|Naked in Marrakech
|In preparation for our time in Morocco I spent lots of time with our Lonely Planet guidebook. Everytime I flipped
through the pages, my eyes lingered on the section regarding hammams. Historically, these public bath houses
were used by the town since each home did not have plumbing. Now, they are more a means of socialization and
relaxation. Armed with only the brief description from my guidebook, I ventured into one of Marrakech's most
authentic bath houses, Hammam el-Bacha.
Two elderly Arabic women sat on a blanket on the floor, surrounded by piles of clothing. I informed them that I was
there for bathing and a massage (exactly what my guidebook said to ask for!). I was met with two blank stares
and then a flood of information in Arabic. After a brief attempt to communicate in French, which neither I nor they
spoke, one of the ladies and I engaged in an advanced game of charades. At the conclusion of this, I understood
that I was to take off all of my clothes (minus my panties) and add them to the pile surrounding the ladies. I was
then given a small towel and a pair of flip flops, and led to a large room with white marble floors, walls, and ceiling.
There was a drain in the middle of the room, and spread throughout the entire room were naked ladies,
surrounded by buckets of water, sponges, bars of soap and loofahs. My attendant then pantomimed that I should
take off my panties--my remaining shred of dignity. She took these, along with my towel and flip flops, and hung
them on a hook along the wall. So, here I am, naked as the day I was born, standing in the middle of thirty other
naked women, trying not to stare, but also trying deperately to figure out where I am supposed to go and what I
am supposed to do, since the lady who led me in here has now disappeared.
I try to strike a nonchalant pose and position myself off to the side to assess the situation. It seems there are two
groups of people. Those that are self-bathing, and those that have paid to be bathed and massaged. Since I
signed up for the latter, I slyly scooted in the direction of this group. From what I could discern out of the corner of
my eye, there are three women administering the baths and massages, and each of these ladies has about three
"customers" in her circle. I receive a nod and a grunt from one of the workers, indicating I would be next. I didn't
know if I was relieved that I was "in" and now knew where to go, or terrified that I was about to embark on this
completely foreign process. Before I had time to get cold feet (actually, by this time, more than my feet were cold.
After all, I was naked, standing in a wet room made of marble. Not exactly a cozy environment), the worker doused
me with a bucket of warm water from a distance of about 6 feet, slid a small bar of soap in my direction, and
motioned for me to wash myself. When I finished, I was given a pumice stone to work on my feet. This activity gave
me plenty of time to look busy while actually checking out the flow of events going on all around me. From what I
could tell, I would first receive an exfoliation, then a bath, then a massage, and last, a final rinse. I just had time to
process this when the worker in charge of me began pounding on the floor...my cue to scoot on over in front of her.
She sat me on the floor and spun me around (not hard to do with all the water and suds flowing over the floor) so
that my back was facing her. She then donned a black exfoliating mit and began scrubbing me within an inch of my
life. After covering my back, she sat on the floor with her legs spread in a V, and cradled (yes, cradled) me in her
arms like a child so that she could scrub my stomach and arms. When she laid my head on her thigh so that she
could scrub my neck and face, I began to wonder why I thought this sounded like fun. The most amusing part of
the whole thing (outside of the fact of the nudity, and that my head was on her thigh) was our means of
communication. When she needed me to turn to the right or left, or to turn all the way around, she would grunt,
wave her hand, and then pull on my arm or leg and spin me in the direction of her choice. I felt like a car going
through the automatic carwash at a gas station. After being doused with a few buckets of warm water (the bath
portion), I was instructed (read: pushed and pulled) into laying face down, spread-eagle on the floor. Never have I
felt more vulnerable and exposed. However, I thought this was the massage part, and after all the tension
surrounding the preceeding events, I was more than ready for a relaxing massage, naked or not. What transpired
could not have been further from relaxing. The lady stepped over me and drizzled some sort of oil down my back
and legs, which she proceeded to rub into my skin with the determination and delicacy of a bulldog. Every part of
my backside was covered, including all of the creases! I was then flipped over, and had the same process repeated
on my frontside. As a finale, I was sat up and had my hair washed, complete with a bucket of water being dumped
over my head just like mom used to do when I was a little girl in the bathtub.
Now that I was smooth, shiny, and spotless, I was led into a steam room which is apparently used for socializing.
Besides the fact that I barely know how to say "please" and "thank you" in Arabic, I was not feeling all that
socialable standing there in my birthday suit. However, I had no idea where my clothes were, so I made my way to
a bench on the side of the room. As I collected my thoughts (if not my clothing) I realized that of while it might not
be so relaxing for a first-timer like me, I can see that with a little insider's knowledge and practice, the experience
could be quite refreshing and invigorating. I have to admit, my skin has not felt this smooth in ages! There is not a
patch of dry skin to be found! In conclusion, I would highly recommend going to a hammam. Just take a cue from
the millions of women who have been taking part in this ancient ritual for centuries, and leave your inhibitions at
the door, along with your clothes.