An integral part of Moroccan culture is the hammam. Also know as: bathhouse, steam room or sadistic torture chamber.
Do I have your attention now? OK, because I want to tell you all the graphic details of my trip to a traditional Moroccan hammam last week. Might I add that this particular hammam I visited was no swanky spa with fluffy bathrobes, private tiled steam rooms or fine overpriced Moroccan argan oil products. Oh no, this place was the real freaking deal. No bells and whistles—just a few dozen pleasantly plump naked Moroccan ladies, 3 steam chambers of different intensities, hundreds of plastic buckets filled with scalding hot water and mountains of sloughed dead skin.
My roommate, Shaakira, and I arrived at the hammam in l’océan midday sporting our newly purchased plastic shoes, (somewhat reminiscent of the Jellies of my youth) and carrying our shampoo, towels and a change of loose fitting clothes for after our scrub down. We paid the nominal charge of 10dh (1.3$) to enter, and I purchased my very own instrument of torture, the exfoliation glove. Though Shaakira is a pro at the hammam, I am still somewhat of a newbie. I’d been once before, and had an idea of what to expect, but on this particular day we decided to be “high maintenance” and pay for a Moroccan lady to scrub us.
We stripped to our skivvies, filled up our buckets with hot water, and entered into the steam room. I could feel the eyes of all the ladies piercing my soul as I awkwardly found a place to set up shop. I chose carefully. I wanted to be right at the top next to the water tanks, because the room is on a slant, and my clean-freak self is perturbed by the thought of everyone else’s hair and/or dead skin running by me in streams of dirty bathwater. At the hammam it is not uncommon to sit directly on the floor, but thankfully Shaakira read the message of horror displayed plainly across my face, and handed me a small plastic step stool to sit on. In enters the Moroccan lady we’d paid for a scrub. She was mean muggin’ me hard core, and I got the impression that what was about to ensure was not going to be the most pleasant of experiences.
The only way to describe the sensation of being scrubbed is that it hurts so good…? (Emphasis on the question mark). Imagine all the dead skins cells on your body being sloughed away by a mitt made of small shards of broken glass. Add to the equation a gruff Moroccan grandmother all up in your business who is throwing you this way and that, and it all equals out to be the least relaxing event of your entire day. In the process I probably swore in obscene English that I would never do this again, but I couldn’t help but be amazed at the beautiful natural glow of my raw skin upon leaving the steam room.
So there I was, Lizzie the lizard, shedding layers of dead skin in a Moroccan hammam—how freaking symbolic. Now is a beautiful opportunity to cleanse and purify as well as to shed the things in my life that aren’t directly benefitting my higher purpose. And though it can sometimes be a painful experience to let go, it can also be incredibly rewarding and uplifting. So here’s to renewal and regeneration!
It is common to hear this blessing:
Besaha w raha (Biss howr ha) — to your health
Followed by the response:
Allah ya 3tek saha (Allah ya tik saHa) — and may God bless yours also.