Student Spotlight - Tom Kirkpatrick, First Hammam Experience

Programs for this blog post

Arabic Language & Moroccan Culture

Authored By:

Rihane Zoubairi

The Hammam is an important Moroccan weekly ritual during which Moroccans go to a public single-sex bathhouse not only for body and soul purification, but also for the community.

Entering the Hammam, you find yourself in a dry room where you get changed and leave your belongings with the attendant. The Hammam traditionally includes three rooms increasing in levels of heat. People often go to the hot room first to help open their pores before starting to scrub their bodies. The first step is to relax all while coating yourself in Moroccan black soap (sometimes Hennah is added to the mix.) Using a bucket that you previously filled to your preferred temperature, you wash the soap off and start the scrubbing. The scrubbing glove never fails to work its magic exfoliating and softening the skin. Throughout this experience, you’ll hear the echo of water filling buckets and washing bodies, chatter, and sometimes children’s laughter or crying as their parent washes them. Locals often go in pairs or groups and scrub each other’s backs. When alone, they pay the attendant to rub their backs for them. The attendants offer the service of doing all the Hammam steps for you, from applying the black soap, scrubbing, and washing hair, to giving a massage. The Hammam ritual can last from thirty minutes to three hours.

As part of their homestay integration activities, our students had an optional Hammam session during which they experienced first-hand one of Morocco’s most important rituals. 

Here's a brilliant reflection on the Hammam experience written by Tom Kirkpatrick:

I would generally describe myself as a pretty confident person. I have moved around a lot so I am pretty comfortable meeting new people and trying new foods. I have a terrible sense of direction, even in America, so getting lost was nothing new either. One thing, however, that I think a lot of people will write about is the infamous hammam. Public nudity was a very new thing for me. To be honest, I was unsure whether or not to be nervous because I really didn't know what to expect. 
Suffice to say, everything went absolutely fine. There weren't even that many people there(I must have gone at an off-peak time) and those who were there were all awkwardly friendly in the way Moroccans often are to confused foreigners. For the most part, I observed that the hammam was a place of practicality. People went there to clean themselves, not to judge others. 
Afterward, I was left wondering why I was so nervous. I couldn’t think of any practical reason to be so apprehensive. In fact, I could think of many practical reasons not to be so apprehensive about single-sex public bathing spaces. Heating one room is surely more efficient than individual showers. I left the experience realizing that sometimes basic things that I am accustomed to, don't make a whole lot of sense.