losing a layer in morocco
Stepping out of our comfort zones can so often lead to our most amazing real life experiences. For Julie-Anne McMackin you couldn’t get much more uncomfortable than stripping off in front of strangers, but she mustered the courage on her Intrepid Morocco trip…
“I loved getting lost in the chaotic, crowded splendour of the Medina in the imperial cities. I lost my heart to a blue-eyed Berber who would have given Aladdin a run for his money and learnt how to wrap my head in the traditional Berber headdress to protect my face from the windblown sand that shapes the dunes as it races towards the endless horizons of the desert. But the most boundary-stretching, confronting and life-affirming experience of my time in this wonderful country was my visit to a hammam, or local bath.
The hammam is not just a place for cleansing, it is also a place for social gathering and gossiping. Hammams go back to the 7th century and initially were used for religious purification. Men and women use different baths or have different hours when they can bathe. My Intrepid friends and I were told it was an experience not to be missed.
When we arrived we self-consciously shed our clothes in the outer dressing room and hung everything on our own peg. For a very small fee, an elderly lady, who I suspect was very hard of hearing because of the loud volume of her voice, watched over our things. We were taken charge of by 3 strong, buxom women, who totally unselfconsciously wore nothing but the tiniest of underpants and a great deal of “women on a mission” attitude!
They shepherded us through a steamier, warmer room, to the even wetter and steamier bathing room, where other women had set out mats on the marble floor to establish their own space and had buckets and soaps at the ready. We were parked (pushed onto the floor) in our spot by our new minders.
Next minute, buckets of warm water were deluging me where I sat and I could barely breathe. That was followed by my introduction to the “mit”, which scoured nearly every inch of my body! Was I embarrassed you may ask? I did wonder at first what I had got myself into, but soon, like everyone else, I was in fits of laughter as these women talked animatedly in Arabic and unceremoniously grabbed arms and legs and scrubbed away!
What I was most embarrassed about was the amount of grey skin that came off. Anyone would think I hadn’t a clue how to use soap. I felt like a 5-year old being given a bath and being properly cleaned for once.
After another ritual drowning to wash away my outer layer, I was twisted and stretched in all directions, including a foot in the centre of my back with my arms pulled back behind me! But oh what a feeling when we emerged. My spirit was lifted by the laughter and I had never felt cleaner and more relaxed.
It took a lot of courage and trust to move this far out of my comfort zone with a communal bathing experience, but my trust was rewarded by the physical liberation and sense of acceptance that I experienced from these wonderful women and the great sense of well being that I carried with me throughout Morocco!”
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* photo by Sarah Henry – Intrepid Photography Competition