Tag Archives: hammam

How the Other Half Poops

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My stomach and intestines are currently groaning like I imagine the Titanic did just before it split in half. Yes. It is dire. It is dramatic. Thousands of lives are at stake. Just wanted to let you know.

So using toilet paper and sitting down to poo isn’t a Moroccan thing at all. They prefer to poop how (from my perspective, anyway) the other half poops, involving squatting over holes and water. Frankly, it’s a bit more hygienic than what we do, but I wouldn’t say I’m any good at it yet. My style thus far involves bad aim and water everywhere, but I’m told that practice makes perfect, so we’ll see.

Since Morocco is such a tourist draw, it’s about 50/50 whether you’ll get a Western or squat toilet; the fac has squat toilets, Qalam has western. In the cities, mostly Western, in the countryside, a bit more on the squatty side.  Head for a more modern-looking hotel or café if you’re not crazy about the squatting, but if you are, GO for it! Here‘s how!

All of our homestays have Western toilets, though I’m also fairly positive that all of them suffer an eternal shortage of toilet paper. This dearth is not, I have concluded, brought on by some nefarious plot to make our pooping experiences extremely uncomfortable, but rather by the fact that they’re just not used to using toilet paper. I now confront Western toilets everywhere armed and ready.

Squat toilets, well…let’s just say that a nine-year-old with a super soaker might be able to get me wetter than I manage with that stupid bucket, but it’d be a tough call. Either way I feel like I need a blow-dry or a beach towel or a mop afterwards (ALL THINGS YOU CAN BUY IN THE MEDINA, FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION THAT KATIE. YOU COULD BUY THEM AFTER HAGGLING WITH A MOROCCAN BLOW DRYER/BEACH TOWEL/MOP SELLER. HECK YEAH).

While we’re talking about personal hygiene, I took a shower tonight, and I now feel like an Egyptian goddess. Or any goddess, really; any clean goddess. No, I don’t shower frequently here; this bumps the shower-count up to 4, I think, including hammam, since arriving at my homestay.

Now, before all you surgically-scrubbed US-ians squeal in horror and unsubscribe and run screaming from such an unsanitary blogger, let me point out that sponge-baths are not included. Furthermore, you’d conserve water if you didn’t shower every day. Furthermoremore, shampooing frequently strips your hair of its natural oils, which it then overcompensates in replenishing, which is why your hair gets so oily so fast. Try shampooing less! Experiment! Your body will adjust, I promise. WOO!

Furthermoremoremore, it makes showering incredibly satisfying, and the scrub-down I just gave myself would rival any magical hammam lady’s. I feel amazing (except for my digestive system, which seems to have taken up a rather violent form of yoga. It’s struggling to contort itself into unnatural and rather painful positions while making a lot of noise and farts, which is exactly what happens when I attempt yoga).

Here in Morocco, and in many Arabic-speaking countries, when one comes out of the shower (traditionally the hammam, but they say it for regular showers too) or has new clothes or something, they’ll say b’sa7a, which means to your health, and traditionally will also give you food and stuff.  The reply is allah ya36ik sa7a (sorry about all the numbers. Each of the numbers represents a sound in Arabic that doesn’t exist in the Latin script, which is confusing and awesome. Ask me to pronounce it for you sometime. Or a Real Arabic speaker, better yet), which means something about God and you and health. It’s a neat tradition, and it’s also nice to hear a b’sa7a or two when I bounce upstairs for dinner.

Remind me to write about why I shower so infrequently. I’ll probably just post a picture of the shower situation here. It’s awesome and ridiculous and I’ll never take showers for granted again.

SoooooOOOOOooooOOOOoo that’s a bit about personal hygiene in Morocco. Poop on, comrades!

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Just Like a Woman

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Womanhood in Morocco: holy crap, where to begin? How about with something you won’t expect: the Hammam. I feel as though womanhood, feminism, etc, will be a theme throughout my stay here, so let’s start with something empowering and awesome, yes? Yes. l’Hammam.

Today, one of our host moms took Alexandra and I to the traditional public baths, and I learned Many Things during those two hot, steamy hours. Let’s start with how it works…

1. Prepare for departure: get towel, flip flops other clothes, all things you could possibly ever use in the shower. put in big plastic bucket with other stuff.

2. Stop at hanout, buy super scritchy glove thingies to be used at hammam, also buy goopy stuff that smells like cloves (yum) and some brown powder, wonder wtf they’ll be used for

3. Get to place, pay to get in, get in Room #1, immediately get naked in front of many other Moroccan women except for underwear (no bra). At this point, I’m half terrified, half excited. CULTURAL THINGS ARE HAPPENING TO ME WHAAAT IS THIS

4. Give bags with towel and clothes to lady. Go through magical door to rooms 2 and 3, the warmest and steamiest rooms I have ever been in, full of chatting, splashing, wet, soapy women and children. what is this strange and wonderful place feel moisture on skin, probably a combination of sweat and condensation.

5. Find spot, always ritually rinse everything, put down stool, sit, get wet, cover self with henna (the brown powder mixed with water. COOL. No, it’s not the same as tattoo stuff, there’s a lot of different kinds of henna apparently!) and sit for a long time. The henna has something in it that makes your skin really hot, and combined with the hot and steamy room, it puts American saunas to shame.  Rinse off henna, cover self with traditional soap (the goopy brown stuff), are thoroughly scrubbed down by a woman who works at the hammam thoroughly scrubbing down women. SCRUBBED. There is no dead skin anywhere on my body. Scrubbed pink. Scrubbed clean. Scrubbed EVERYWHERE.

6. There are buckets of water surrounding you, both hot and cooler water, with little bowls you use to dip into the buckets and pour over yourself. Shampoo, shave, do whatever you need to do. There is more scrubbing and rinsing and general dumping-buckets-of-water-over-self. All of this is done under the eye of two hammam ladies, who come over and scrub the hard-to-reach places, splash cool water on you, bring you more water, chuckle at how you don’t speak a word of Darija except for shokran (thank you), which you say far too often in a far too excited voice.

7. Eventually, you stop thinking about the fact that you are naked, that strangers have been scrubbing/staring at your body, blah blah, because the whole concept of body, body image, all of that is completely different here. It’s not a big deal here to be naked in the hammam, nobody is shy, nobody is sexualizing it like we do in the US, nobody is perfect or photoshopped. It’s really amazing. Also, it’s fun, goofy, ridiculous, and so refreshing to chat while getting clean, giggle just because you’re alive and naked and wet and soapy and happy and getting a bucket of water dumped over your head! SOOOO GREAT!

8. Eventually finish up (underwear’s long gone by now), hammam lady brings you your towel (I think hammam ladies are magical), you dry off and make your way back to the wonderfully cool Room #1, where you sit for awhile, gradually drying off and getting dressed. Tip magical hammam ladies warmly.

9. Leave, you must have your head covered somehow because Moroccans believe you’ll get sick if you EVER walk outside with your head wet. Stop at other hanout on way home to drink some flavored milk because you’re dehydrated as shit (worth it).

10. FEEL LIKE A GODDESS. Is that blasphemy here? WHATEVER. I FEEL AMAZING, both physically and, uh, emotionally? Body-image-ally? Let’s talk. Let me tell you about Moroccan body image.

Moroccan girls do not struggle with the same body-image issues that American girls struggle with. You all know what I’m talking about: rampant eating disorders, crippling insecurity about looks, even the general discontent with one’s own body that is considered normal in the US. Nope, not here.

Ça vient de changer à cause du média, et des choses, said Boushra, mais non, les femmes Marocaine n’ont pas les mêmes problémes.

She explained how body image just isn’t that big of a deal here, and after the hammam, I can see why. It’s because it’s not that big of a deal, and I am beginning to understand the self-assuredness I see in Moroccan women, the culturally ingrained confidence in the validity of their being. I found myself carrying myself differently as we marched home from the Medina hammam, like a real woman: elegant, good-humored, and most of all, unapologetic.

This self-image thing also plays into the religious undertones that weave in and out of Moroccan society: Allah made you this way, so this is the way you are supposed to be. Boom. There goes that.

Home, too…family is so centralized here, the community ties closer and older, and the way one defines status and self-worth is so different from what it is in the US. I’ll go into more of that later, this post is already looooooooong.

Of course, I’m not saying that no Moroccan woman struggles with that sort of thing, nor am I trying to encapsulate all of Moroccan womanhood in one wee blog post. I’d make more excuses but I’m tired, and I was supposed to be all unapologetic and womanly and empowered anyway. I will leave you with this though: as far as I can tell, the Moroccan way formulating an identity is fundamentally different from the way we do it in the US, and I’ll tell you alllll about it sometime!

So the song referenced in the title? Referring to me, I guess, especially compared to all these women around me. I already loved Bob Dylan, and now his poetry sort of throws the American experience into a whole new light, and I appreciate an American poet so much more now that I’m away.

Also, I smell awesome. And I’m clean. And I spent like 3 hours naked today. Morocco RULES.