Cleaning Day, Hamam love.

by

~I took a deep breath as I lay down on the wet tile, the air was steamy, I closed my eyes. I should bring my sisters here, they would like this place, I thought to myself. Too bad there’s a whole ocean between me and them right now…I guess that means I’ll just have to come back.~

The hamam is too beautiful a place to speak too lightly of it. It was one of those mind-altering experiences—you know, the kind that changes your perspective, forever.

It was raining the day we all went. The abnormal cloud a perfect touch to the awkward, uncomfortable feeling that I’m sure lingered somewhere inside each of us. We knew what was ahead at the hamam, we’d have to get naked in front of each other. Everyone seemed to cling to their towel bags while striking poses of feigned calm and open-mindedness, as if that could change our fate.

“Are we all here?” Iman asked. A few “yeah’s” in response went around the circle of the eleven of us girls going. There was a humor in her eyes as she smiled in response, “Alright, let’s go then.”

We fell in step behind her and with each step we took a heightened curiosity for what was ahead took over our resolve. There was no backing out now. The walk was not long and soon we were entering the obscure white tiled entrance off the sidewalk…well, obscure to us, I’m sure, had we all been able to read Darija Arabic, the sign out front would have been indication enough. Needless to say this was no five-star day spa we were entering—welcome to Morocco ladies it was time to get clean in the public baths.

There was an old lady standing behind the counter and, after taking my clothes off and keeping with me what I needed, I handed the rest of my stuff to her to keep behind the counter. I turned around then and followed Iman into another room, the temperature increasing significantly; we walked through that room before entering the bigger room, the warmest room and our final destination. It was steamy and calming, I began to relax and simultaneously noticed a few locals in the room, they were completely at ease with themselves, and why shouldn’t they be? They’ve been coming to this place their whole lives.

I filled my bucket with hot water and rinsed off the section of tile floor that would be mine for the next hour and a half. My classmates sat on either side of me, we giggled a little at the Western boundaries we were breaking—bathing in a public bath, ha! I never would have guessed myself into a situation like this, never would we do this in the United States. As I scrubbed my body with the combination of natural black soap, henna powder, and water I couldn’t help but let my mind wander with a little bit of wondering. Thoughts turned to conversation as my fellow classmate and I could no longer contain our similar inner-conversations.

“Could you imagine if we had something like this in Western culture?” I asked her.

“I wish I could go home and start one of these myself, it makes me sad to think though that probably no one would come.”

“Mhmm” I understood, “our culture is way too caught up in having the perfect body, women aren’t even comfortable in their own skin, just look at how awkward this was for us to come here today.”

“Yeah,” she replied, “but look at how beautiful these women in here are…they’re not the thinnest but that doesn’t even matter, it’s such an irrelevant part of beauty. In here we’re all beautiful.”

I nodded, I had sensed the same exact thing. I continued to scrub my own skin eventually rinsing myself and enjoying the heat of the water. Why are we so obsessed with a certain body image? And why do these women have so much peace about it, they don’t seem to care. A part of me was jealous, but the other part just sad. My heart felt heavy in there, but at the same time it felt liberated. What if? I wondered. What if we had a culture that knew what a woman’s body was supposed to look like, a culture that wasn’t controlled by the magazine ads and roadside billboards? What if we had public baths that we had grown up in, would our view of our bodies be less obsessive? What if we all grew up confident knowing that a few more curves is normal or that beauty is not defined by the billion dollar beauty industry compiled of fashion designers and cosmetic surgeons?

I came out of the hamam feeling clean physically but also, quite unexpectedly, I felt clean spiritually. How refreshing it was to have been cleaned in the presence of friends—I know, it sounds weird—but it was one of the purest experiences I’ve ever had. No judgment of one woman’s body to the next was passed; the playing field was completely leveled as all of us were there for one reason only: we had to get clean.

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