about exfoliating and what not, but the layers and layers of dead skin that I shed that day will never cease to amaze me. I put on the kes and began to rub my skin back and forth as Sara’s host mom instructed, over every inch of my body and the just skin rolled off. It was really disgusting in a satisfying sort of way. We scrubbed and scrubbed until we couldn’t scrub anymore and then rinsed it all off.
An hour and a half later, we left the hammam and I’d never felt so clean in my entire life. This is definitely a ritual I could get used to.
More next time my curious-minded friends,
Ella spends her nights alternating between dreams of magic carpet rides and Moroccan mint tea… She is a senior at Boston University and (you guessed it) an avid lover of travel. Ella is currently wayfaring Morocco, learning Arabic, and eating all she sees. She studies Public Relations & Environmental Policy and could tell you more about the Boston Local Food System than you ever wanted to hear. Check out her website at ToTheCuriousMinded.com or follow her twitter @EllaClausen