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Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Moroccan Hammam

Almost every city in the Arabic world has a hamman, or a public bathhouse, where the locals come for their scrubdown. In Chefchaoun, the men have the run of the bathhouse in the morning, and women come in the afternoon and evening.

It was around 6 p.m. when I decided to try out the hammam for myself. After paying 40dirham ($4) for the shower and massage option, I entered into a world unfamiliar to me. After all, I've never had someone wash me from head to foot before--except for when I was a baby. I was told to buy a washing mit

Most of the local women were in the dressing area, having just finished with their baths, so I had no one to observe what to do and how to do it. I hung my clothes and my modesty on the hook in the room; then I was ushered into a steamy tiled room, with hot water spilling from a spigot in the corner.

The only clothed woman in the room was sweeping up trash and hair into a pile in the corner. When she was done, she turned her attention to me. She motioned for me to lie down face up on the tiled bench. She began to massage me with the soap I bought in the lobby--a goopy honey-colored glob. She quickly turned me over to the backside and when she was finished she slapped my thigh. When I sat up, she poured a bucket of water over my head.

I had been warned about what came next. She slipped an exfoliating glove over her hand, and began sloughing off the dead skin from my back. My skin turned instantly a tomato red, as she gave it her all. She continued to my arms, stomach and legs. By the time she was done, I had completely molted.

I emerged from the hamman, fresh, clean and soft, like the butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

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