I seem to have ventured into the realm of amazing cultural experiences lately. Not that every day isn’t a cultural experience, but some days are just more awesome.
Today I went to the hammam for the first time.
A hammam is a bath, but when people refer to it here, they usually mean the public bath. There are two here in town that I know of. You can also refer to the bathtub inside your house as a hammam, but it’s way less fun.
Going to the hammam is more than a chance to get clean. A hammam trip is typically a multi-hour, gloriously warm, steamy social extravaganza. It lets ladies, who have traditionally had far fewer public social opportunities than men here, get out of the house and chat with their friends and neighbors for a few hours.
From what I understand, most hammams are set up in somewhat the same layout, so I’ll tell you about the one I went to.
My host family’s house is almost directly across from one of the mosques in town, and across the street from the mosque is the hammam. The hammam has a women’s side and a men’s side and more than enough hot water for everyone.
To successfully complete your hammam experience, you need the following:
- a short stool or mat to sit on
- several buckets, depending on the number of people you are with
- smaller plastic scoops, to better get the water from your big bucket onto you
- hammam soap: slimy, brown, don’t leave home without it
- a kees, a rough mitt I can only accurately compare to fine-grain sandpaper
- shampoo, conditioner, regular soap
- a towel
- shower shoes of some type
To get into the hammam, you have to pay 10 dirham. Once you’ve paid your fee, you go into the cold room, which will still feel hot if you’ve just come in from a cold and windy day like today. Find an empty hook to hang your stuff on and get undressed. Usually ladies here wear a pair of underwear while in the hammam, but nothing else. Take everything you need for washing into the hammam with you, but leave anything you want to keep dry with your bag and coat.
From the cold room, you go into the main part of the hammam, which is divided into three rooms that range from warm to sauna-esque, all lined floor to ceiling in tile. The warm room has a cold water source and the hottest room has a hot water source. We sat in the middle room, which seemed the most comfortable to me. You fill up your buckets with hot and cold water and mix them together as you want to achieve the temperature you want.
Sit yourself down on your stool and dump some water over you. Grab some brown hammam soap and wash yourself all over with that. Once you’ve done that, put the kees on your hand and get to work scrubbing. Basically your entire self gets exfoliated at the hammam and the amount of dead skin that comes off is pretty astounding. Usually whoever you are with will scrub your back for you, and mine got done twice, once by a lady sitting next to me and once by my host mom. After you’re properly scrubbed, you can take some more soap to wash whatever parts of you might need a bit more attention, rinse again and take care of your hair.
I just used my regular shampoo and conditioner, and most of the ladies seemed to have whatever brand works best for them. They also have a small rubber (?) brush to run through their hair. I just used my fingers and then my regular brush once I got back to my bag.
You can move between rooms as you want, whether you need more water or want to sweat for a while in the hottest room.
Once you’re good and clean or have run out of conversational topics with whoever you are talking to, you collect your things and go back to your bag, dry off and head back home. The other ladies absolutely will not let you outside with wet hair unless you cover it up, so remember to bring a scarf, which I definitely forgot to do and was given one to wear by my host mom.
Going to the hammam was something I had been looking forward to ever since I got to my host family. Scheduling conflicts had thus far kept me from going. Once I heard today that we were going to go, I got a bit nervous, as I suppose anyone with the very American background of bathing in private might do, but I enjoyed the whole experience. After several weeks of tepid bucket baths, being warm and clean at the same time was amazing. Going to the hammam was another chance to really experience Moroccan culture and I look forward to going again.