Rabat - I walk through the Rabat Medina, bucket in one hand, my newly bought savon noir in the other, anxious about my approaching Moroccan hammam experience. I arrive at Hammam Laalou, one of the many bathhouses modeled after ancient Roman baths in Rabat.
Rabat – I walk through the Rabat Medina, bucket in one hand, my newly bought savon noir in the other, anxious about my approaching Moroccan hammam experience. I arrive at Hammam Laalou, one of the many bathhouses modeled after ancient Roman baths in Rabat.
A cultural staple for centuries, hammams come in all shapes and sizes. Some will be made up of small tiled rooms, announced by a faded “Sunsilk” sign, whereas others, more ostentatious, consist of hot marble steam rooms where clients lounge on raised circular platforms.
I have been told that the hammam is deeply rooted in everyday communal life. A trip to the hammam is customarily completed on a weekly basis by many Moroccans. On a balmy Tuesday evening, I decide to pay Hammam Laalou a visit for MAD 10, handing over an additional handful of change in exchange for ash brown henna powder.
In the small, vaguely defined changing area, I hesitantly strip down to my undies, clutch my petite towel and carefully leave my belongings behind the counter. Convincing myself that I have mastered the art of integration and don’t look like a tourist is useless – this experience is foreign to me and everyone here knows it.
It’s only April, and bikini season hasn’t officially started, I reassure myself as I enter the hammam, slightly intimidated by the comfortably seated women and what they might be thinking of me. Rather than the judgment I feared, the hammam appears to encourage self love. I tip toe my way around buckets, seated women and drifting icebergs of foam to place my mat in the room next to my bucket filled with warm water.
Not quite knowing how to position myself, I look around. I see friends crouching together, scrubbing each other wearing nothing but a coat of henna powder mixed with their savon noir. They speak, giggle and laugh as they share their weeks’ worth of gossip. It’s a striking sight.
A woman then approaches my mat. Without saying much, she takes me and my bucket to another room, where I am told to lie on my stomach. I find comfort in the warmth the room provides but my body language still reveals distress. The scrubbing begins. My body is arranged in positions that rival those of an intense game of Twister. The feeling is foreign but friendly, treading the fine line between pain and pleasure. It takes about 20 minutes until my body is red and numb, authentic black soap soaking into the newly opened pores.
I spend another 20 minutes enjoying the warm water that is poured over me. The atmosphere is calm and comforting. I feel so exfoliated I begin to doubt whether I have ever really properly washed myself before coming to this hammam. As I re-enter the changing rooms and slip back into my dress, I realize how comfortable and relaxed I feel. Surrounding me, women put on vividly colored onesies and pajamas and place their wet belongings in their buckets. I can’t help but smile. “Nchofk 9rib,” or “see you soon,” I say to the lady at the counter as I depart the hammam already excited about my next visit.
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