While I was studying in Morocco this summer, I was privileged to live with a wonderfully generous and kind host family. They welcomed me like one of their own. They introduced me to amazing food, music that still gets stuck in my head sometimes, and extraordinarily dramatic Arab soap operas.
Most noteworthy of all these new experiences, however, was my first time in a hammam, which is the Arabic word for bath house.
My host family told me that Moroccans will go to bath houses at least once a week, which goes to show what a big part of the culture they are. The hammams in Morocco are usually gender segregated, with young sons and brothers going with the women to the female-only hammams. The whole routine of public bathing is cleansing, but it’s also a social scene.
At first, the thought of a bath house is uncomfortable. It takes a minute to be okay with the nudity of it all. I didn’t go to a fancy, expensive hammam. My host family took me to the local neighborhood hammam.
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the moment I walked into that hammam.
There’s a lot of naked. Like, so much naked. And not just a little naked, but like full-on, totally and completely naked. Only some women, like myself, remained in their underwear. But it’s still so startling to be confronted with such a large concentration of unclothed bodies.
I mean, so many shapes and sizes and forces of gravitational pull. Gravity, by the way, is a merciless and cruel pressure on the female body. Many women washed their young children and elderly mothers before tending to themselves. And they are thorough. I could not imagine myself so meticulously bathing every crevice of any body which I think just speaks to the value of community in Morocco. It just goes to show how deeply people care about and for one another.
While the exposure to all the nudity is certainly an important feature of this story, it’s not the main point.
The main message of this story is that I’ve never felt cleaner than after I had just been in the public bathhouse.
My time in the hammam started with a sauna-like room. We sweat out all toxins in our bodies and lathered some sort of mud substance all over our skin. After a while, we washed away the mud scrub with warm water and I swear it’s like my skin could breathe again.
The next best part was the room temperature room. After soaping up and washing off with warm water, we used these exfoliating mitts to scrub our bodies thoroughly. And wow a whole layer of skin basically rubbed right off. I cannot express how absolutely clean and refreshed I felt.
We conditioned our hair and combed through it. We chatted with each other and stretched sore muscles. We repeated any steps that felt necessary and ended the whole thing with a cold water rinse that was rejuvenating.
It was difficult to go back to normal showers after the hammam. Because again, nothing had ever been that cleansing. My skin was far smoother and I might even dare to say it was glowing.
I’m told there are public bath houses in the United States, too. Some may be traditionally Arab and some may be traditionally Japanese. I’m guessing they are a little more expensive and luxurious, but I still recommend. If you can replicate the hammam experience in your own home, that’s even better.
10/10 would recommend the whole experience. Even the naked parts.