Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 9 March 2014 • Abroad
Relive you childhood bathing days! Have somebody scrub you down and reminisce that time you were a kid and your mom, dad, or those that raised you, bathing you. Yes! You can. All in a hammam, a traditional culture of communal bathing, famously made by the Turkish but also presents in the land of the Sahara, Morocco. Generally, the Moroccans have a hammam once a week (and probably not bathing every other day because water is scarce). Considering the country is an Islamic nation, common baths are done separately between men and women. And yes, men bathe each other too. As did my friends and I. at my last Moroccan city, Chefchaouen.
With a basket full of bathing equipment.
Obsessed with the traditional art of bathing, Vindhya turned at the next corner once she saw a sign saying ‘Hammam’. Windy and I followed. We entered the blue complex and slightly crouched into the smallest doorway. Within the bluest setting I’ve ever seen, was the reception room for a local spa. We hesitated if we took the right turn or not but were reassured with the sight of ‘hammam’ written on the price list offered by the beautiful receptionist. She had French brained her hair and had that hippy bohemian look. She looked like a spa-nist (I made that word up). Seeing its ‘menu’ was in English we assumed we could easily book a session. But you know how it is with assumptions on foreign land… they’re rarely right. The receptionist didn’t speak English and just enthusiastically assured us that we really wanted to do this by pointing at the hammam on the list. We returned the favor by enthusiastically nod without a clue to what she was saying exactly. Oh, well…
We wondered through the reception area to the next room, which was the waiting room with a comfy sofa and lazy chairs. And that was just about it. Wait? What?! Is this where we’re gonna take the bath? Where’s the water? What’s going on?!
In confusion, we sat on the sofa, waiting and guessing what was to happen next. How is this supposed to happen? As soon as we know it, we were each equipped with weaved baskets with bathing apparels. A voluptuous Moroccan woman came out and asked us to follow her. Like flies to a blue light, we followed blindly. The woman led us out of the mini labyrinth, passed the main square, and to the other part of the medina. As we climbed up into a small shabby building, it felt like we were voluntarily being kidnapped. We walked into an empty room to then be ordered to strip. I can’t remember what she said in Moroccan, but we understood her wishes to strip naked. Or maybe she didn’t ask us to do it, but we just voluntarily did? Another thing, you can’t really tell whether you’re dumb or not when it comes to experiencing a local custom 😛 But we went almost bare after surprisingly seeing the woman effortlessly bare herself almost naked.
OK. Truth is, there was ‘boob and body’ talk for the first 15 minutes upon getting naked in front of your friends and even about the Moroccan women amongst us. It naturally happens to girls when getting naked together. I could see that the Moroccan woman was by far the most full figured and confident woman amongst us. She didn’t even dodge the only see-through window within the room. Such a role model! LOL!
The corner window is see-through.
Having only our panties on, we entered a tiled yet windowless room. The air was damp, naturally without any visible ventilation anywhere. The woman prepared warm water, which was heated by burning wood, and thus the hammam began:
– I laid on my tummy upon a rubber mat, while she rubbed some paste, which I can guess is sabon beldi or olive oil soap. Smelled weird and unfamiliar at first. She rubbed the soap with medium speed but thorough. It wasn’t to pamper, but to cleanse.
– She turned me over like a roast pig and did my front. She rubbed the soap unlike a spa worker, but like a mother that does this everyday to her child. I stole glimpses to see her face and she had this routine-like expression, like she was doing laundry or cooking. It wasn’t to please the customer, but this thing (read: me) needs cleaning. And by then, I liked the smell of the soap. I was then rinsed.
– She then placed another paste with a more floral scent, in the same order, let it dry, and then scrubbed it off. Long pieces of dirt accumulated as she scrubbed. The paste was a bit grainy, and the scrubbing did hurt a bit. It’s been a while I had a scrub and seems like she knew by using some force on me. It’s that or she’s just a strong woman. She calls these string of dirt ‘spaghetti’s’ and laughs every time she shows me how long and dirty they are. And another rinse.
– Next was getting my wickedly tangled curly hair combed. Again, she wasn’t combing me like a hairdresser trying to avoid pain, she comb me to make order but keeping my scalp attached. And as harsh as that sounds, having curly hair like me, that’s actually the norm. She combed me like my mother used to do so. Ah, memories!
– Got my hair shampooed, my head and neck massaged with another local product I’ve failed to see amongst the thick vapor. The message was fairly good. I was pretty much a vegetable at this point, and everything she does felt relaxing.
– Lastly, she asked me to place the last paste similar to sabon beldi on my face and massage it. Upon scrubbing, the paste dissolved and left a thin layer mask that came off with the last rinse. A bucket of water was dumped on me, signing I was done.
She did this to all three of us in similar manners and had us praising her strength. She also did herself to whatever was her arms can reach without any of our puny help. So she scrubbed the hell down the 3 of us and had the energy for herself too. What a woman!
After about 2 hours, we were dressed and ready to head back to our hostel. I felt really clean and smelled good in a nice, yet different, scent. I could only describe it as a Middle Eastern fragrance. We walked back to the reception room on the other side of the medina and had Moroccan tea. After that was glugged down, we bid farewell to the women there that had already started gossiping. Hmmm.. I wonder if they were gossiping about us? The chuckles seemed positive.
There isn’t much that I can tattle here. Not because I won’t spiel the details of each other’s bodies, but because we really did some serious gossiping that must stay in the hammam. But I can say this: the hammam tradition is beautiful and very loving. It’s a culture done between friends and families, transferred down through generations. The scrubbing connected them physically, the gossip bonded them mentally. I can only imagine what it must have been like in a communal bath, and not in a private setting that we had. Having so much physical and mental connection between men and women, I could only guess that the Moroccan community, Chefchaouen in particular, are very tight.
And as the voluptuous woman was bathing me, I was taken back to my childhood. The woman wasn’t bathing us as if we were clients of a spa, she was bathing us as if we were like one of the family. The feeling was like comparing fine dining restaurant cooking to home-made grub; it was equally good but different. It felt like a childhood bathing sensation. I was cared for along with my friends. It was indeed, a memorable time for all of us. Something I’d recommend anyone to try! Not only because it’s such a weird experience to be bathed by a stranger in such manner, but it’ll be good for you to scrub off all that dirt after traveling the dry land of Morocco.
So, do you think our skin glows afterwards?