Laying naked on the hot marble slab, the bikini bottom I had worn as a modicum of modesty shoved unceremoniously in my derriere, I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Every bit of my body was being exfoliated and when it was my buttock’s turn, the phrase “lay back and think of England” ran through my mind. To say I was outside of my comfort zone is an understatement.
It had been a solid 40 years since someone had given me a bath, and even then it was nothing like this. I had never even heard the word “hammam” before doing research for our trip to Morocco. What was this thing I kept reading about? Delving deeper, I learned that it is part of many Moroccans’ daily life.
A hammam is a Turkish bath, where water and steam are used. There are public hammams where attendance is a social event separated by gender. People wash themselves and exfoliate in large rooms. The exfoliating process is the gommage. Everything I had read about the gommage was terrifying. In many hotels and riads (think Moroccan bed and breakfast) you can pay to have someone give you the hammam and every one of the first-hand accounts I had read said the gommage hurt. A lot. Typically a massage is given afterwards, and I decided that we would skip the hammam and go straight to the massage. I didn’t want to start our vacation with no epidermis, and I wasn’t particularly keen on a stranger giving me a bath either. But the more I thought about it, I realized that you can’t go to Morocco and NOT experience a hammam.
So here I was. Wafa, who now knows my body as well as I do, had lathered me up with argan soap and was now exfoliating the hell out of me with a 220 grit sandpaper mitt. She didn’t speak a word of English, so we communicated in gestures. I had mentioned to the owner of the riad that I wanted an experience that wasn’t painful, and thankfully he communicated that to Wafa. She didn’t scrub hard enough to hurt, which was a huge relief. When she was working on my arms there were globs of gray that looked like bits of clay, which I realized was my dead skin. It was gross but fascinating. I’ve always thought my hygiene was top notch and yet I learned that day that I have areas of improvement.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that Brett, who was next in line for the hammam, was in the room with me. As Wafa was manhandling me, I was afraid to look at him because I didn’t want to start laughing, especially when she reached down the front of my completely pointless bikini bottoms and did a thorough scrub. I was rinsed, wrapped in a towel, and escorted back to our room, where I sat in a daze. I was quite disappointed that I wouldn’t be witnessing Brett’s experience. I wanted to see how Wafa would maneuver around his Tommy Johns.
When Wafa brought Brett back to the room a half an hour later, I hadn’t moved. “So?” I asked. “Yep, I got the same treatment, all the way down to the frontal scrub. And the exfoliation of my butt crack was really something.” It was hands down the strangest experience of our lives, but I am so glad we did it. Most of the time, doing things way outside of your comfort zone has big payoffs. We not only had the most radiant, soft skin, but a never to be forgotten memory of the day our nether regions were scrubbed to a shine by a sweet Moroccan woman.
Review: I cannot recommend the Riad Matham highly enough. Its simple beauty and tranquil atmosphere was an oasis in the somewhat chaotic medina of Marrakesh. The staff was absolutely wonderful and I will genuinely miss Wafa and Hicham, particularly. There are many riads that don’t serve alcohol, but the Riad Matham does serve beer and wine. Enjoying the rooftop terrace with a beer at the end of each day was a real treat. We loved when the numerous mosques did their prayer calls and the voices reverberated around the city. The breakfast each day was delicious and we were always joined by one or two of the resident tortoises. In addition to being the best hammamer around, Wafa is an excellent cook. On the day of our arrival, we were exhausted from many hours of travel. We had done the hammam and massage, and didn’t feel like braving the chaos in the medina so we ordered dinner at the riad. As a thunderstorm raged, we enjoyed Wafa’s delicious meal in a protected alcove while the rain poured into the open courtyard. It was perfection. I wrote Wafa a thank you note on Google Translate after dinner and as she read it she was squeezing me so tight and kept kissing my cheek. I love her. If you find yourself in Marrakesh, stay at the Riad Matham, and get the hammam. You won’t regret it.