A First for Everything: My Experience at a Moroccan Hammam

Colleen Morrissey is a student at the University of Northern Iowa. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and studied abroad with ISA in Sevilla, Spain

For my first weekend abroad, my ISA program organized an excursion to Morocco. I was very excited because I had never been to Africa before. This gave me the opportunity to mark off another continent on my list, and now I can share a story that I did not ever think I’d have.

As infants, our parents bathed us. They caringly washed away the dirt and wrapped us up in a towel. As we started to grow up and learn how to accomplish basic skills on our own, we started to drift away from needing our parents to do things for us.

ISA Sevilla group who visited the beautiful royal palace in Fez, Morocco.

After a full day at the medina in Fez—which happens to be the oldest and largest medina in Africa—our trip leaders organized for us to experience something we cannot do in the United States: visit a traditional Moroccan hammam. A hammam is a public steamed bath house where individuals go to bathe, and everyone is separated by gender. Upon arrival, the group did something that was initially uncomfortable: we took our clothing off in front of each other. Getting over the initial shyness took a moment, but once we stepped into the sauna rooms, it felt natural to be exposed. After all, we all came into this world unclothed. Once in the saunas, we were given a natural oil soap that I thought looked like ear wax. After letting the soap dissolve on our bodies, we waited for a woman to scrub our bodies with an exfoliating hand glove.

When it was my turn, I was a little timid. To have a complete stranger see my fully exposed body and bathe me felt awkward since I had not had someone bathe me since I was a baby. However, everyone else was doing it, and it began to feel normal. I was disgusted when I saw my dead skin accumulating on the glove… but my skin felt amazing! Once I returned to my hotel room, I immediately applied argon oil that I’d purchased at a local market. I felt like I was glowing!

After thinking about my experience, my advice to you is this: take advantage of every opportunity and step outside your comfort zone, you may discover something you really like. To fully experience another culture, one must be willing to step outside their comfort zone and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.

Panoramic view of the oldest and largest market in Africa.

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits. 

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