Saturday, June 8, 2013

Morocco Journal - 2: A Day at a Women-Only Hammaam, or Public Bath

Today, Saturday, June 8th 2013, I went to the hammam, a “public bath,” that’s for women only (there are men-only ones, too, but, needless to say, I haven’t been to those and don’t plan to, hah). They’ve been popular in the Greek, Turkish, and Arab cultures throughout history. I went to one in Jordan back in 2011, and that was a really, really good experience! It was more expensive, more sophisticated, much cleaner—the one I went to today wasn’t like that, but that’s because we didn’t go to the expensive one.  If I go to any hamaam in Morocco in the future, it’ll be to the more expensive ones. (P.S. I’ll be spelling this word inconsistently but it all means the same thing: hammam, hamaam, hamam. K?)

As in the Jordan hamaam, some of the women in this one were completely naked, others weren’t. There were females of all ages; the youngest one must have been around 2 years old, the oldest at least in her 70s. There were no males other than a little toddler who looked under 2 years old.

Lemme give you some little background on the hamaams.

How some hammams work (ignore the skin color issue ... I think)
Once upon a time, having a private bathroom used to be a luxury that most people could not afford to have in their homes. So to take baths, people would go to these Public Baths. Many people even today don't have running water or at least hot water in their homes, so the public baths are an important and useful service for them. But other people go for other reasons, such as for the scrubbing, spending time with friends, hearing about what all is up in town, or ... just being touristy and wanting the experience. Depending on your preferences, you can get someone in their to bathe you by scrubbing the heck out of you, exploiting your body and cleaning you till you can’t take it anymore. You can tell them if you don’t want to be touched in certain parts of your body, but otherwise, they can touch and scrub you everywhere and anywhere the way I saw them doing today. 

In the Jordan hamaam, my friend and I went to the dressing room and saw a lot of stuff we weren’t used to seeing before (like naked women being totally comfortable being naked around each other). We then went to shower, then the sauna, then the Jacuzzi/pool, then lay down on a table and a woman scrubbed our bodies, then got a massage from another woman. Then I think we got in the Jacuzzi again (or maybe not; I don’t remember now exactly). Then we left when we felt clean enough to go. The times in this Jordanian one were such that half the day was reserved for women and the other half for men.

In the Moroccan one I went to today with my host family and my American roommate, the dressing room was more like in the lobby area (inaccessible to men), saw a lot of stuff I wasn’t expecting to see (this time, completely naked women!), then went to the really, really hot and humid room that was a less sophisticated version of the sauna I’d been in in Jordan, then just poured a ton of water over our bodies, then a woman scrubbed us on the floor (that was really, really awkward), then we washed our bodies again, then we got into the less hot room, then we made sure we were clean enough to go. This hamaam was entirely for women at all times; the men's one must be somewhere close by. They tend to be closer to mosques so that washing the body and cleaning up for prayer is easier and more convenient and close by.

It was quite an adventure, quite an experience, and I’m glad I did it—but I don’t intend to go again.

Pakistanis typically don’t find it acceptable for women to be naked around other women or to show even legs around other women (but that depends on family to family); it's considered "be haya" or immodest or just sinful. Heck, I grew up not being able to show my hair in front of other women, let alone my arms or legs. But, yes, yes, this also happens outside of Pakistan, too. Pakistanis insist it’s un-Islamic, although according to the dominant opinion among Muslim (male) scholars, women have to be covered from navel to knee around other women; men have to be covered from navel to knee around other people, women and men. It’ll always be fascinating to me how differently Muslims everywhere understand and practice Islam. I don’t believe that Arabs’ practice of Islam is incorrect or weird, although I certainly don’t always prefer South Asians’ Islam to the Arab Islam. But due to my upbringing, I don’t feel comfortable dressed certain ways around other people, though depending on who’s around me.

And in these hamaams, most of the women come wearing full body coverings, a couple of them in burqas (a long body covering that covers the face, too), many others in jilbaabs or abayas, and others in head-coverings (hijabs) alone. But once they’re inside, they can choose to be completely naked or show however much of their skin that they want. In Jordan, I also used to go to the gym with a friend, and the gym also had a pool and a spa and different kinds of salons. Most of the females would come so fully covered, and then they’d wear a bathing suit or keep their bathing suits on that they had under their abayas, etc., and swim. These gyms, too, were women-only gyms.

In both the Jordan and the Moroccan hamaams, no cameras are allowed due to the fear that someone might take pics of the females there and show them to others. So pictures not allowed--and I wouldn't show any pics here anyway, even if I had some.

The REAL hamam experience! (I swear)

I haven’t kept myself updated on the kinds of services available to women in Pakistan, but something like women-only swimming pools (which I hear are available in a few parts of Pakistan, like the upper-class ones) and women-only gyms and baths would certainly be something good for Pakistani women to have. The women in these baths come and spend as much time as they seem to want and hang out with each other and just chill and then leave when they feel like it. I hear there are some hamaams in Afghanistan, but I am not sure. While these hamaams have been parts of the cultures of many European, Arab, Turkish, and African cultures, I wonder why they've never been a part of any South Asian cultures. Or maybe they have but I don't know about it (yet). Or maybe South Asia had other alternatives. Would be cool to find out.

Although I don't need to point this out, I want to just mention anyway that everyone has different experiences in these baths, and some people love them, and others hate them. Not all hamaams are the same, as I hope was clear from the differences I mentioned about the Jordan one and the Moroccan one.


  1. really interesting. I ve spent my childhood in the streets of rabat -morocco (95-99) these hamams r famous. even I was curious as a kid what these hamams look like. lol.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anon! Ahhh I haven't been to Rabat yet but will be going there soon in a few weeks, iA :) The hamaams really are famous here, a common part of the culture and life.

  2. is it not haraam or in haraam list?loxxx


Dare to opine :)

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