Hamams are common in Morocco and all across North Africa. Almost all Moroccan towns have at least one small hamam, and going to the hamam is common. Most Moroccan homes don’t have showers (or even hot water), so lots of Moroccans make due with bucket baths during the week, and go to the hamam once a week for a good scrub. It’s about more than just bathing though. Going to the hamam is a social event, and friends will go and spend a few hours at the baths the way American teenagers might go to the mall or a café to hang out. (Only, you know, everyone is naked. And people think Muslim cultures are repressed.)
I went to the hamam with Kim (a fellow PCT), Soukayna (my host sister) and Fatima (my Arabic teacher
So, once we were properly naked (and possible hiding behind our stools, like Kim), we entered the steam rooms. There were three rooms, ranging from super hot and humid to regular type hot and humid, but all of them were hot enough for my hair to immediately go POOF. We went to the hottest room to fill up our buckets (decent sized buckets, probably as tall as my knee) with water, and then retreated to the medium heat room to claim a corner and wash. First, using small cups, we wet ourselves and rubbed the sabun lbldi, which looks like a thick, black goo, all over our bodies. We let it sit for a few minutes, rinsed it off and then, using the kiis, began exfoliating. I like to think I keep myself fairly clean, but I’ve never done a full body exfoliation before and I was amazed by how much dead skin came off. It reminded me of those deep cleaning pore strips every girl used on their noses in middle school: you’re horrified by how dirty you were, but every pore strip filled with gunk (or in this case, l-kiss covered in a white film of dead skin) makes you feel virtuous and proud, because at least you’re no longer that dirty. Scrubbing took a long time, probably close to an hour, which I didn’t think was possible when Fatima told us about the hamam in class. I just kept scrubbing, and the kiss kept coming back with dead skin on it. Turns out, my armpits were full of dead skin. (Sorry, that’s probably TMI.)
After about an hour at the hamam, I started getting dizzy. I’m sick, sleeping poorly, not eating much and thanks to last weeks bout of gastrointestinal distress, I’m just a little dehydrated, none of which is good when combined with long periods in a hot steam room. I stumbled out of the baths and spent twenty or so minutes sitting on a bench in the changing area until the world stopped spinning around me, and then took the rest of my bath in cold water in an attempt to keep my body temperature down. It felt like such waste, since I’ve missed hot water so much, and when I finally had an unlimited supply of it, I couldn’t use it. Next time I go to the hamam, I’ll make sure to drink plenty of water during the day and eat lunch, and I’m sure I’ll be fine. And there will definitely be a next time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so clean, and it was the first time I’ve felt completely clean since arriving in Morocco. Plus, my skin was noticeable softer today, even my elbows, which are normally dry and rough. I want to make going to the hamam a regular part my life here.