Hammam, Glorious Hammam!

Got to go to the hammam, the public bathhouse, yesterday. (Sorry, no pictures.) It occurred to me that I haven't described this on this blog yet. It's been two months since I've been- the one in Yemen didn't count. And I do dearly love them. I took my friend, Scot, who had never been, to our local hammam- very nice, because it's cultural and the kind the average Mohammed on the street goes to, and it's clean. And I have issues.

We go in, pay the money, 10 Dirhams (it went up recently from 7), and strip down to the underwear. Then you walk in, to where there is a hot, warm, and cold room. I like the warm room. I let the scraper know we are wanting him, and wait, soaping up in the meantime. When he is done with the previous guy, he comes over, and takes my personal hammam glove, black, with thick ridges, and starts to scrape off the dead skin from my body. It's really the only way to get clean in a land with hard water and no special soaps. I believe it is a badge of honor not to say shwia (a little) while he's doing this. At least for guys. So you endure the exquisite pain, for the hope set before you. He goes up and down each limb, over the stomach (the most sensitive area), and the back, ending on the face. Every time you switch over sides (humans have four sides), or at the end to sit up from the prone position, he slaps the floor with the glove. Afterwards, you are quite red. Some friends of mine, I must admit, are bleeders.

The hammam has the most tradition of anywhere in Morocco, they say, and everyone has their own traditions. Women tend to go in for 2 hours, talk, do beauty treatments, maybe even eat. We just go in for about 1/2-1 hour, and unfortunately, don't even talk that much. For many guys, it's the only place for running hot water. It's very hshuma, shameful, to splash your water on someone else or get into their lane- a lot like eating from a common dish here. (I have a theory that every culture has lanes they follow- either on the road, like in the U.S., or in the public bath house/common dish, like Morocco.) My personal tradition is to get a large bucket of scalding water at the end, and a large bucket of ice cold water. Probably comes from my Finnish roots, of 80-100 degrees Celcius saunas, and then jumping into ice-cold lakes. Moroccans think you'll get sick if you change temperature too much, so they think I'm out of my Vulcan mind, probably. That's why you can't have a fan on in the summer, or have the door open for a draft, or leave the hammam without a towel wrapped abut your head. I think it's great for building up fellowship, just to be around a lot of guys, and share something with them. I try to go once a month, and afterwards, you feel so clean!


Anonymous said…
Hey there!

So, is there concern in these, um, spas about spread of blood borne disease given the fact that many are bleeders?

I was lecturing today and our Bio2 prof who I've tried so hard all these years to forget was back in my head, a still beating frog heart in his hand, outstreached, and him saying:
"Happy Valentine's Day!" Luckily all I had around was cupcakes turned into mitosis, and lots of red frosting, so all was well... I totally spaced on Darwin's birthday :(

I really should email you.. soon.
@bdul muHib said…
I've never noticed a concern...:-)

Seriously, I don't think it would be a great concern. Some are bleeders, but not alot, and you wash down the area with hard water, and most of those blood pathogens don't last that long outside a human body.

At the lunch table today, people didn't seem to be that enthralled with your frog heart story...
Yasmeen said…
I don't think hammam can be dangerous. It's very good for your health. You’ll get access to unlimited buckets of steaming water, a scrubdown that will leave your skin as soft as a newborn’s and a cultural experience you won’t soon forget. The only thing where you should be careful is that the hammam floors are slightly sloped for drainage, so spend a few seconds when you first arrive watching the water flow to make sure you don’t seat yourself downstream in a current of dead skin offal. I think you should visit a real hammam in the medina as opposed to a fancy hotel’s and modern Morocco property upscale version, you don’t need to expect anything luxurious – rose petals on the floor and silk-swathed lounges are not part of the real deal.
Anonymous said…
just to check if, is it safe when someone is pregnant to do a hammam...
'abdul muHib said…
Yes. Pregnant women do it all the time.

But of course, I'm no doctor, and so you shouldn't take that as a medical opinion.
I have, however, found that the hammams in the medina are very old, around 400 years, and haven't been cleaned for some 400 years. And you're right, the hammams that are actually spas are just tourist traps and wicked expensive and not only don't represent hammam culture but are destroying hammam culture. I prefer the shabi traditional hammams, but in the new city. Clean, but traditional.

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