Moving on: breaking up with the hammam (and thinking about France!)

Bssaha. To your health. Or, more accurately, thank god you bathed. 

It’s a common expression, used not only to “cheers” you and your renewed sense of self-worth, but largely to acknowledge all things new; clothes, meals, haircuts, baths…

Which is to say that it’s about time I talk again about the hammam.

It was a beautiful affair we had, the hammam and I, but I think it’s coming to an end. The honeymoon is over and we’re just not in love anymore.

I mean, it’s not all bad. But the fireworks are fading, and I don’t know what’s left of us.

I’ll start with the beauty of it: at its core, it was and always will be one to two hours spent lounging in a steam room, scrubbing so thoroughly that you leave feeling smooth as silk. Bssaha.

A little smirk in my post-hammam glow

And it’s a really beautiful tradition, the weekly public bath. For me, it’s a chance to see another side of Moroccan women; unveiled and completely at ease in their surroundings and with their bodies. There is no judgement. As I’m in there, I completely forget that I should be self-conscious of my piercings. To think, I spent my first two months here anxiously trying to figure out how I could go about going to the hammam without tarnishing my schoolteacher reputation (though eventually, I just decided f*ck it, if they are going to judge me, they’ve done it already).

And at first, it was great. Somehow, in ultra-conservative el Jadida, I felt welcomed in my neighbourhood hammam. It was perfect; a “turk” style, slightly more expensive (approximately $3 instead of $1), but a little more classy. No buckets, or sitting on the floor; each person has their own sink and stool (all made of stone!) and there are some stone tables for the scrubbing, which feels kind of like a massage table, making it all feel very spa-like, though definitely not marketed towards tourists. And no matter how dull my razor is, somehow it’s always the closest shave! Shaved legs and clean sheets: my favourite combination (so it’s always a bonus when hammam day is paired with laundry day, or new hostel day 😉 )

But lately, my experiences haven’t been going so well. I don’t know, maybe it’s because now I’m going to the normal ones and there’s some part of it I’m doing wrong. Or maybe it’s because I’m in towns with more tourists, that they’ve already been soured by someone else who messed things up. Or maybe I’m becoming more aware of underlying disdain. But either way, I’m coming across more dirty looks than I have in the past, and more than I deserve.

For example, I know I offended the lady in Essaouira the last time I went. I didn’t mean to, but I didn’t have the Arabic words to say “hey lady who remembers me from last week, I’m sorry I asked for a massage today. Really, I mostly just wanted to make sure you would get my friend and I a spot on the floor, and someone to fill the buckets, because I know this place gets really busy and I’m not scrappy enough right now to deal with that. So thank you for the scrubbing, and the space, and the buckets, but now I actually want to talk with said friend, so if you don’t mind, no massage is necessary, though I’m still going to tip you well, don’t worry.” But instead, all I could come up with was “saafi, shukran” (that’s enough, thank you), which got me nothing but glares for the rest of the day. 

I mean, that one I can understand. Maybe she thought I wasn’t impressed with her skills and changed my mind because of that. But yesterday (different town), I got so much hostility from the ladies at the front desk! And I know I didn’t do anything to deserve it. They were cold last week too, but this really left me with no desire to come back. 

So maybe it’s time we take a break. And, funny enough, we might do just that. I might leave Morocco for a bit!

I know I just posted about how in love I was with Asilah – and really, I still am, and could totally stay here.. if only it didn’t cost a million dollars to rent an apartment. So I started looking at Workaways (if you don’t know what this is, it’s a website to connect travellers who want to volunteer in exchange for room and board with businesses or families who need some extra help – check out if you want to find out more). First, I looked at opportunities in Rabat, the city I’m going to move to in the fall, to get to know it and get started on finding an apartment of my own, but there wasn’t much available, and nothing continuous. Then, I thought maybe since Spain is so close, I could go to a hostel there and work for the summer – a good way to escape Ramadan, stay in a great climate, and have a lot of fun. But I don’t know any Spanish, and flights are so cheap here that I started thinking that could fly to France for less than $50, and then I could really practice my French, while still doing all of the above! So, I’m sending out messages and hopefully something will fall into place.

Because, damn, am I ever starting to feel like I fail at this adulting thing. And also starting to feel like I don’t care, which is one part alarming and another part liberating. 

It’s becoming really difficult to tell the difference between what’s not meant to be, and when I’m simply not trying hard enough. 

But I think a summer in France, working in a hostel or B&B, practicing my French, and just enjoying myself will be a way to balance the two forces. 

And then maybe the hammam and I can get back together.


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.