Right from the time I planned my holiday to Morocco, the one thing I wanted to try out there was a hammam. I was travelling with a group and wasn’t sure if I would be able to get some time to do this. However I was able to manage and persuaded our tour guide to find me a traditional hammam in Marrakech. The hammam was in the Jemma-El-Fnaa square. As we walked about the lanes trying to reach the exact one he had heard about, I realized that every building in that lane was a hammam.
The first thing I realized as I stood at the door of the hammam was that other than the timings everything was in Arabic. I began doubting my decision to come to a traditional one. After all I was going to strip in a place where I couldn’t even understand a single word!! Our tour guide could just come to the door as it was strictly for women. I asked him to explain to the woman who came out and more than her, explain to me what I was supposed to do inside. He just said, go with her. I asked him if there were any lockers inside to keep my bag, apparently there weren’t any. Looking at my predicament, he offered to keep my bag with him while I was inside and come back later. He told me I could pay after he came back as I would have a challenge in communicating with the women.
So there I was, clutching on my little packet that had my contact lens kit, shampoo, towel and a fresh pair of under garments, I quietly followed the woman inside. It was a bit funny as there were more women sitting there who looked at me from top to bottom and kept saying something in Arabic that I couldn’t understand. All I could see around half clad women in various stages of dressing and undressing around me. They seemed to all be very comfortable in this open dressing area. The woman I was following pulled on my clothes which was an indication for me to take them off and follow her into the Hammam. She arranged for a pair of plastic slippers and towel for me. Both looked quite clean (at least the towel looked washed). She asked me to carry my own shampoo and handed me a small bucket that had the Moroccan black soap (a gooey looking soapy material) and the scrubbing kessa glove.
Once I got over my initial embarrassment of undressing in front of so many people, I entered the actual hammam room with her. That is when I realized why no one outside looked uncomfortable. It was a hall full of naked women. The hammam had three big halls actually, each one led to the other. They are not round with domes unlike Turkish hammams but still pretty big in size to accommodate say 50 odd people together. The first one was smaller which was probably used for massaging after the bath, the second one which was the biggest was the one for bathing and scrubbing, and the third one which was the sauna room was where my hammam guide left me. She asked me to sit in a corner and went away. I had no idea and in my confusion was appearing to be quite a specimen to the other women there who seemed as comfortable as they would be in there private bathroom. Thankfully I wasn’t wearing my lenses else I wouldn’t have known where to look considering the scenario around me! After a few minutes, my hammam guide returned in bare underwear. She brought a mat with herself. I was still coming to terms with this when she wore the Kessa glove in one hand and started applying the black soap all over me. Before I realized, she was giving me a scrub. I was yanked from one end to the other, twisted and turned as my entire body was vigorously scrubbed. I could see around that many others were going through a similar experience. The woman kept showing me how much dirt she had scrubbed off me. To my chagrin, it was quite a lot. Even though I consider myself a very clean person but the amount of dirt was inexplicable.
She then asked me to follow her to the bathing area where I was scrubbed again, my hair was shampooed and then buckets and buckets of warm and cold water were splashed on to me. While she went to fill the buckets, one of the Moroccan women in the hammam walked up to me and made some kind of request in Arabic. As soon as I responded in English, she realized I was a tourist so she went to the woman next to me and said the same thing. It appeared that she was asking the woman to scrub her back. So if you do not want to use the services of the women at the Hammam and pay extra, people also do it as a favour to each other. Quite bohemian for an Arabic country.
I couldn’t think of having a bath like this ever in my life. As I dried myself up, I asked the woman who had scrubbed me if she would give me a massage. She only understood the word massage and nodded. She took me to the first room and asked me to lie down on the mat where she and another woman gave me a massage with ghassoul (clay mask) and argan oil gel. My skin really started glowing and looked much fairer than when I had walked in. No wonder the Moroccans looked so fair, I thought to myself. All through the massage the two women kept showing me how nice my skin looked.
This entire activity took about an hour’s time, after which I was shoved out of the hammam rooms to the dressing area again. The dressing area had short bathroom mirrors and seats as well to sit and wear clothes. By the time I was ready, one of the women came back and informed me that our tour guide was waiting outside for me. He asked me to pay 100 Moroccan Dirham including tips for all this which I thought was really cheap for this experience but I also understood that this was a weekly ritual for the Moroccans and not really a luxury.
I thanked the women at the hammam and headed out, tingling all over due to the scrubbing. My group members were waiting to hear all about my experience. I didn’t need to say much as the glow was evident on my skin with its new found freshness!!