What is a Hammam?
Here is a little background on the Hammam:
A Hammam, similar to a Turkish bath, is the Middle Eastern version of a steam room or bath. It’s a public bath. When the Hammam was first invented it was only for men. Eventually, women were like hey this doesn’t add up and they got a Hammam for themselves. This cleansing mechanism is very important in Moroccan culture. This is a way for many women to escape from regular society for a minute and catch up on gossip for 2-3 hours. Women head over to their local Hammam with their friends, children, or female relatives with a pair of flip flops in hand. Women typically visit one near their house about once a week.
What do you bring to a Hammam?
Once arriving to the Hammam, you receive a scrubber and a packet of soap that feels like the consistency of molasses. It is also a very similar color to that of molasses. I experienced the Hammam with a group of 18 girls and a Native Moroccan woman and all of us wanted to “be scrubbed”. Be scrubbed?! What?? What I mean is exfoliate! In the Hammam, you can hire someone for 5 euros to exfoliate you. Try it if you’re ever in Morocco, your skin will be glowing and very soft. I’ve been told that is takes close to 10 layers of dead skin off.
Grab all of your gear (scrubber, soap, and a bucket) and change out of all of your clothes except underwear. You can change in the locker-less locker room. Now you’re ready to enter the giant steam room with your friends.
I went with a lot of girls that I have never hung out with before until the Morocco trip so it was definitely an interesting experience bathing with a bunch of new people! Plus all of the Moroccan women. Let me tell you, it was pretty packed, which made walking around with unfamiliar naked women even more intimidating.
I don’t have any pictures because that would be inappropriate… but you can probably find some basic layouts/ images on google of a Hammam
What’s in the actual Hammam?
A whole lot of women, children, and light pink buckets.
Lining the back tiled wall were 4 0r 5 with hot and cold water coming out of them. This is when you need your bucket. You take the bucket and mix the hot and cold water to your preference of water temperature. After my bucket was filled to the brim, I moved over to another area of the Hammam. The Moroccan woman that came with us helped put soap on my back and exfoliate my back. It is very common for friends to scrub and cleanse each other while in the Hammam. I grabbed Jackie’s travel size shampoo and washed my hair. To get the shampoo out I dumped a bunch of the water in my bucket all over me. This hair washing process in the Hammam takes much more effort than your regular shower.
As I was heading over to get in line to get scrubbed, I looked to my left and saw a little girl about 2 years old sitting in her bucket eating an orange! I have never seen someone eating an orange in the steam room at Lifetime, but I may have to bring that back to the states ;).
And then it was my turn….
The Moroccan scrubber lady didn’t speak any English and I don’t speak Arabic so we made-up our own version of sign language to communicate. I was instructed to begin by laying down on my back on an extremely thin yellow mat on the floor (this was hard for me because it didn’t feel sanitary). I got exfoliated from head to toe for 5 or so minutes, with the company of 30+ women! You’ll experience a whole new idea of exfoliation when your time is up. At times, the scrubbing hurt a little, but my skin was for sure softer after.
The only way to better understand this whole process is by trying it yourself.
After about 1.5-2 hours, my CIEE group and I were ready to end our first Hammam experience. We headed to the locker-less locker room to dry off and change. Make sure you bring a towel and loose clothing when you go because you’ll want clothing that is easy to put on after.
Would I do round 2?
I have to say, I would not do the Hammam experience again. However, I am very glad I did it because it was cultural immersion to the max. I have never seen or heard of anything like this in the United States before. Going to the Hammam is a regular practice in Moroccan culture so I am happy I got to learn more and get out of my comfort zone.