ISA Experience

Hammam: A Moroccan Cultural Experience

Sara Toombs is a student at Thiel College and an ISA Featured Blogger. Sara just returned home from studying and participating in service-learning abroad with ISA in Meknes, Morocco.

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Everyone you talk to before a trip to Morocco will probably say, “Go to a hammam! You have to try it.” I heard the same thing, but when I found out what it was they were telling me to try, I decided right away there was no way I was going. Studying abroad was supposed to stretch my comfort zone, but not that much. Yet, somehow, with much coercion from my roommates, I still ended up in the hammam.

What do I say about the hammam? On one hand, I will say it was the most cultural experience I’ve had here in Morocco and deeply developed my global perspective. On the other hand, I can also say it was probably one of the weirdest things I have ever done. Hammam is essentially a public bath; there is one for women and one for men. It is meant to be a social but also intimate experience that most Moroccan people take part in their whole lives. For Americans, however, it’s different. Public bathing is one of those things that is perfectly normal in a lot of places and yet absolutely foreign, and perhaps terrifying, from an American state of mind.

To summarize the actual event, you go with a group of friends, strip down to just a pair of underwear, go into a seriously hot steam room with some spigots in the wall, sit on the floor and clean your bodies together. While you soak up the steam and wash your hair, you chat with your friends, venting away stress mentally and physically at the same time. Then you lie on the floor while a Moroccan woman scrubs your whole body with olive soap and a glove that is a close cousin to the Brillo pad. That’s the hammam!

As crazy as all that sounds, I still joined the camp of people who will recommend the hammam. Even though I wasn’t really thrilled about going and actually almost talked myself out of it, I promised that I wouldn’t deny myself any adventures out of fear, so I didn’t. I’m so glad. It was really hard to be that uncomfortable and push myself to try, but I did it, and that’s what matters. As usual, it ended up being pretty great! As far as the actual cleansing factor goes, I feel like I have brand new skin that is healthy and soft. My eyes were really opened to the deep bonds and intimacy of family and friendship in this culture. I’m calling my cultural immersion officially achieved.

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