Sat, Sun, Feb 13 -14
Saturday, Feb 13, 2010
It’s inevitable. If you travel you get the shits. A vague shadow of “not feeling so hot” started to show its face today. I think I ate a little less at lunch that normal, but other that that I stubbornly refused to accept that I wasn’t feeling tops. There were two big items on the agenda, so sick was not an option!
I’ve been hearing about these public bath houses (Hammam) since I got to Morocco. Tariq tells me regularly that we must go to the Hammam. The thought of a public bath house makes me a bit nervous. Pooping, talking on the phone, and showering are the three things I like doing in private (in that order). Going to bathe with a bunch of dudes just didn’t trigger my stoke button. However uncomfortable I thought it might be, I knew it would be an upgrade from the cold shower earlier in my trip though. (link)
The first room you come to is much like any changing room in any gym or pool, except here they throw you out if you expose yourself. I did the modest towel change like everyone else and got into my swimming shorts. From here things get more interesting.
Hammam’s are basically a bunch of cavernous tile rooms heated from below with a wood furnace. Tall arched ceilings hold in the humidity. It feels much like a sauna, but there are multiple large rooms, each progressively hotter. We staked out our spot in the rear of one of the back rooms, and went to fill our buckets with hot water. Here the bathing is done by dipping into the buckets and pouring water on yourself, no showers in sight.
The first step after getting wet is to wipe a black soap that has the consistency of melty carmel all over your body and then lay on the tile floor. Ahh, relaxing in that hot humid room melted away any apprehension I harbored. I could have done that for hours, maybe I did.
When I came in I noticed that many of the men were being aggressively scrubbed by the bath attendants, or fathers by their sons, or sons by their fathers. I thought I would just sit in my corner, pour hot water on my head and body, relax, soap up, rinse off, relax, etc. Nope. Tariq left and returned with a wiry guy in his mid 40’s. He took me to one of the cooler rooms and had me lay on my back. I didn’t even have time to get used to the idea of this before he tore into me.
Holy. Shit. The scrubby gloves they use could double as cheese graters. He was a strong bastard too. For a minute I thought he was punishing the infidel, but I refused to show the agony. He’d scrub and scrub, moved me this way and that and scrub me some more. My skin tingled like when your arm falls asleep, and he scrubbed some more. Back, face, legs, arms, stomach, feet, he scrubbed till I felt lumps of dead skin mounded next to me. Gross.
He sent me into the bathroom with the glove to wash my private bits. Needless to say, I was more gentle. Back at my buckets, I rinsed off the heaps of dead skin, pulled out my soap and washed again. I am certain I have never been so clean. It was a miraculous way to bathe, and I’m excited to do it again.
I think balance it important. After experiencing a cleansing bath in a style not much changed for thousands of years, I need some sin square things up. Tonight is club night and I hear it’s outrageous. Tariq stayed in, so our gang consisted of my sister and I, aunti, and a local player and his hottie girlfriend, both who are deep in the club scene.
Morocco was occupied by Spain for a long time and is still a major tourist hub for Europeans who want to party. The new section of Marrakech is a collection of posh hotels, clubs, shops, and restaurants. Did I say Posh? That would be an understatement. So far I had only seen old Morocco. It was a shock to see how modern and upscale the new side of town was.
Mini skirts replaced veils, leather jackets replaced robes, dancing replaced prayer and booze replaced tea. Nice. Our first stop was a fun little place, much like most bars in the U.S. or Europe. We had a couple drinks and some laughs then headed to the main attraction.
You’ve not experienced this level of nice before. Vegas, New York, you “thought” you had the club scene figured out! Elegant and upscale are inadequate to describe this club. This large building was built around a huge desert oasis scene enclosed in glass, couches and tables running around the periphery, and beautiful people everywhere. This place is all money. Drinks cost 100 Dirham (about $15) and the women cost considerably more. Everything is for sale here.
In Morocco you are virgin or a prostitute. There isn’t a lot of middle ground. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the harsh attitudes towards woman who explore their sexuality outside of marriage. It’s nearly impossible for them to marry, the family often disowns them, and work opportunities are scarce. Prostitution is the only thing left for many of them. Under the soft lights and pulsing beats of the club, no one looked like victims. To my eye, it seemed liberation in comparison to the subservient role most women adopt here.
I enjoyed my drinks, the wonderful company, the opulence and beauty around me, and really enjoyed watching the dynamics of all the people around me, men and women. I had to chuckle a little to when a very handsome European man propositioned my sister with several hundred Euro for the night. Sadly the yuck that was sneaking up on me all day decided to attack full force.
By the time we got home around 1:30 am, I was shivering uncontrollably and wouldn’t stop shivering for a long time to come..
Shivering under pounds of blankets, soaking my bed with sweat, dreams and reality getting mixed up, time distortion, pain, so much pain. That was my day. My joints hurt so bad, I limped to the bathroom. I was so weak I struggled to open my water bottle or sit up. Aches everywhere. So miserable. Thankfully sleep came easily, and I spent most of the day napping. It is rare that I get sick, and even rarer for me to get crushed. I was decimated.
I ran my list of symptoms by my sister in med school and she came back with “typhoid fever, african sleeping sickness, dengue, filiarisis, leishmaniasis…” Shit! New policy: Every time I visit a new country, pop a penny and start sucking on the local currency. Immortality, here I come.
Since I obviously have no wild stories of crazy happenings, here are some observations that might surprise you.
- It’s really humid here. Our cloths are constantly damp
- It’s cold too. When the sun is out, a long shirt is great, at night or on a cloudy day, be thankful for your coat
- The mountains outside the city are covered in snow.
- The city feels deserted before 3:00 or so, and it doesn’t get busy till after dark
- Men are very affectionate with each other, but homosexuality is not tolerated
- Breakfast sucks (bread and jam). But lunch makes up for it 10 fold
- It’s noisy. Buzzy scooters, horns, planes, and prayers broadcast from loudspeakers 5 times a day create a symphony of non stop noise
- There are no bugs. Well, maybe three ants, but that’s it.
- The hospitality is world class. If someone offers for you to stay in their home, you can’t pay them. Dinner, tea, conversation is expected to be accepted gracefully.