2019 Spring Amideast Gwen Jensen Morocco

Self Care: Moroccan Style

Self-care. Finals. The two seem to have their own ying-yang balancing effect for college students. Contrary to popular belief (my own included), finals during a semester abroad are no less rigorous than finals in the states. The end of the semester leaves a unique kind of weight on a college student’s shoulders, with face masks being an immediate remedy after another all-nighter in the Tech. But in Morocco, there is no Tech, and are also no face masks. The former is swapped for local WiFi cafes, which close at a rather respectable hour, and the latter swapped for…group bath houses?

حمام

Hammam.

Translation: Shower.

I got that word wrong last semester on my Arabic final.

But now, hammam is a word I could not ever forget — after all, it does describe my favorite indulgence from this semester in Morocco. No, I am not referring to the small, tiled shoe-box in my host family’s bathroom. It’s difficult to describe the exact experience of a Moroccan hammam. I think the closest explanation I’ve given was a few months ago to a friend from home:

The hammam is a pillar of Moroccan life — the epitome of self-care. Think: sauna meets hot tub, meets facial, meets pedicure, meets haircut. Basically, take all of your favorite self-care treats, and throw them into a deeply beautiful, tiled public bathhouse. That’s a hammam. My host mother goes every week, without fail, and each time returns home in utter bliss before collapsing into a nap on the sofa.

My first few weeks in Morocco, the hammam was an exciting excursion for my friends and I, but soon, as with all self-care habits, became an easy-to-postpone indulgence that was steamrolled by mountains of school work, internships, volunteering, homework, essays, travel plans, meetings, to-do lists on to-do lists…..

But this week, with finals rapidly approaching and weighing heavily on my mental stamina, I gratefully cleared time in my schedule to return to the hammam with my host mother and roommate. The experience was not at all like my earlier hammam visits, with giggling friends. Instead, as the steam swelled in the endless, tiled tunnel, buckets of warm water momentarily drowned me and my stresses, and the purposeful and thorough scrubbing left me feeling baby soft, I had a moment to reflect and shed not only months of sun-dried dead skin, but also the heaviness of all the things which accumulate over the course of a semester. Unlike finals, which offer one chaotic, cathartic release of this pent-up stress that defines each semester, the hammam gently washed away the stresses of pre-finals week.

I exited the dim lights of the tiled cave, my feet soft from the pumice and massage (yeah, its included), my skin glowing from the sauna (also included), and my head finally free from the throbbing pain that accompanies this time of the semester.

At dinner tonight, my host family was shocked to hear that hammams are non-existent in America. My friends and I here have often joked that if they did exist, they would likely be overpriced luxuries for Instagram influencers. But in Morocco, self-care is integrated into routine, meant to be for everyone. Even my six-year-old host sister goes to the hammam. She’s usually asleep in the taxi before she’s back at home.


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