Hamam: Moroccan Bath House

Before traveling to Morocco, we were told that our shower accessibility would be limited. As someone who is not particularly adamant about showering regularly, in all honesty, I was excited to hear this news. On the first night with our host family in Rabat, we asked the daughter, Meryam, about the showering situation. She told us that there is indeed a shower in their house’s bathroom. When I refer to the house’s bathroom, I am describing a 4×4 room with a Turkish toilet and two water spigots. Meryam proceeded to tell us that Fatima, her mother, and she go to the Hamam, the Bath House, every Friday. Instantly, Amber and I accepted our invitation to join Meryam and Fatima at the Hamam the following day.

Before going to the Hamam, Meryam told us to bring a change of clean clothing, showering toiletries, and a towel. Neither Amber nor myself had a towel, so Meryam graciously lent one towel for both of us to share. Right before leaving the house for the Hamam, Fatima handed us stools, mats, and a bucket. Truly, I had no expectations for the Hamam as I had no basis or insight regarding the entire process. On our walk over, I questioned if families had a specific Hamam they attended each week. My inquiry was quickly answered when we were forced to go to a different Hamam because the first one was full. Apparently, Friday is a popular day to shower in Morocco.

In a generous manner, Meryam paid for us to get into the Hamam and guided us through the whole procedure to the best of her ability. Upon arrival, Amber and I agreed to follow suite. After climbing a slippery flight of stairs, we entered a room, similar to a locker room but much smaller and more crowded, full of Moroccan women changing into or out of clothing. Awkward at first and unsure of the protocol, we followed Meryam’s lead and undressed. With broad smiles and a liberating surge of emotion, we entered the Hamam. The room, a U-shaped classroom-sized space, was warm and steamy, occupied with women of all ages. There were six water spigots, three with hot water and three with cold water. Women waiting in line to fill up their buckets surrounded the spigots. Meryam instructed Amber and I to place our stools in a certain area and to sit on them. Little to our knowledge, we would be sitting on these stools for the next two hours. Next, Meryam brought over two buckets of incredibly soothing hot water. The first step is to wash one’s body. This was not the typical body-washing method. Fatima handed us a brown gooey gel. We were signaled to rub the gel all over our bodies, creating an oily friction between our skin and hands. After rubbing on the first layer of gel, we were given a scrubber that wrapped around our hands like a sock. Once we completed applying the gel, we began to scrub our bodies. The scrubber was rough and irritated our bodies when rubbing against the skin. Fatima, sitting next to me on the floor, laughed, and communicated with me via hand motions, as we do not speak the same languages, that I was not scrubbing properly. Before I knew it, Fatima was physically scrubbing me down. I could not help but chuckle while my Moroccan host mother was literally bathing me, as if I was a young child. Within seconds, I immediately understood why Fatima saw the need to assist me. The combination of the gel and the scrubber should have been rubbing off the dead skin on my body, and I had not been scrubbing hard enough. Slightly appalled by the amount of dead skin I have been storing up, Fatima passed off the scrubber to me and I continued to cleanse my body. Following about an hour of scrubbing and spattering water everywhere, it was time to wash our hair. This was a rather normal process. In the middle, we almost had our jackets stolen, but luckily the custodian put them in a closet for us – that was a rendezvous in itself.

Later on, a group of American girls, walked into the Hamam. They were confused how to go about the entire situation, and as expert Hamam-goers of one hour, Amber and I guided them through the process. They came and left quickly. Another notable moment was watching a little girl, who was around three years old, jump into a bucket and splash around excitingly. In fact, I mentioned to Amber that the mixture of pruning fingers and pouring buckets of water on our heads, reminded me of the of being a child playing water. Following approximately two hours in the Hamam, we went back to the changing room and dressed ourselves in our clean clothing. Meryam wrapped scarves around our heads in order to keep our heads warm while we walking home.

Altogether, I had multiple thoughts running through my head while at the Hamam, but many of them were solidified afterwards when I had time to digest what had occurred, rather than while I was going through the physical motions. On a light note, I have never before felt as clean and practically glowing than I had post Hamam. Though most Moroccans only fully shower once a week, it seems as though it is truly a cleansing and purifying ritual. The culture of the Hamam undoubtedly embodies the immense communal aspect of the Medina. The women at the Hamam exhibited friendly sister-like, relationships.  Moreover, the Hamam exemplified how and why the strong connection is created and fostered between Moroccan mothers and daughters. Fatima bathed Meryam, even as a 23 year-old. Additionally, after the first five minutes of standing undressed, there is a rush of comfort and liberation, rapidly vanishing the ambiguous awkward emotions. In comparison to America, the Hamam even rids the increasing issue of body image. All of the women were completely at ease and it was a non-judgmental environment. Jokingly, but perhaps in slight seriousness, many of the girls on the Mosaic would like to bring back a Hamam to Dickinson’s campus!

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One Response to Hamam: Moroccan Bath House

  1. mcgarvea says:

    Dickinson Hamam: coming soon to the Kline Center addition? Insha’allah.
    Beautiful writing, Orli!

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