One of my reasons for travelling is to expose myself to new ideas and challenge my perception of how one ‘should’ live.
And so it was that I found myself in Morocco riding a Barb/Arab horse in the Sahara Desert, camping and ‘making like the locals’ for 6 nights and 7 days. No, let me rephrase that – the locals do not by choice do what we did; only mad dogs and Englishmen (or similar) go out in the midday sun, let alone in the desert, on the back of a horse 🙃. Our mob definitely fitted the mould of (or similar) 🐎🙄
And that ride was in itself a remarkable experience
but not the topic for today 🙂
Rather, I want to share a different experience.
And I use the word ‘different’ fully aware of the many meanings it can convey.
Throughout our time in Morocco we heard tales of how wonderful a Hammam was.
So what was this?
The word is derived from the Arabic meaning ‘bath’ – delve further into the history and ‘communal’ appears 😉.
Moroccans along the way gave us varied descriptions but essentially
“You will LOVE it. You lie on hot stones, you get wrapped in a clay/mud mask and rest and then you are massaged with oils and your hair is washed and you feel SOOO good and rested. It is amazing.”
Or words to that effect.
While ‘Google’, describes it as follows.
“A hammam is a traditional cleansing and beauty ritual.
At the heart of the Spa, an authentic hammam provides guests with a signature bathing ritual that combines heat, fragranced steam, warm water, ‘marocMaroc’ hammam products and a cold plunge pool to revitalise the body and soul.”
It is important to understand that we had been in the saddle,
in the desert for 7 days
with only one brief shower during that entire time.
And while we were exhilarated by That adventure,
we were also dusty and saddle weary by the time we found ourselves back in Zagora.
So when our inimitable guide,
whose name I have forgotten, but whose smile I will not,
(it was a little too welcoming, a little too joyous, a little too jolly
and clearly as we were about to learn he was a lot smarter than we were)
suggested a Hammam, well we positively leapt at the opportunity.
And so it was that with the anticipation of an hour or two
of quiet, tranquil, relaxing, muscle soothing pampering,
the six of us women
(who were still to tackle the 8 hour road trip home over
on the the 10 most dangerous passes in the world the following day,)
jumped at the opportunity.
No warning bells sounded at the speed with which this was organised for so many of us all at the same time.
No unease appeared when we were quoted only MAD 100 each (less than A$20).
And still we were enthusiastic when we were told to hurry and come just as we were.
Because we knew all about the Hammams – Didn’t we?
We had heard about them for weeks.
And so we paid our smiling guide MAD 100 each
and squeezed into a tiny vehicle to go to our Hammam.
Not directly though, as our driver managed to get lost;
but eventually, after several u-turns, mobile phone calls and general chaos we did arrive.
At a most unprepossessing building with no signage to indicate this was anything at all – it may have been a factory, a closed shop except for the no windows. It could have been a disused warehouse, or in fact a deserted prison. It was not.
It was in fact, our Hammam.
Well therein lies the rub.
This Was Our Hammam.
It was also the Hammam used by Every woman
(and None of the tourists) in Zagora!!!!
Our smiling guide shoved us through the door before we had a chance to say anything. It closed behind us and …….
He was gone. We weren’t.
And then again we were.
Or at least for an instant it felt like we had gone,
we were not sure where,
but certainly we must have left our planet and …..
…….well each of us had our own picture of where we were now….
and it was nowhere any of us had ever even considered a reality.
However, this was VERY REAL.
We were in a small room with a line of low wooden benches along 3 walls. The 4th wall had a high counter in front of it on which two women leaned; watching us. They were clothed from head to, I presume toe (I couldn’t see behind the counter) while the women, old and young seated on the benches were either naked, or in the process of becoming so. Quite happily it would appear.
And it was SO noisy.
That I think was the first thing to register in my mind after the first 3 or 4 seconds of blind shock!!! There were the voices, all raised, laughing, talking, shouting across at one another. There was a sound of water and steam and it all bounced off the tiled walls and floor so that one decibel instantly became five
And 6 Anglo tourists ranging in age from 65+ to 26+ stood amongst the Arab women, like rabbits caught in a hunter’s headlight.
Although, of course, no one was ‘hunting us’ (or perhaps our guide already had as turned out the locals paid less than MAD10 each for this adventure, we had paid 10 times that 😂
There was not much to be done now except ‘go forward bravely’ because, to quote Macbeth, to go back were as difficult as to go ….etc.
Breathing deeply, I decided to ‘go forth’ and slowly took my sweaty, (very sweaty, 7 day old riding shirt) off my equally sweaty body and stood there.
I am not sure what for but after a few seconds of standing there feeling very foolish, I removed my bra.
And rather like a reluctant strip tease dancer I slowly and very carefully took off my boots and socks (the tiles were damp and slippery), and then hesitantly my riding pants.
I was now as good as naked, my arms piled high with dirty clothes and heavy riding boots which I handed to one of the ladies behind the counter, along with my handbag.
In ‘our’ world, you would have received a receipt for these goods – not here. They just disappeared behind the counter somewhere and I wondered if they would ever reappear.
So I stood, on a wet, clammy tiled floor, stark naked apart from a tiny pair of lacy knickers which did nothing to ease my sense of exposure and vulnerability when the lady behind the counter indicated I should hand over my glasses. I refused as politely as I could under the circumstances. I felt vulnerable enough without losing my sight as well 😐
For a brief second in the chaos of emotions I was experiencing I was reminded of another time and different showers and the loss of identity. It took a strong ‘self talk second’ to get things into perspective.
My friends were on their own journey of ‘exposure’ so to speak until finally there were 6 very white bodies clad only in knickers (and my pair of glasses) standing sheepishly in what I shall call the ‘reception’ room.
The craziness of the whole thing struck some of us then and we could laugh at ourselves. Nervous laughter, perhaps, but still a laugh as we looked around at the equally naked women watching us and going about their business with No sense of unease, despite their nudity.
And their business was?
Well having their weekly Hammam of course.
Dressing, or undressing in this room
and then walking naked into the next room while carrying their basket of “cleaning materials”.
All the while talking loudly and laughing and thoroughly enjoying their time here. This is their weekly gathering place, a chance to say hi, to catch up on gossip, share recipes, joys, sorrows, to look for prospective daughter in laws (all 10 fingers, child bearing hips.. you get the picture),
and savour the most precious commodity in that part of the world – water.
There were elderly weathered bodies, young lithe ones, children, babies in mother’s arms, teenage friends.
All naked, all comfortable and sitting around either on low wooden benches or on the tiled floor. Watching us as two very large, very black women, wearing ‘almost’ knickers, silver necklaces and nothing else appeared and ‘herded’ us from the reception room through a middle room into the last room and pointed to the floor against the wall.
(By this time my glasses had completely steamed up and I had no choice but to walk back to the ‘reception’ and hand them over – not knowing if I would ever see them again, or I guess, whether I would ever see again full stop. (My spare pair was far away in a bag in what seemed like another planet at that moment in time.)
Back though, to the floor against the back wall where we now all sat, facing into that room and beyond that into the middle room.
Ah, if that was all we were doing – facing.
But not so.
We were facing and looking directly at pendulous breasts and huge thighs occupying low benches along the walls, all at eye level. And it didn’t matter which way your eye went, there was another body or part of a body. 😂 The rooms were filled with bodies.
We watched arms, legs, thighs, all being massaged by either the owner of said limbs or in some instances by someone else.
And everywhere NOISE and heat and buckets of water into which ladles were dipped and water poured over bodies.
It is difficult to describe this place and how like ducks out of water we felt, even though we were actually in water.
Slippery water all over the floor which was diligently swept away by a naked lady with a large broom. She moved the water around and with it, mandarin peels, banana skins and you don’t really want to know what else.
The experience continued with our ‘black herders’ (for that is what they felt like to me, the lamb being herded) ladeling water over us, giving us slippery black soap to massage into our bodies (which we duly did). Surprising how submissive one becomes when out of one’s comfort zone, just following orders whether verbal or otherwise.
So there we were on the hard wet tiled floor (for some reason I was given a tatty piece of linoleum to sit on – go figure). Our two ‘ladies’ then came back and poured more water over us to rinse the soap off. With sign language we realised we were to lie down on our stomachs (on the hard wet tiled floor) while our bodies were subjected to a brief but very severe ‘massage’ with a loofah glove that had been who knows where 😫😅.
And Yup, you got it, we were turned over and the process was repeated on our other side, with equal vigour only now I was facing my ‘masseur’ and her very large free swinging bosoms which hovered before me so I dare not move for fear of making contact with one or both!!! 😳 That completed I saw Jo alongside me, with complicated sign language say, ‘yes please she would like her hair washed’ and ‘no she had no shampoo’.
No problem apparently, as our large lady simply poured water over her head from a bucket. I watched Jo splutter and spit like a child caught unawares under a shower, have her hair ruffled by said lady who poured more water over Jo’s head and hey presto –
One more bucket of water over me, (and the others) cooler this time, and we were ‘free to go’.
Back the way we came –
through the middle room,
into the reception room –
not only naked (bar the skimpy knickers) but sopping wet too.
At this point we realised what the ladies had in their baskets apart from shampoo –
towels and dry clothes.
We had none of those and while our ‘used clothes’ along with handbags, boots and glasses were returned we struggled to get dressed on a sopping wet floor with now damp as well as dirty clothes, and of course in full view of our gallery of voyeurs.
But dress we did and with a HUGE sigh of relief
walked out of the front door.
Away from the heat, away from the noise, away from the complete strangeness of the local Hammam.
Some of us were still laughing at the craziness of this adventure, some were close to tears.
All of us needed a drink (or two or three) and so we crossed the road to a tea house and sat down with a deep inhalation of clean air.
While we may have wanted something stronger, no alcohol is served in Morocco (or at least that is the official position) and we settled for several cups of coffee while we discussed and digested our experience and waited for our guide to meet us again.
I go back to where this all started:
“One of my reasons for travelling is to expose myself to new ideas and challenge my perception of how one ‘should’ live.”
I was most certainly exposed 😜today – in more ways than one!
And yet, we all lived to tell the tale – and quite a tale it was.