Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hammam, Part Two


Yesterday when I left you, we were on our way to the neighborhood hammam. I should back up, though, and talk about this container full of goop. Whether or not I made it to a hammam, I wanted to try this olive oil soap called sabon beldi and the magical scrubbing mitt or kiis.

It's very gooey.

Very, very gooey.

I bought my tub of soap earlier that day in the Souk el Attarine, which is where most of the perfume-type vendors are located. Each little shop had a little pile of this stuff out front from which they'd fill the jars. We also bought a chunk of frankincense, some kind of sandalwood perfume, and a little myrrh for about $15. Good deal? I have no idea!
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The mitts I saw in the neighborhood shops and the souks were all similar to the one in the picture--bright colors and not very attractive. I kept looking for one that wasn't so gaudy, to no avail. I finally bought a plain white one at the Marjane hypermart on the outskirts of the city. You'll see how well that went in just a minute.
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SO...we all walked to the hammam: me, Gerry, and Adam from the riad. Once we got there, Adam shouted down the hallway of the ladies' side and a woman came out to see what he wanted. After a bit of discussion, he told me I was all set and to go along with her. I knew from my reading that she was a tayeba, the attendant who would be scrubbing me. (!!) I told Gerry "good luck" and went in.
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First thing I did was pay my 10 dh entry fee, which is about a dollar, at a little window set into the wall of the entryway. I don't know this for sure, but I suspect the same person has a little window on the other side where the men pay their entry fee.
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Down the hall and around the corner, I could feel it getting warmer. We came to a spot with a dressing area to one side, with shelves and hooks straight ahead. The attendant motioned for me to get undressed, so I took a deep breath and disrobed down to my underpants. Meanwhile, she was doing the same, hanging her clothes on the hooks and changing into what I guess were her "working" underpants. At this point, I admit, I was thinking, "What the HECK am I doing standing here in my underwear in Marrakech?" so I busied myself with folding my clothes, trying to seem like this was something I did all the time. Finally, she came over and started looking through my bag to see what I'd brought with me. I had the soap, little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, my towel, the wash mitt I'd purchased earlier, a comb, my wallet, and a spare pair of underwear. She put the towel and underwear on the shelf with my clothes, gave the wallet to the woman guarding the shelves, and then she pulled out the wash mitt. Well. Apparently I had purchased an inferior wash mitt, because she made a face, said something that sounded like "Bah!" and tossed that on the pile with my clothes. She went and got her own, superior wash mitt and motioned for me to follow her.
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I should probably pause here to say a few words about my tayeba. She was on the short side, kind of squat, very smiley, and I can only describe her as motherly. Once we got into the bathing rooms and I gave myself over to her, I felt very comfortable.
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The atmosphere in the hammam was very relaxing. The rooms were by no means fancy--just tiled walls, with small windows set high in the walls. It was very hot and steamy, and the light was dim. The smell of olive oil soap was strong. Although it was an older hammam, everything seemed very clean.
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My hammam-mother (that's how I've been thinking of her) led me to a spot in a room with one other woman. She sat me down and went off to fill buckets with water which she then pushed across the floor to me. I sat sneaking peeks at the other bather, who, I have to say, was a gorgeous young girl. After mixing hot and cold water to a good temperature, she wet me down by scooping water from the buckets, then she dipped out a handful of black soap and showed me how to scrub down with it. Happy to have something to do, I threw myself into smearing myself with goop while she went to refill the buckets with more hot water.
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The next twenty minutes or so was spent on scrubbing. First she had me lay down with my head resting on her thigh and scrubbed my upper half with the kiis. At one point, she took my hand and had me feel the skin that was coming off on my stomach. Let me assure you, never before have I been exfoliated like this! I looked up at her with a surprised look and probably said something like "Wow!" She smiled and nodded and went back at it.
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Next, she sat me up and scrubbed my back (heavenly) and face, then she manuevered me into position to do my legs and feet. This had the potential to be the most uncomfortable part of the experience, as I was basically straddling her, but she was my buddy by then.
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After a good rinse from the buckets, she started rummaging in my bag, looking for something. I guessed she was looking for shampoo, so I pulled out the bottle and pointed at my head. Yep, that's what she wanted! Getting my hair washed is always a treat, but this woman really knew what she was doing. All that scrubbing must result in strong fingers, because my scalp was a-tingle. Then she combed my hair out, dumped a whole bucket of water over my head (which made us both laugh), and washed it again.
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After a final bucket of water over my head, she stood up and handed me my towels, so I knew I was done. The other attendant handed me my things, and I headed for the benches in the changing area. Another thing I'd learned from my reading was that you should not go outside with a wet head in Morocco, so I made sure I wrapped my hair up in a towel before I left. All that was left was to tip the attendants (about $4 for the tayeba and 50 cents for the one who watched my things), offer my thanks, and say my goodbyes.
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As I emerged from the hammam, Gerry was waiting for me outside the door. We were oddly quiet on the way back to the riad, I think because we were both so relaxed and a little awed by the experience. We are both SO glad we swallowed all our misgivings and went ahead and did it. In fact, I've been dragging my feet on writing about the experience, because I wasn't sure I could do it justice. There was something...spiritual...about it. I'll leave it at that. :)

3 comments:

Christy said...

wow, it sounds amazing, and definitely like one of those things that you will remember for the rest of your life not only for the feeling you had when you left but for the feeling of bravery it took to do it. Way to go.

Llang43 said...

Holy Moly! You were just in your scivies and that's it for this exfoliating process? I admit this sounded wonderful and I've had massages that were great, but you are braver than I, because I couldn't have done it. Now you can cross this one off the 'bucket list.'

Julie ZS said...

It sounds heavenly, I'm so glad that you went and did it, so you could tell the tale.