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Eric: Hammam (Moroccan public bath)

June 21, 2010

I never thought showering would be the thing I most look forward to before I come to Morocco. Today I asked my roommate to ask my host family if we can go to a hammam (Moroccan public bath), and they said they would take us there later in the day. It turns out that the family actually do shower in the small bathroom, and my theory on how they do that is they sit on the floor and use a small bucket to catch water from the near-ground-level tap and wash with it. My host-brother did tell us that Moroccans shower about twice a week, which really isn’t that bad if they shower really thoroughly (exactly the case when you go to a hammam). Since water isn’t the most available resource, twice sounds about right.

To go to a hammam, most likely you will have to be led by a local, since the place usually doesn’t have a sign, and you probably don’t know what to do in there. Two of my host brothers took us there at around 10 pm, and we had to wait outside because it was still girl’s hour. Bathing times for men and women are different and separated. By the time we went in, it was about 11 pm. While waiting, we had an interesting encounter. A man approached us and did the usual greeting and asked where we were from. Upon hearing the US, he started telling us (in English) that he used to live in Brooklyn and to get a massage there, it costs a lot. He said that he could get us a cheap massage in the hammam for about 100 Dh each for both my roommate and me. And he went on and on. After he was done and walked somewhere else, we asked our host brothers how much the massage really costs. Well, lesson learned: never agree to offers from people on the street without consulting the locals. It really only costs about 30 Dh to get a massage in the hammam.

First we paid an entrance fee (10 Dh I think), and then we took off our cloth except boxers. We put all our stuff in the lobby area where there were cabinets, and took soap and shampoo with us. We also took a few buckets provided with us, and went into the steaming room. My host brothers fetched us buckets of hot water (mixed with cold water to make it a little more bearable), and we sat there to sweat a little bit. Afterwards, the washing began. Just like showering, we put on soap and shampoo, and use a small plastic scoop to scoop water from the bucket to rinse. After repeating for about half an hour to an hour, we were done, fresh and clean. You know, showering only twice a week would most likely to be frowned upon and considered unsanitary in the US, but I can see how it’s totally okay and practical in Morocco. First of all, unless you do excessive amount of work everyday, you really aren’t that dirty after one day. Using large amount of water to shower then is just a waste. Also, going to a hammam requires time, as it’s not just a time for cleaning, but also for socializing and relaxing. I really couldn’t imagine anyone doing it every single day. And lastly, it costs money to use the hammam. 10 Dh is about 1 USD, which may not sound much to Americans, but it does add up if you go every single day.

After the shower, we went home, had dinner, and went to bed.

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