I’m not a girly girl when it comes to beauty things. I think sitting at a salon, getting my hair cut, is really boring, the few times I got a manicure I managed to immediately mess it up as soon as I was done, and I think the only great thing about being single in the winter of Germany is that you don’t have to shave your legs. So with that baseline established I was actually surprised that from my very first visit I was a big fan of the Moroccan hammam.
The hammam is more than a place where you go to to get clean. It is a ritual, an experience, and above all a place to socialize for men and women alike (obviously separated). For a foreigner like me a visit at a real hammam was absolutely terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
Mind you, it might be easier if you speak more French than I do, because anything more than l’eau was lost on me and so I’m sure I missed out on a few intricacies of the real hammam experience. But as my friend Amanda pointed out, as long as you don’t overly stare or steal someone’s water, you should be fine.
When I say real hammam I basically mean a public hammam where you will sit on the floor in a slightly steamy, warm room. You simply splash a bucket of water over the area where you want to sit and get started. Admittedly that is not for people who bring their disinfecting wipes everywhere. You start to soak yourself with warm water and savon noir or savon beldi, black olive soap which is rich in vitamin E and will leave your skin super soft. Rinse and repeat. After that you will have the choice to either hire someone to scrub you or do the gommage yourself. I recommend the former as I find scrubbing in order to do it right requires the same vigor as waxing, it is not pain free and therefore better done if someone else is doing it to you.
At this point I should mention that you will be naked, except for some knickers, and so will the lady who is scrubbing you. You may or may not hold her boobs by accident, don’t worry that can happen, and mine didn’t seem too fussed with it. You will also shed lots of black skin. Yes, indeed you are that dirty. While I wanted to hide the evidence, it was sort of everywhere and therefore impossible. The lady who was scrubbing me actually seemed quite pleased with herself. Spaghetti, spaghetti! Needless to say what I didn’t feel like eating for dinner.
You will also get a little massage and a stretch, still on that same floor, just go with it, you will survive. Wash it all off with more water and leave a skin lighter.
Obviously you can go the more touristy, pricey (280 MAD and up compared to 80 MAD at a public hammam) route and go to a spa. In fact I had to ask multiple times to be shown to a real hammam as most Moroccans will assume that you are a sissy a Westerner who will prefer some comfort. I can recommend Le Bain Bleu in Marrakech if you do. Instead of lying on the floor you will lie on a warm marble bench, which you may or may not slide of off once the soap comes into play, but it is nevertheless more fancy. You also have some privacy and the lady who is scrubbing you will be dressed. Better for the more moderate. But and that is a big but – the scrubbing is not nearly as thorough. I don’t know why. Maybe spas think that tourists can’t take it or won’t know the difference, but sadly there were no spaghettis peeling off me at Le Bain Bleu.
As my skin has never been softer it was clear that I had to take some of this hammam magic back home with me. You can buy both, savon noir and a kessa, the scrubbing glove, at literally at every corner shop in Morocco. There you get the soap by the pound in a plastic bag, which is the cheapest, but also the least convenient for travel or to store. In fact mine disintegrated after a few weeks, which is not something I want to smell again. For a little more you can just buy it in a proper little plastic tub or if you want to go fancy in a little glass jar which makes a great gift. Some come scented with roses or orange blossoms, but I must admit that these are lost on my nose as the olive smell is quite overpowering.
So with all that said and me so not being a beauty ritual person, I still took a few pounds of savon noir and some gloves with me. You know as one does in case there is an olive soap shortage…
I must admit that I have not been using them once. Today as a Thailand beach holiday is looming on the very close horizon I thought it was time to change that and get my skin sun ready. While no bathtub I have will ever be as fancy as the one above at El Fenn, I decided to start a little wintery weekend beauty routine at home.
I’m sad to report that I was unsuccessful in making black spaghettis. So it seems that for my next Morocco trip I must really up my French and find out more secrets of the scrubbing trade. Until then I will be content with semi-soft skin while drinking Mai Thais.