The nervous laughter echoed down the streets of Meknes as we walked to our unknown fate at the hamam. The baths of Morocco, a common practice for women and men here and a challenge for Americans. In the West, women are taught that our bodies are weird. Our boobs not big enough or not Barbie-perky. Our waist too small or too large – and stretch marks only happen to pregnant women. Our curves too much, or our lack too boyish. The list of not enoughs goes on in our minds, in this laughter.
When we arrive at the Hamam it seemed oddly normal in its similar appearance to a locker room at a gym. We undress and quickly wrap our towels around our torsos. Taking a breath, I walk into the back room with my plastic basin. After removing her hijab, our Moroccan guide leads us inside. There are women laying on the floor being scrubbed by another. Their stares pierce my anxieties.
I pick a faucet and fill the bucket with warm water. Sitting on the tile floor, I feel childish in my unknowing of the practice. We all look similar, the Americans balled up in a steamy room with our buckets. Beauty. I pour water over my tangled body, the hot water slowly unraveling the tension of discomfort. A woman comes behind me and throws henna and black soap on my back. I reach for the mud-like mixture and coat my body, quietly observing the curves of my legs and the rounds of my shoulders.
I’m told to wait on a mat for a woman to scrub me. Holding my legs across my chest, I wait. I feel like a zoo animal being stared at – maybe my blonde hair, light skin, or tattooed arms stand out. Or maybe my discomfort is more revealing than my nakedness. A woman in her underwear sits behind me. She starts scrubbing my back. It’s rough, back and forth, peeling my skin off. She flips me over, my head rests on a strangers inner thigh. I try to relax as I watch the rolls of dead cells fall to the tile. Skin piles float in streams of water flowing in the moats that cross between the rooms.
After being scrubbed and slid around on the floor, I walk back to the faucet. While still raw, this time my posture is a little straighter. Sitting again in front of my bucket, my body unfolds into a cross-legged seat, a posture of meditation. Playing with the water I remark how I feel like a child in the bath. When did bathing become a task? A way to just clean and wipe the dirt of the day away. Here, the practice of pouring water over and over is nearly spiritual. Not rushed, our beautiful bodies are clean.