Hammans, are magic - distilled and placed in set form a gift from on high. But such sentiment is not shared by all, far too often Hammans and the public bathing house as a form disparaged as little more then breeding grounds for disease. But they are far more then that. They are both a haven for health and hygiene and a hallowed home for women and men, a place where Hsuhma takes a back seat to the vital social functions of society.
But first a geography lesson on the lay of the land found within each and every Hamman: basics being that their are three rooms. One hotter than hell, another the Mohave in summer and the final a reasonable San Diego spring day. Running through each of these rooms is a constant stream of men, babies and boys - i'd comment on how the other half lives but aside from its social function their isn't much that I can say about it as Hammans are sexually segregated affairs. Meaning I have little first hand experience with the female half of the Hamman. How Hammans are divided differs from region to region and village to village, with a sharing of space more common the more rural you get. If a single Hamman space is physically shared then it is temporally separated - with men in the early mornings and evenings and women the remainder of the day.
As for the process of visiting a Hamman, it is a virtual minefield. Or at least it would be virtual if it wasn't a real place with real concerns and dangers. Or at least that is the way it is presented to the unwary foreigner - and possibly that is the way it would be if it wasn't for the infinite patience and generosity of the moroccan people. But that said their is a right and wrong way to go about acting in the Hamman. For one, even though it is a public bath, men are never fully unclothed as it is both shameful to be seen naked and shamming to those that see you naked. But women, women are a different story - they are allowed to be most free when in the Hamman. When they are hidden from the judgmental eyes of society, where men and women's interactions are circumscribed, as women are allowed to be most free only around other women.
As for what goes into visiting a hamman, to be prepared for the experience you must be well hydrated and carry with you a change of underwear, a towel, a pair of sandals and a glove whose texture most closely resembles that of sand paper. Once you arrive at the Hamam you purchase for half a dirham a black tarry soap substance called Sabon Beldi, or "soap of the country" which you rub over your body after sitting in the Hamman - the hot room - until your blood feels as though it's boiling. At this point the cleaning begins - the rhythmic rubbing of the sandpaper glove all over your body. A process both disgusting and refreshing, but which eventually came to be for me the most relaxing part of the week. Along with the deadened grey skin my worries and concerns from the previous week all float down the drain towards the non-existent sewer system I prefer not to think about.
If you prefer not to scrub yourself the Hamman often employs a man whose job it is, for a donation of around 20 dhs, to scrub you clean. But be warned if you make use of this service you will be rubbed red and raw and resemble more a lobster then you had ever previously resembled a lobster, which for me at least is one creature i've never felt the slightest desire to resemble. Most often Hammans are a group affair - where two or more friends go together and rub each others backs, so that when one goes on their own one often ends up with one or two new friends.
The concept of the public bath, is one that is often equated with homosexuality in the United States but in Morocco such concerns are considered irrelevant and in fact if one was to mention them would result in deep embarrassment on the part of the person being asked, that you would feel a need to bring up such a subject. This embarrassment does not mean that homosexuality is common in Morocco - but rather means that the concept is so far from the realm of the possible that the mention of it is more likely to elicit laughter then serious concern. Homosexuality is viewed as a condition of the developed world - something to be found in France or Italy, Spain or even the United States but never to be found in Morocco. Why? Because Morocco has religion. End of topic, end of discussion, end of subject.
But not the end of our visit to the Hamman, because we have yet to cover possibly my favorite aspect of the Hamman - the final chapter - the act of shaving a weeks worth of beard growth from my sun kissed visage. And so we exit the Hamman - walking into the sunset - anticipating the next weeks visit to the Hamman.
5 years ago