Just like a Bikram teacher can’t be faulted for saying “lock your knee” way too often, an Intrepid group leader can’t be for overusing the phrase “real life experience”. I learned that half way into my trip and was actually quite relived when I did, because before I thought it was a personal catch phrase of Issam.
You ask what a real life experience is. I will say it’s something you’d call mundane or normal when in your natural habitat. The things you do any day, every day in your life and you probably mope about and even call them boring sometimes. These real life things usually only morph into real life experiences when undergone by someone who is foreign to your world. Then they move from things to experiences and may just become utterly exotic and exciting. Obviously it works both ways so once you leave your real life behind and travel, you also might find the extraordinary in the everyday. Thus not a bad motto when you are a tour operator.
Our real life experiences came in form of camel burger lunches, the best olive oil sampled Fatima’s mud house, freshly gutted calamari goo from my arm directly onto my plate, and our visit to the hammam. To clarify: a Moroccan hammam is not a spa, but more a very public form of bucket shower and your knickers might come off. We were warned though I still think that Issam left out quite a few important factors one should know before entering. Lucky for you, you have Lucy, Peta, and me as gunny pigs and who live to tell the tale.
We went in fully equipped and had paid for a the ultimate hammam experience: a luffa, black olive soap, and a lady to scrub us. In the changing room we took off everything except the knickers (we all agreed we weren’t going to give them up that easily) and then looked around a bit puzzled. A lovely and very naked lady asked us whether we spoke French. The fact that my French was probably the best of the group made me answer that yes, indeed I spoke a little. I promise right here that I shall never show off my non-existent French again! Translating how much you have to pay for a nos nos or a Solero is not the same as being explained the intricacies of the hammam. All I understood was l’eau, which was sort of a given considering we were here to get clean.
Still pouring French on us, the lady ushered us into the first room and gave us each a bucket and a cup. Easy enough, we filled the buckets and were shown to a corner in the completely tiled room. She quickly cleaned it by pouring our buckets out and we obviously were to sit down on this now clean-ish floor. There we sat - an Australian, an English, and a German girl; knees pulled and hugged to our chests with eyes wide open, trying not to watch two women next to us too closely:
From left to right:
Bucket with water.
Scrubber with luffa and knickers, but otherwise naked. I would know as she was scrubbing me later while I held her boob (I didn’t volunteer for that, but it only seemed polite as she was after all doing all the work!).
Scrubbee with no knickers. Arm over her head and leg too. Not sure how it got there though mine did as well when it was my turn.
We averted our eyes from the scenario in front of us when we were gestured to start putting soap on and then pour the refilled water buckets over ourselves. Said – in French-, understood, and done. Though still no lady for us in sight, so Lucy started the procedure on her own. A little while later the scrubber (see picture above) was done with the scrubbee (though she continued on her own and let me tell you, it looked like it hurt!) and told me to come with her.
I should add here that before we went, I have had this vision of women working in a hammam. In my vision these women all had a uni-brow, a big mole, and always looked really grim. I’m not sure where this idea even came from, but I was very relieved that the real hammam lady didn’t look anything like it. In fact she looked quite friendly and that she had to squash me onto the marble floor was not so very torturous as it sounds and was after all part of the process.
Unfortunately Peta didn’t get so lucky. In fact her scrubber looked very much like how I envisioned them to look like. To complete the stern hammam lady look she wore a little turban with her knickers & nothing else. That she never smiled was probably due to her lack of front teeth.
It might have been unfortunate that the very same woman then went to collect Lucy as she came back empty handed. Did my friend not want to have her massage I was asked. Well, apparently not, because Lucy snuck out five minutes later and we didn’t blame her.
So then it was just Peta and I left to be scrubbed. And scrubbed we were. We were also rolled from our backs to our sides, arm up, arm down, and repeated with each leg. My knickers were definitely coming off, though my lady was nice enough to pull them back up on a regular basis. Luffas, even when wet, are rougher than you think and these ladies didn’t stop just because they encountered your throat or a nipple. We were pushed onto our stomachs, almost kissing the floor, and I felt like a dirty slave girl the one minute, like Cleopatra being pampered for Marc Anthony the next. Finally my expensive, tiny travel shampoo was discovered and poured all over us for a final wash down and a little stretch.
Then we were done. And clean. Probably cleaner than I have ever been in my life.
We left with our head spinning and slightly shaky legs to be greeted by the dusty afternoon and big grins from the rest of the group outside. Lucy had already spilled the beans. What happens in the hammam definitely doesn’t stay there and luckily so as reminiscing about it makes me laugh every morning in the shower where I give myself a mini hammam. Without the knickers.