The other day before our Italian friend Claudio left, Hanane’s brother Fouad took us to the Hammam,the Arab baths. The Hammam is a public building that is not far from the Souidi home. There is not a western style shower here and so we tend to take baths with water heated on the fire or on the stove and then using soap and it is very important to scrub the skin.
Muslims are suppossed to pray five times per day and ablution is required each time. This consists of washing the hands, feet, face, ears, nostrils, and arms. So people tend to be very clean even without the western shower.
In addition, when one showers with the bucket, you are suppossed to use an abrasive glove to scrub the skin. People here find it odd that one would simply lather up with soap, rinse, and repeat. Instead, you should scrub the skin until it is almost painful.
But, back to the Hammam. The Hammam is used by both sexes but at different times of the day. It is composed of four large rooms, a dressing room, and rooms of various steam intensity. The family was very concerned for us before we went and told us that we should take no money, talk to no one, and not hire the man to scrub us in the baths but instead to let Fouad take care of us.
This concern is touching, if also a bit smothering, but since my Arabic is bad, and since they have seen foreigners get in trouble, and since their concern comes from the heart, I accept it and deal with the smothering until such a time as I can demonstrate my ability to survive encounters with locals.
So we loaded up gym bags with towels, soap, scrubbers, water dippers, shampoo, and new fresh clothing. Then we followed Fouad down the street to the Hammam.
I haven’t been taking pictures as much and certainly I took none in the baths, I tried to find some on the web but all the pictures are very fancy Hammams so this and the other illustration will have to suffice.
Inside the changing room we stripped to our shorts (board shorts for me and some young men, but also briefs and boxers), then we put our things on the shelf, Fouad took our money and paid for us, got buckets, and we entered.
The first room closest to the door has the toilets and is the room that stays the coolest because it is farthest from the steam room. Fouad had us sit on small plastic chairs we had brought and he took the buckets and filled them in the steam room. The tiled walls were cool and the steam was very hot.
We began to bathe with soap and water in our American/European ways, while Fouad got the water. He is 15 and a strong kid, he worked his ass off to make sure we were clean and safe, Hanane told him that if anything happened to us, she would kill him, but I think he did it because he is a genuinely nice guy.
I thought the bathing was nice but Fouad insisted on scrubbing our hair, legs, arms, backs, and chests. We were allowed to clean our nether regions ourselves thankfully, and I was grateful not to have to insist on this. After a thourough scrubbing, Fouad then gave each of us a massage. Normally, one would pay a guy in the Hammam for this, but since we were being shepherded, this was the case.
I would estimate we spent at least an hour and a half in the baths. In Arab culture, the Hammam is a place where the sexes can be seperated, where men and women can gossip and where business can be conducted. Of course it was odd to be the only haoles, but I’m used to that, mostly.
When we emerged, I felt clean, fresh, relaxed, and good. I was surprised to find Fatima standing outside the door and then to find Khadija waiting at the corner with a huge stick in her hand. Hanane had become worried and sent her mother and sister to make sure we were alright while she cooked. So we went back to the Souidi house and ate another huge meal.
Just a slice of Moroccan life.
Originally posted 13 Feb 2009