This would be my second Hammam experience. My first took place during a solo visit to Istanbul, Turkey, many years ago. At that time, I took a taxi down dark, deserted streets to the Hammam, where I was escorted to a small changing room in the female bathhouse. As I was told by a large, Turkish woman three times my size to strip and hand over my wallet, I remember thinking, "This may not have been such a wise idea."
Needless to say, I had survived my first Hamman experience which turned out to be in actuality quite harmless so figured as part of a larger group of American women, why not?
Lilia asked an elderly Moroccan woman we met on the street for directions, and we followed, hoping for the best. Terms were negotiated outside the bathhouse door, where Lilia had given us strict instructions not to utter a word of English so that she could negotiate a non-tourist price for us in Arabic. The final price turned out to be the equivalent of approximately one American dollar plus fifty cents.
Moroccans enjoy a weekly trip to the local hammam where they spend a great deal of time having their skin exfoliated and scrubbed, washing their hair and bodies thoroughly and in no particular rush.
The large bath houses separated by men's and women's quarters are steamy rooms where many people socialize as much as they bathe.
For those who don't have a shower in their house, the hammam is not only a way of life but also a necessity. Even those living in large apartments with modern amenities still visit the local hammams on a regular basis.
The six of us were welcomed into the community of Moroccan women in the large, shared room where much laughter and loud, lively conversation followed. We didn't want to give away our American identities, so chose to just quietly listen and observe.
I must emphasize that all dainty notions of American spas need to be cast aside. Buckets of warm and cold water were alternately splashed over our heads, and individual scrubbings seemed to involve the removal not only of dirt but of several layers of skin. This was not an experience for the meek and timid. These Moroccan women meant business.
The lack of self consciousness about bodies is worth noting and comparing to our Western obsessiveness about ideal bodies and ideal beauty.
At the conclusion of the Hamman experience, the bath house ladies celebrated our generous tips with all of the strength and fervor of the New England Patriots after a win. They jumped on each other's shoulders and paraded through the bath house, shouting out loud gypsy calls or "zagareets" of happiness.