Today I went to the hammam for the first time. A hammam is a bathhouse that serves the local community and foreigners alike. There are many different hammams in both the old city and new city in Fes. I’m living in the old city, so I figured I’d head to one near by. I bought the necessary tool, a scrubbing mitten, and met up with two friends to head to find a hamma.
The first hammam that we stopped by was serving women at the time. There are different hours for men and women. And they are different for any given hammam. After finding a hammam that was having man-hours, we bargained for a price. It ended up being too high, but still less than $10. We disrobed and entered the hammam.
We left our clothing with a casual looking guard that is supposed to watch our things. The hammam itself was comprised of many tiled domed rooms. I see a cockroach run by – my friend assures me, “by Fes standards, this place is clean.” We are escorted into the back room, where we’re given buckets of steaming hot water. Some is used to rinse the floor. Before we sit down.
I start to warm up from the heat of the hammam, and I am ready to relax. A man spa, why not? With the chaos of Fes outside the walls of the bathhouse, I am still in the quietness of the hammam halls. “Sit” commands the aged hammam employee and the man who is going to be giving me my message/scrub down. It is hard to tell whether his wrinkles are from aging or from spending so much time in the hammam. I wouldn’t know what the latter would looks like; but I expect this is the reason for his wrinkles. “Turnover.” I’m lying on my stomach next to my friends, Toshi and George, in the middle of the hammam and before I can imagine what the scrub will be like, it starts.
Back-and-forth and back-and-forth the mitten scrapes arms. I’m breathing heavily, very heavily. I can see my skin reddening and hope that I don’t start bleeding. “Control your breathing, think about your breathing and you’ll be okay,” I tell myself, as my skin sheds onto the floor beside me. Twenty minutes later and I’m clean.
Then comes the message. I am not looking forward to the message. But it starts. It is painful. I heard bones crack that I have never heard crack. I can’t describe my message well, because I didn’t see it. But I saw George get his message and it looked like a form of medieval torture. One moment the masseuse was pushing aggressively on his chest and the next his knee was in George’s back. Oh, that’s what that was…
Now I’m clean and ready for my hammam recovery to begin.