On the floor: my hammam experience

Sorry boys, this post is for the ladies.

The public bath. I love it. It took me until about 2 weeks ago to work up the courage to go for my first one, but now I’m hooked. And it’s a shame, because I just left.

Traditionally, it’s a weekly thing, but I’ve been about every 4-5 days on average. Who wants to shower in sometimes-warm water, when you can soak in a hot and steamy sauna for a morning?

I’d read many tales of being scrubbed until you’re raw, being stared down by the other women, and all sorts of other things that make you think you’ve got to have some guts to waltz in there by yourself. But it’s not at all like that.

I had made a friend in Sidi ifni who had been several times. It was cold and gray out, and while we were sharing stories of our similar experiences with Moroccan heartache (long stories), we decided that our hearts and souls wanted to be warm, damnit!

So off we went, and it was… wonderful. The lady (or ladies) in charge of the door may be the most intimidating part of the entire experience. But usually she’s just like your grandma, (despite the fact that you can hardly speak her language)… in other words, she’ll take care of you. Once you’re inside though, none of the ladies hardly pay any attention to you at all. They’re busy lounging, scrubbing, washing, or gossiping. It’s really a beautiful thing, actually; everyone is extremely comfortable in their own bodies and there is no judgement. Even my, ahem, jewelry, has gone without a single eyebrow raised!

If you ever visit morocco, here are my tips:
• get yourself one of the black scrubby gloves of magical amazingness. I don’t know how they’re made or what they’re made of, but they do wonders. And don’t worry about going to the market to find one – just buy it at the window when you pay for the hammam itself. While you’re at it, also grab some of the olive soap: it’s only 1DH (12 cents) and it’s kind of key to the whole thing. Don’t worry about buckets or anything else like that: grandma will hook you up.

• bring with you: shampoo + conditioner, a razor, and whatever else you usually use in the shower. Bring a towel, change of underwear (unless you go nude, which you totally can, but if not you’ll be going commando on the way home!), and a plastic bag for putting your wet things into after. I also recommend bringing some water for after, as you’ll be pretty dehydrated! As well, bring something to cover your hair, as grandma will scold you for going outside with wet hair.

• for an extra 30DH ($4), you can opt to hire another grandma (with boobs to her waist, flopping about during the whole thing) to do your scrubbing for you. From my experience, this is tempting because you think it will be less obvious that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. But you’re wrong, you still feel like a noob, and actually, with a few basics, the DIY version is a lot more relaxing. Because there’s a lot of that whole, lounging around part, which I really like. And, yes, someone will get your back for you. No, it won’t be weird, and no, you don’t have to know what you’re doing to return the favour, it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s also a really great way to interact with some local women, which is often near to impossible in most parts of Morocco.

• if you’re going to DIY, here’s the drill: the place will feel like you’re going swimming. All tiles, water, and high ceilings for that echoey-ness of the pool. There’s a change room, and 2-3 hammam rooms – they get warmer as you go. I prefer the hottest room, but that’s just me. The water is heated by fire under the building, so the floors are lovely and warm. Find spot near the wall, and away from the flow of used water. Next find a/the tap and pour yourself a couple buckets of hot water; eventually you’ll want to have some cooler water, but warmer is better at first, to soften your skin. Pour it over yourself a few times and then sit for a bit and warm up. Then coat yourself in the olive soap (it’s soft but doesn’t really lather much). Then sit again for a bit (just a few minutes is fine; I like to wash my hair in this time, but that’s because I still like to be efficient). Then, wash off! If you don’t, the magical glove doesn’t work and will just hurt you instead. Once you’ve done that, start scrubbing; you will be amazed that you had so much dead skin on you! I’m also amazed that I still manage to have some tan left by the end 🙂 Finally, you can finish washing, rinsing, shaving, etc., and take your time to leave. I usually move into one of the cooler rooms for a bit to make the transition back into the real world a bit easier.

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