Wednesday, January 6, 2010


On Monday I wanted to go to a Hammam. It's a public bath house with a specific ritual. I'd read up on it & got the name of one from one of the staff members at CCS. I was a little nervous, as this isn't really my thing, but I would have regretted not trying it.

From what I'd read, you take your standard toiletries, a towel, and if you so choose you can hire a tayeba who is a woman who will basically show you what to do & help you through the process. You can also buy the necessary products there - the kees (a black glove that is rough), saboon bildi (olive oil soap that is usually in packets that resemble soy sauce) and rhasoul (a lava paste to condition your hair).

Hammams typically have 3 rooms, each hotter and steamier than the next. There are faucets all along the walls and buckets to use for filling & rinsing. You strip down to only your undies (no bra) and allow your pores to open in the steam. Then you lather yourself in the olive oil soap and have the tayeba or another woman scrub you almost raw with the kees mitt. Then you rinse, put the rhasoul in your hair, rinse, then shampoo etc before you dry off & leave.

As I arrived at the hammam, I almost entered the men's side. Whoops! When I first entered the hammam, I really needed to use the restroom and wasn't quite prepared for the immediacy of seeing a bunch of naked women as soon as I stepped inside. Fully clothed, I walked to the bathrooms, but quickly realized it would not work as it's adjacent to the first steam room and everything is soaking wet, water on the floor, etc. But what I noticed is that these women were scrubbing each other and they weren't exactly being gentle. It was vigorous and rough and while certainly removing dead skin, I worried if I'd even have any left afterward. It's also strange to see a bunch of near-naked women squatting in their underwear.

I walked back to the front room to purchase my supplies but had great difficulty communicating. They didn't speak a lick of English, barely any French and I wasn't getting anywhere. I started charades, motioning to my hair for the conditioner, pointing to the women for assistance, brushing my hands on my arms for the soap, etc. No go. I was not getting anywhere. Finally, one woman pointed to a shelf at what appeared to be previously used supplies, such as a kees and a comb. No thanks. Not going to reuse something with someone else's skin on it. After about 10 minutes of standing fully clothed in a steam room, I was near-drenched & getting nowhere. So, I called an end to my hammam experience.

But all was not lost!

Back at the hotel, I asked at the front desk where I could purchase these supplies. After purchasing the necessary products at a candy store (!) around the corner, I indulged in a private hammam in my hotel shower. The soap was amazing, the conditioner a bit odd in texture, and I still had skin left when all was said & done. My skin was soft, my hair conditioned, and I felt renewed. Not the public hammam experience, but after all was said & done, I'm kinda glad. It would have been so awkward for me that I don't think I would have gotten out of it what I'd hoped I would.

Then I napped heavily for a few hours preparing for my 27 hour journey home the next morning.

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