Morocco: Dead Chickens and Hammams

I try to go for lunch on my own but get VERY lost in the medina. I’m trapped inside the market. I keep trying to walk straight in one direction, hoping it’ll take me to an exit, any exit, but of course there is no such thing as straight in this labyrinth. I find my way out of the fabrics section, but now I’m lost in shoes. When I escape shoes I’m surrounded by plates and tagines. Then rugs. I round a corner and am suffocated by the smell of raw meat and fish. Now I’m in a hallway lined with thousands of metal lamps. Did I die? Is this hell?

I’m getting hangry, and the constant “excuse me! Hello! Come inside!” calls aren’t helping. I can’t say it gets any easier to deal with that. It makes me so awkward. I can’t take the time to stop and say no thanks to every human who calls after me, but I feel like an asshole when I keep my head down and ignore them. When you’re walking with another person you’re often in conversation and it’s easier to ignore. Alone, you’re nothing but a damn target. Doesn’t help when you’re aware of how lost you are, either.

By some miracle I escape. I’ve lost about an hour of my life in there that I’ll never get back. Which city official should I contact to suggest they acquire some emergency exit signs?

I’m now starving and having trouble finding an affordable restaurant. I make a rookie mistake and sit on the very edge of an available patio along a busy street. Never ever do this. The entire time I’m eating I have people trying to sell me things, kids begging (one even slowly reached to take my shawarma out of my hands guys, this is real life) and most unfortunately and life scarring-ly, a man carrying a handful of dead chickens grazes my leg as he walks past. Like, WITH the dead chickens. It’s not my day.

Lesson learned, no more patios. Ever.

I meet up with Nordine again (the guy who let me chill at his Riad all day yesterday) and we go to meet up with more of his friends. I now have more Moroccan friends in Morocco, than Spanish friends in Spain, and maybe even Canadian friends in Canada.

We go his friends new house in the medina. They’re a young married couple, so I’m picturing like a standard European/American/whatever apartment…but am very wrong. They live in a 3 story Riad. All open concept with tons of sunlight and fresh air, a guest room, two bathrooms, and a rooftop terrace where we spend the afternoon building a little bamboo sun shelter. Okay, so by “building” I mean “watching as they build”. I don’t do a lot to help, though I swear I offer!

I later learn how much they pay for rent, and I won’t be tacky by listing it here, but all I can say is that I’m probably moving to Morocco now.

Down in the street below we hear screaming, and look out over the edge to investigate. There’s a group of kids laughing while this other kid is on the ground absolutely moaning about whatever they’d just done to him. At first I’m concerned but it becomes pretty clear the kid is fine and just being dramatic as hell. Some of them notice us on the roof and start waving. The kid that’s crying looks up, starts yelling something at us in Arabic, sees me, and immediately changes it to “fuck you!!!” We all die of laughter. Except for this poor, angry little guy, but I swear he’s just fine.

We leave their place, Nordine goes back to work, and I decide it’s time to hit a hammam. This was something recommended to me by absolutely everyone who has already visited Morocco, and I’ve read a couple articles about it. The articles made it somewhat more confusing, though. For example, one article underlines the need to wear a bathing suit. They say some hammams will allow you to go topless, but no where in Morocco is it acceptable to be totally naked. Okay noted. But then the next article talks about the nudity everywhere and how it’s normal. You are not allowed to wear clothes inside. Which is it??!?!

I bring a bathing suit just in case. There are also two choices: traditional hammams and spa hammams. The spa ones are obviously more geared towards tourists, but wealthy locals use them too. These can cost upwards of 150Mdh (14€, $20cad), while the public hammams are only 10mdh (1€, $1) for entry. I clearly opt for the traditional public hammam, and not just because I’m poor, but because that’s a reaaaaal hammam. It’s actually a Turkish thing originally, but embraced full force here in Morocco.

There are separate entrances for men and women, but as far as I can see, they’re unmarked. I luck out big time when I over hear a man giving a tour and identifying which door is which just as I walk by. I had my money on the wrong door and was heading for the men’s so that guide saved me a lot of embarrassment.

Once inside I approach a woman sitting next to a small pile of different shower goods. I explain it’s my first time, with the hope that she’ll offer me a little guidance. I’m not sure if it’s my crappy French or what, but she doesn’t help. Instead, she is inconvenienced by my existence and tries to rip me off. I buy this special olive shampoo that I read about, a little rhassoul (exfoliant) and an exfoliating glove. She quotes me 40mdh. Nordine had literally just told me all bath products should be 1mdh each and entry more than 10. So that makes 13. Not 40. I count it out with her and we get to 15, because apparently soap and rhassoul are 2. Whatever, fine.

Then it’s 5 for them to keep my bag. That I don’t try to argue at all. Please like me and take care of my things.

She points me across the room and tells me to get naked. No dividers or curtains, just out in the open; literally in the  entrance. If I almost walked into the men’s side who’s to say the reverse couldn’t happen? I do as I’m told but confirm that I am supposed to get TOTALLY naked, right? The girl from the internet said that’s frowned upon. No bathing suit? Okay lady. Here I am. Naked. While you stand next to me and collect my things, covered from head to toe in your hijab and dress. She gives me some plastic buckets (two large and one small) and points me further inside to the actual steam room.

I’ve been told hammams are similar to onsens in Japan, where they are used as a way to relax and get clean, but also to socialize. I head inside and say “bonjour” to a bunch of other naked women, and no one responds. Okay cool sweet I guess I’m not supposed to talk, now I don’t know. The internet didn’t prepare me for this!

I walk to the very back where I find my own little shower corner. Already sweating to death, I fill one bucket with hot water and the other with cold. I use the smallest plastic bucket to take a bit from each of the big ones to achieve a bearable temperature, and pour it over my head. I open the special olive shampoo, called beldi, which looks like thick black jello, and is wrapped in newspaper. It’s suuuuper sudsy, which I wasn’t expecting. Next I get out my exfoliating glove and the rhassoul. This is also sold to me inside a piece of newspaper, but looks like little pieces of sand rock or something.

The internet told me that when I started exfoliating, someone would come offer to scrub my back, and that this is normal, and to accept, then reciprocate the offer.

Well guess what? No one in this friendly hammam offers, and im not about to ask. Part of me is okay with this because I don’t really want strangers touching my naked body, but part of me is sad because now it’s like my hammam experience isn’t complete. Did it even really happen if a naked stranger didn’t scrub my back?

This special shampoo doesn’t seem to be doing any wonders for my hair. It feels hella dry when I wash it out, but I guess we’ll see.

My towel is pretty damp from sitting in the steam room with me. Maybe I was supposed to leave it outside? I’ve given up on trying to do the proper hammam things and am now just focused on surviving. Is there a shower where I can rinse off? Where do I dry my hair? Is there a mirror so I can wipe off my melting mascara?

Doesn’t look like it.

I get dressed slowly in the hopes that my hair will do some drying in the process. I’m still sweating to death and it doesn’t feel fair to my new clothes to put them on when I’m still basically wet. Luckily all my clothes are pretty gross at this stage of my trip, so it doesn’t matter.
There is one woman sitting next to me, wearing a full black dress and niquab, chillin, as I’m naked and changing. I don’t think she was in the steam room when I was, and it doesn’t look like she has plans to get naked so I’m not really sure what she’s doing here. Maybe she’s come for the warm and welcoming environment.

I walk out slowly, making sure to leave 5dhm for reception as a tip (the Internet told me to), while kinda hoping they’ll stop me if I’m doing something wrong… like leaving the hammam with wet hair. I haven’t noticed anyone walking around with wet hair since I’ve arrived, and apparently some people go to the hammam like 3 times a week. Where do they dry their hair???? I feel like I’ll probably attract more unwanted attention walking around like this than I do with my normal, dry blonde hair.

I’m half right. As soon as I walk out the door, a boy who’s probably 15 starts asking me if I liked the hammam, if I like Morocco, where I’m from etc etc. He’s just left the hammam too, is adorable, and is just a friendly, chatty kid. He walks me almost all the way back to my hostel, and almost no one asks me to enter their shop our shouts anything after me. Bonus.

I have no photos of the hammam. Clearly couldn’t walk around with a camera photographing naked people, so I just turned to Google to find something I could use as an example. The results are LAUGHABLE. Seriously, go google hammam, and then forget what you’ve seen, because what I did was nothing like that. Just a big tiled room with plastic buckets. Not a spa. The internet makes it seem so glamorous. Or maybe I went somewhere totally sketchy. Who knows.

Back at the hostel I take another shower. I already feel “clean” but am absolutely over heating so I take a follow up cold shower just to cool off. I only used half the olive shampoo at the hammam and kept the other half to bring home, but I think I hate it. My hair looks so dry!!!

I head over to the Riad to meet the squad for dinner. I’m starving. When asked about my hammam experience I talk about the pros and cons, but when I bring up the olive shampoo they crack up. Now they’re touching my hair. What is happening. Oh. Turns out that it’s a special Moroccan BODY SOAP. Not shampoo. Ugh. I did the hammam all wrong. I want a do-over!

I assumed we were all going out for dinner together but I am pleasantly surprised with a home made tagine. It’s a chill night and we don’t go out anywhere because we must rest up for tomorrow; mon anniversaire! They drive me home because it’s dark. While I feel safe here, and stand by the fact that everyone over exaggerates the dangers of Morocco, I didn’t love walking over to the Riad alone earlier tonight. What I just can’t wrap my head around is why people get a kick out of making me/other women feel uncomfortable. Like they can’t possibly think I’m actually going to stop and chat. I can’t imagine they believe I’m going to take it as a nice compliment when they cat call, or tell me to smile. I just don’t see what the aim is. Would genuinely love the opportunity to ask someone one time, but then I’d be stopping to talk and that’s a hard no.

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