A Trip to a Moroccan Hamam
by Deborah Brommer
On a visit to see my sister, who was living in Taza, Morocco (pronounced Teh-za), my mother and I got a special treat of a trip to the local bath, or Hamam (ha-mem). My sister Sarah and her Moroccan friend “Layla” were our guides. We stopped at the local market where we bought our necessities: some scrubby mitts, a chunk of raw, black, pumice rock, and mineral mud as a beauty splurge.
Snaking through the narrow alleys of the Medina, I was surprised when we came upon the door to the Hamam, because, as far as I could tell it was not labeled or marked in any way. Two older, smiling women greeted us, ushered us in, and directed us to strip and hand over our belongings for safekeeping. They stood with us, grinning, while we hung our clothes on pegs on the wall, saying that they were excited to see our white skin; my sister is very fair with almost blue/white skin and freckles, I’m very fair, and my mother is blonde, so we really stood out as being foreigners. They seemed to be very happy to have us Westerners there, to show us a small part of their way of life.
The Hamam had three rooms; the first was warm, followed by hot, and then very hot. The lighting was very dim, the walls were cement block, or something similar, and it was very moist and steamy, giving the whole place a very cave-like feeling. Everyone in the hamem was completely naked except for some who wore their panties (including the two women who were running the place), which they kept on while washing too, they would just reach underneath to clean their private parts. We went into the warm room where Sarah and Layla set down little plastic mats that they had brought for each of us to sit on, and gave us each a scoop of some sort, either a measuring cup or a short handled ladle or a large plastic mug. Lined up cross-legged in front of one of the walls, we waited while the two ladies brought out black plastic buckets of hot water that they set on the floor in front of us, about seven in all, then, adding from a bucket of cold water, they tempered the hot buckets to a bearable temperature. Using our scoops, we ladled the water over ourselves. Then we got out the mud. It was a silky black glob that we smeared all over ourselves, even through our hair. We had a lot of fun with this part, laughing at each other all mucked-up. Our giggles attracted attention from the other patrons, who seemed to be happy that we were enjoying ourselves, as well as a few young boys who were there with their mothers. We washed, shampooed, and pumiced, as our ladies continued to keep our buckets filled with hot water. As we were washing the two ladies came over and sat us down on the floor in front of them. Taking our scrubby mitts, they scoured us from head to toe, each of us in turn, scrubbing the skin on our arms, backs, bellies, and legs; everywhere.
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Catherine Cartwright-Jones c 2000
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