a trip to the hammam – زيارة إلى الحمام

Every neighborhood in Fez typically has a communal bread oven, a fountain, a mosque, a school and a hammam. The hammam in my neighborhood is absolutely fabulous.


Entrance to Ras Jnan's humble hammam


The hammam serves a practical function: to get clean. Very, very clean. It also serves a social function. Women catch up with their neighbors and kids play around with their siblings and friends. My host sister chats with me and those around us, and seems to always see a friend or two.

I’ve been in Fez for 12 days and the hammam has already become the highlight of my week. My host sister goes once every 7 to 15 days, and I’ve happily joined her twice.

Going to the hammam is an all-evening commitment. First, I gather my supplies for the hammam: a big bucket, stool, small scoop, basket with razor, toothbrush and as many soaps and shampoos as possible.



My Equipment


Once in the hammam, I strip down to my underwear (sans bra) in the changing room and claim a space in one of the three tiled interior rooms; one with a cold water tap, one with a hot water tap, and the last with an unbearably hot tap. My host sister and I have always taken our place in the middle room. The hammam attendant fills our buckets from the taps and re-fills them as I scoop water from the larger buckets using my little heart-shaped bucket. We place down a plastic mat and sit on our stools, backs to the wall, buckets in front of us.

Then the process begins. First, a soap-up with a mixture of traditional black soap made from olive oil and henna and rinse. (Henna used this way doesn’t stain the skin, though it does stain the underwear, as I’ve found.) Then, using the black, rough washcloth, I spend about 15 minutes scrubbing myself down, both delighted and disgusted all at once to see dead skin exfoliated off in spaghetti-like pieces. I am practically in heaven when the attendant takes my mitt from me and scrubs my back. Then follows more soaping, washing, brushing, and rinsing.

This whole process takes me and my host sister about two hours. We take our time getting dressed while drinking water and chatting with the other women in the dressing room, then carefully make our way home.



Mind the donkey poo on the way back!



About Laura McAdams

Laura McAdams is a Master’s student at University of Pennsylvania studying International Educational Development. Her experience in the MENA region includes 15 months as a Fulbright student researcher to Fez and Ifrane, Morocco in 2010 and 2011. Her project was interested in understanding the disconnect between the policies of technology usage in education and the reality of how these policies unfold in the classroom. Summer 2012 she returned to the Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco to work with a women’s weaving cooperative. She is excited to learn more about other countries in the MENA region and issues involving education policy and reform, technology usage in curriculums and gender equality in education. One of Laura’s lifelong goals is to one day be able to sit down and leisurely read a newspaper in Arabic.
This entry was posted in Fulbright Student Research in Morocco, 2010-2011, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to a trip to the hammam – زيارة إلى الحمام

  1. delightful! Sounds excellent.

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