In Peace Corps Morocco

The large woman

Last night I made a trip to the hammam, or public bath house, like I often do. I like to go in the evenings because it is when there are the least amount of women there. But sure enough even with only a few women present it always proves to be a memorable experience.

Moroccan women are not shy about their bodies in the hammam. As much as they may cover themselves outside they surely shed it all inside. I usually go alone which means that I have nobody to scrub my back. During my last half of my visit I was alone with another single women in the room. She was a rather large woman, buck naked, not even wearing underwear.

She came over to me and handed me her "black thing" as we PCVs call it. It is a black fingerless hand mitt that is only a few degrees softer than sand paper. Moroccan women use this to scrub layers off their skin as they think this is the only way to get clean. With this black mitt they scrub their skin and end up with flaky pieces of dead skin that look like tiny bits of wet paper all over their bodies. When I first encountered this I figured it was unhealthy to do this to your skin. However now I am hooked. I enjoy the feeling of sloughing off so much dead skin to reveal new, fresh skin underneath.

The large woman sat down in front of me and I began to scrub her back. I was doing it as hard as I could but I knew I was not up to par with what one of her Moroccan friends would do. After I felt I was satisfied that I got her back clean I knew that it would be my turn. You scratch my back I'll scratch yours, right?

There are a couple of things you can think when  a large Moroccan woman is scrubbing your back and touching you in places that no stranger normally would. You can go with "Oh my God this is so wrong. I don't even know this woman and this is so uncomfortable!" Or you can go with "This actually feels so nice, I'm going to relax and just pretend this woman is my mother and enjoy this."

I chose to go with the latter. That is the Moroccan in me coming out. Being comfortable with a total stranger scrubbing my back. In the hammam it is kind of like the duty of women to take care of each other. When people see me alone they don't want me to be alone.

Aside from the fact that this woman scrubbed a place on the back of my neck raw I was glad that she was there to clean my back. It was nice for a minute or two to completely let go of what I think should be weird and just enjoy something.

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