Hammam

by Andrew Stein

At half ten in the evening, I set off to a hammam in Fez’ Old Medina. I follow one of my riad’s staff in order to not get lost ten times before either finding my destination or eventually giving up and returning back. The narrow alley ways all over the medina are hard to traverse competently in daylight yet alone under the stars. Before arriving at the hammam, we stop at a small counter to purchase a “hammam kit”, which is a small bag of supplies that will soon prove useful. There is a brush of semi-dull plastic needles, a rough rag shaped like a small bag, and some Berber soap, which is a black soap with a gelatinous consistency.

Upon arriving at the hammam, we enter through a small door into a steamy changing room. The whole bath house consists of three rooms, with each room hotter and more humid than the last as they get farther from the front door. I am happy to notice that there are only locals using this hammam because it means I will receive an authentic experience as well as I will pay closer to local prices. Since I only plan to go once, I decide to also get a “massage.” The word is in quotes because that is what it was advertised as, but I am not sure that I can actually call it as such. Before the massage, I venture to the third and hottest room and am instructed to lie on the very hot floor, occasionally getting up to refill my buckets with hot water to pour on top of myself. I can no longer differentiate between the hot water poured on me and my self-produced sweat. After staying in that third room for what seems like much longer than it is, I move to the second/middle room for my massage. The masseuse uses the supplies I had just purchased to eliminate any possible dead skin that I may be carrying around. The sensation is of sandpaper being rubbed over my body in an anything but gentle manner.

I finish the massage, rinsing the soap and dead skin from my body, and move back to the first and coolest room to wait for the same nice Riad staff member to come and guide me back through the maze. I do not stop sweating for around 30 minutes following the conclusion of my Riad experience. I feel clean yet also like I had just been vigorously exercising. I feel tired yet my body tingles with energy. And I feel relaxed yet still slightly tensed from the sand paper massage. I am happy I saw and experienced a hammam, but I will probably wait some time before jumping back into one.