Once I got over the naked part the rest was easy.

I took off my shoes, put on my flipflops, and smiled from my perch on the blue and white benches. Women, those who worked there and those there for the hammam (bath) themselves, watched me with bemusement. One of the stewards brought over a bucket and a plastic bowl and placed it at my feet. She stared. I stared. Finally I pantomimed taking off my shirt and she nodded her head and smiled.

So I took off my shirt, and the rest of my clothes, wrapped myself in my thin orange and red lapa, and carried my bucket of stuff through the closed white door.

Steam embraced me immediately and my eyes began to adjust to the dimmer light. Moving through the antechamber I entered into the first tiled room filled with women, each in front of two faucets, in various poses of sitting or squatting. Some were naked, others clad only in underwear. Most were scrubbing vigorously with one of the rough mitted cloths sold everywhere in town. The next room was the same, and beyond it, I could see yet another reflection of the same thing.

I surveyed the scene and then filled my bucket with water, squatted, and followed suit.

Women chatted together in twos; the woman beside me scrubbed a chubby baby that smiled up at me. After I’d scrubbed and rinsed a few times the woman beside me – now free of baby – offered to scrub my back (in French or Arabic I’m not sure but I managed to get the gist of what she meant) and so she took my mitt and black soap and scrubbed my back for me.

I don’t even know her name, and as she was with a friend there was no need to reciprocate.

It was a moment, hell the whole thing was a scenario, I can’t imagine playing out in America. A bunch of women oblivious to their nakedness, scrubbing strangers just because that is what you do not for payment . I watched one woman scrub another woman laying on her side. Her strokes were strong and deliberate, over her sides, across her breasts. They could be the best of friends. They might be strangers.

There is something really beautiful about the hammam. Thirteen MAD – not even two dollars – but it is more than just hot water, or getting clean. As much as I love having access to a hot shower in my home, the ease and convenience of it, I can appreciate why hammams have been around for so long…why at 10pm they are still packed with women washing away the day’s fingerprints.

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