You want hammam story? It’s possible.

28 Jun

Projects get my attention in fits and starts. This blog is one of those projects; this post is one of those fits. Or starts. Whateves.

A lot has happened since I last posted here; the most significant accomplishment being me getting my head screwed on right about not working. An aspect of that is accepting that this blog will serve me best not as a record of what I went through as a PD, but as a place to vent about issues I care about Stateside and share some ridiculous experiences. While I piece together the whiplash I felt reading recent SCOTUS decisions for a post next week, please enjoy a story of an adventure in Morocco.

And because I don’t have the European-I’ve-been-everywhere-blasé down pat yet: Holy shit! We climbed the highest mountain in Morocco! Among other things. It was awesome, and I’m so glad that Jake and Dylan and Kylie recommended our guide to us. If you’re ever looking for a Moroccan adventure, I’m happy to put you in touch. Fully supported, totally affordable hiking, skiing, cross-country skiing, camel treks in the desert, you name it, it’s possible with Lahcen.

Anyway, at the end of 5 days of trekking through the Atlas, our group of 6 found ourselves with a few hours of free time between breakfast and a camel ride. Sarah and I decided we wanted to try out a hammam. Lahcen, of course, responded with his mantra: “you want something? It is possible.”

Awesome. Lahcen explained that hammam would be a bath first for women and then for men. Gotcha…. We tried to fill in knowledge gaps using the magic of the interwebs, and so had the vague impressions that hammams are public, very nude-friendly and bathing suit unfriendly, and that we’d miss out on the best part because we didn’t have a special exfoliating glove with us. Oh, well. After spending about 10 hours the previous day summiting Toubkal, descending Toubkal, and then hiking from Toubkal’s base to the village of Imlil, we were stoked to just soak, dead skin hanging on and all.

After breakfast we were retrieved by a shy guide named Ibrahim, and marched through the tiny village to some dude’s house. We were both proud that we didn’t fall crossing the river and scrambling up a muddy drainage ditch in sandals. Ibrahim ushered us through the backyard fence, past a squat, shedlike building with two fires raging in pits along the shed’s foundation, and down a narrow alleyway between the shed and main house. At the end of the alley was a cow in an impossibly tiny enclosure. Howdy, ma’am.

Ibrahim pushed open the door to the shed and we ducked to enter an antechamber. Here, there were towel hooks, two wood benches, a tiny mirror, a tinier window, and a small door. He pushed open that door, and gave us a very blushing tour of the bath chamber. It was a decent sized room with a pretty tile pattern on the floor and going up the wall. In the far left corner were two spigots empting into what I first assumed was the world’s smallest built-in bathtub. Another spigot outside the tub was over a drain in the floor. Nestled next to the tub were two tiny plastic stools, and four plastic buckets – three small, one huge. The rest of the room was empty, save for a yoga-mat size strip of laminate wood-ish flooring sliding around the slick tile floor. Ibrahim explained that the water in the tub was hot, the water that came out of the taps over the tub was hot, and that the third spigot was cold. Then he beat tracks.

These days, it’s rare that I disrobe while feeling perplexed about what comes next. In this way, hammam day was a rarity. It coulda been a lot worse though. Sarah is an awesome friend — complete with swimmer background and kick-ass, “why the fuck not?” attitude. So, chuckling the whole time, we stripped down to undies – dirty from the trail because the bath is like laundry, right? — and hung out in the bathroom, perching on tiny stools while repeatedly soaping up and dumping tiny buckets of water over our heads. The yoga mat of laminate gave nice protection from the fire-hot tile floor, and the hot spigots definitely had hot water. Neither one of us got into the tub thing – it was obviously way too small, and the water was lukewarm.

Just when we’d stood and rinsed off one last time, Lahcen’s wife Zara poked her head in the door. We smiled. She said something in Arabic and pantomimed rubbing her forearm with her other hand. “Oui?” she asked. I waved my hand down, thinking I was dismissing her, “o, non, ca va, merci.” I mean, why trouble the woman to scrub us when we’d just decided we were done?

She nodded and retreated. And Sarah and I had just finished changing in the antechamber when she reappeared, carrying a caddy of bath tools. She looked startled, gestured to the bath, and basically said “what the fuck? Why don’t you want me to scrub you?” so we shrugged, changed back into our wet hammam undies and filed after her into the bathroom.

Which I’m really glad we did. We learned that what I thought was a tub was a holding tank, and she sloshed all the stale lukewarm stuff out and filled it with hot. Then she grabbed Sarah and gave her a grade A rubdown with a glove that looked like it was made of the male side of Velcro. I got the same treatment – double, actually, after she checked her work and saw the nastiness still hanging out around my shoulders. Then the Velcro glove came off and a car wash glove went on, and we got a gloriously soapy treatment. My favorite part was watching Zara puzzle through how she should rinse off Sarah’s butt. She finally shrugged, pulled out the waistband of her underwear, and dumped a bucket of hot water back there. What a world.

The second best part was dressing after the hammam. Zara was eyeing Sarah and I, and we were checking her out, too. I’m sure she learned a thing or two about Western underwear, and we learned that the headscarves have head underwear – we never saw her hair, but she took the pretty scarf off for the bath experience, revealing a less-nice, less-neatly-arranged scarf underneath. Cool.

The third best part was, sans common language, successfully negotiating payment with the lady of the house. Communication without words is magic. Hammam lady left with my bill and came back, holding it out to me, shaking her head. Ok, so she doesn’t have change, and my bill is more than double what it should cost. So, “Lahcen?” gesture to Lahcen’s place, and a little bit of pantomiming giving the bill to Lahcen, him giving me something back, and him passing something to the lady, and 30 seconds later we were on our way, each perfectly understanding that I’d tell Lahcen what’d happened, he’d break the bill and give me change and the hammam lady her payment. Sweet.

The hammam was pretty much everything I love about travelling — a new experience, shared with a friend, where fun is had and things are learned. Most important lesson of the day: next time, camel ride first, hammam second. Oh, well.

2 Responses to “You want hammam story? It’s possible.”

  1. Sarah June 28, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Lesson #2: Hammam first, henna second. Or, more importantly, Dinner first, henna second. ;)


  1. Drywall, Step 6: Wherein the novelty wears off. | Sarah's Big Idea - June 29, 2013

    […] actually, she wrote her own blog post about an experience we had in a Moroccan bath.  And she sent me all of the pictures she took during the trip (over 700!).  And her camera is […]

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