Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Hammam Experience

I stood naked in Morocco.

Despite spending the past six days in Morocco visiting a Children’s Village, ridding Camels through the palm groves of Marrakesh and exploring the interior of the third largest mosque in the world I didn’t understand the culture until I bathed among the women of Morocco.

The Moroccan bathhouse or Hammam was situated down an alleyway far from any average tourist destination. This was my first independent trip in Morocco and I was skeptical when the cab driver dropped me off near Hammam Ziani on a street populated with only men.

Inside the Hamman a man appeared and asked me if I spoke French. I told him no only English and a little Italian. He shook his head at both, but pointed to a menu with a British flag placed on it. I choose the most expensive package. He handed me the printed receipt and sent me up a flight of stairs. At the top a woman took the receipt and I paid her 300 dirham. She handed me a basket of soap, a wrap, and pointed to a changing room while telling me to take off all of my clothes but my underpants. I finished tightly tying the wrap around me and opened the curtain of the dressing room. Standing just outside I saw two Moroccan women pulling off all of their robes.

Out in the streets of Morocco the only interactions I had were with men trying to get me to buy things in their store or in the taxi’s. This place was only for women. It was their place.

The spa worker led me down some stairs into a small steam room with marble bowls, chairs and faucets. She took my wrap and instructed me to wash myself with black goo. I sat at on a stool in front of a bowl with my arms wrapped around my chest. I had no idea how I was going to wash myself and stay as modest as I could. The bowl didn’t have drain so the water spilled over the sides. The steam was like a sheet and covered the room. Several minutes of uncertainty and rewashing occurred until a different spa worker came in and lead me to a bigger room with marble slabs in the center surrounded by more drain-less bowls and stools. I laid down on what seemed like a butchers block and she proceeded to scrub me so hard that it felt like I was being tenderized for a meal.

The next step, after being skinned alive, is to marinate for about 30 minutes. I was first covered in a grainy brown substance and wrapped in plastic. During that time two Moroccan women had walked in and began washing each other at one of the bowls. They were talking together in Arabic, laughing, and what seemed to be joking around with the spa workers.

The women were wearing thongs and black lacy underwear. Underneath all of those robes they aren’t that different from me.

I got up and looked around sure that the Moroccan women would be staring at me analyzing all of my flaws like at spas in the United States. But they didn’t and I realized they weren’t judging each other or me. I felt comfortable and almost accepted into their lives because I was taking part in this tradition.

Ablution in the Islamic society is apart of their daily lives. They have to clean themselves before being in Gods presence. Some of these women come once or twice a week to the Hammam.

It was empowering to be among these woman who completely mask their identity to society, but come together in a secure place, reveled their bodies and gossip about their lives.

After rinsing off and redressing in my skirt and black shirt I walked outside feeling welcomed into their lives because I had been apart of such an intimate part of their lives. I saw them without their robes on and heard them speaking to one another without asking their husband’s permission.

On the street, however, I was again confronted with the men staring as I walked with my hair uncovered. As I quickened my walk I passed by a woman and her children. I gave her a friendly smile, but I didn’t receive one in return. At the most basic level we are both woman, but there are many different customs that divide us.


  1. Such a great experience you faced at Morocco.first you have a experience of ham mam and second you have experience of culture of morocco,Which shows the women culture are quite different apart from one country to other.the custom divides the humanity.

  2. Hi Leah, I finally logged into your blog and have enjoyed every bit of it!! I read it all the way back to the first page (didn't want to miss anything!!). Sounds like you are having quite the experience so far!! The post that I could relate to the most so far is the one on Spain. I too visited various parts of Spain and loved it. I did not get to Cadiz, but did that area - Marbella, Cordoba, Granada, Seville. I also enjoyed the Flamenco tremendously and the bullfight for it's symobolic historic aspects (not so much the gore)!! Enjoy and keep us updated!!