When hearing the word hammam, one usually envisions a relaxing experience with a great massage and nice warm waters. Let’s just say my first hammam experience couldn’t have been further from that.
My 2 (guy) friends and I had just survived a grueling 5 days journey hitch hiking from England all the way down to southern Spain for charity before we took the ferry crossing from Algeciras to Tangier.
After paying a visit to the Hassan II mosque which is the second largest religious monument in the world upon our arrival in Casablanca, we decided to treat ourselves to an authentic Moroccan hammam experience and asked for directions to the local bath house. I said goodbye to the guys and entered the women’s section.
From memory, the place seemed like it was made of clay or mud. Of course no one spoke English and as I spoke neither French nor Arabic, the ensuing conversations involved a lot of gestures.
Growing up as a Malay Muslim girl in Malaysia where nudity is a NO-NO, I was taken aback when the lady at the cashier gestured to me that I had to strip my clothes off down to almost nudity. Yes she nodded when I asked for confirmation and signaled showing that I had to take my bra off.
Awkwardly I undressed alongside the other local women and trying my best to protect my modesty with my hands, I made my way into the dark and dingy bath house wondering why it looked nothing glamorous as I imagined it would.
My eyes took a while to adjust to the darkness. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Luckily some women called out to me pointing at the many little stools which had small baskets with scrubs next to them.
Following what they were doing, I sat down, took a scrub, turned on the tap and started washing and scrubbing myself. I did wonder how many women had used the scrub I was using and was this all there was to my hammam experience. Surely there is no difference with me having a shower in my own home. Is there no free massage involved?
Suddenly out of nowhere, I had a voice boom. I looked up and almost fainted. A giant somewhat obese local woman with the biggest boobs I had ever seen was towering over me. She was angry. I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I was terrified. I was confused.
I looked around pleading for help and soon realised that she was mad that I had taken her spot and was using her scrub. Surely the biggest taboo one could do in a bath house.
I got up wanting to run out of that place as fast as I could but I had hardly spent any time there. I decided to give it another try despite the burning image of this large woman’s naked body so close to mine.
Let’s just say I didn’t last much longer. I left soon enough. Thoroughly traumatised by what just happened, I crossed the street and treated myself to some Moroccan mint tea while waiting for the longest time for my friends – all the while wondering how their experience was in comparison to mine.
They finally appeared about an hour later with huge smiles on their faces. They described what seemed like what I expected from a hammam experience including a free massage. I was in disbelief.
I vowed never to enter a dark and dingy local Moroccan hammam alone ever again.