What do you do when you’re in a small beach town without any real tourist sights? It’s the perfect chance to dig into a bit of Moroccan culture. I’d heard about hammam. I’d read about hammam. And yet I was hesitant to go. Why would I go to a public bath house? I’m not a person who enjoys getting her hair washed at the hairdresser or getting a massage. But this was one Moroccan thing I just had to do.
I had some vague directions to the town hammam. I didn’t want to go to some fancy hotel, which would be more like a spa. If I was going to do hammam, I was going to go local. I walked around for a bit, sure that I was in the right street, but didn’t see anything that resembled a hammam. Then again, what differentiates a hammam from any other building? And it’s not like there is a huge sign. Or maybe there is, but it’s in Arabic.
I ask in a shop and then I think I see it. I get into a small shop where I could buy some soap and a scrub thing. You need to take this with you yourself. Luckily the hostel had a mat I could use. The woman’s entrance has a face of a woman, which makes it easier to find for me. There is a small room with a tiny opening covered by bars. Behind it I find a smiling man. For 11Dh I get to go inside. There is a big room and a desk. A woman, who is dressed, takes care of all the bags for 5Dh. I get asked if I want a ‘massage’. Since I have no idea what I’m supposed to do, I accept the offer of 50Dh.
The woman who seems to be getting things ready for my ‘massage’ is naked apart from her underpants. I get undressed too and leave my stuff in one of the cubby holes behind the desk. I take my newly bought black soap, scrubby thing, my mat and my shampoo. I enter a big room which is slightly heated like a sauna. There are even warmer rooms, but I stick to this still comfortable temperature. There are woman scrubbing themselves and mothers with children. I place my mat in the corner and sit and wait.
The woman I paid is filling two buckets full of warm water. When she’s ready she helps me to soap my body and gives it a first rinse. There is a little plastic pan in the bigger bucket and she scoops the water over me. She is still naked apart from her underpants. Then she points that I have to lie on my stomach. She starts scrubbing me like I’m a street cat who hasn’t had a wash in years. First my back gets a scrub and then I feel her putting my underpants down. My ass is now like a baby’s.
She then taps me and I have to turn a quarter. And it continues until all sides are scrubbed. I decide not to feel weird when she scrubs my breasts and pull my undies in all directions. There is no place for shame here. When I look at her face it looks like she is doing some really dirty laundry, scrubbing hard to get all the stains out. Then I sit again and my arms and legs get another scrub. I notice I have dry skin cells all over my body. I guess I needed this. My shoulders and face get a scrub too. Then it’s time to rinse it all off with a few buckets of water. The hot water actually hurts after the scrub.
My ‘massage’ lady has to help out another lady and starts to vigorously scrub her back. She gestures to me to wait. So I wait and look around me. I’m sitting in a huge tiled room, with a big drain in the middle. There are two taps with warm and warmer water. People of all sizes and all ages walk around and fill the buckets. Older sisters are scrubbing the younger sisters. Nobody minds me much. Then it’s time to wash my hair. After the shampoo I get bucket after bucket rapidly over my head. Then there is one last rinse as I stand up and she cleans my mat and the scrub cloth.
I pick up my things again and get dressed. I had no clue what I was walking into and I’m glad I paid the woman to help me out. I felt a little like a kid when she was washing me, but it was a great experience. My skin feels like new. Next time though, I’ll do the scrubbing myself.