Well today I officially went all-out Moroccan by having my first hamman at the local massage parlour. I feel AMAZING! I had already had one in Essaouria at a luxury spa, but this was something else – I feel it’s something that’s much better administered at a ‘rough round the edges’ local place – they seriously pull no punches with the loofah. Basically, you’re told to get our kit off and then you lie down on a bench in a floor-to-ceiling tiled room whilst a no-nonsense woman chucks hot water at you, rubs olive soap into your skin then scrubs you mercilessly with a coarse glove until fat worms of sludge start to fall off you, which she points out to you with a gleeful cackle. She then rubs pure ground argan nuts into your skin (‘food for the thirsty new skin’), followed by clay (‘to make you feel soft like a baby’). She wasn’t kidding – I can’t stop stroking my arms now… The process takes an hour and is completed by her showering you off and washing your hair, which engenders complete regression to a childlike state of blissful contentment – there is something very maternal and nurturing about the whole thing.
I came out feeling relaxed yet invigorated and energised, and now my skin is glowing and, frankly, I look radiant, even if I say so myself! No wonder a weekly hamman is something the Moroccans swear by, including the men. A recent conversation with our villa’s chef revealed to me quite how integral the hamman is to Moroccans. I was asking him what he was going to do on his day off and he said he had some jobs he needed to do and proceeded to list them. Having a hamman was up there, sandwiched between picking up some paint for his house and buying groceries.
“Pour nous, c’est comme le docteur,” he explained.
Living and working in a foreign country, as opposed to passing through as a tourist, helps you to see life through different eyes as you begin to notice the nuances of the local eccentricities. Experiencing Eid in a Muslim country was a wonderful opportunity to taste a different approach to a huge religious and familial celebration, akin to our Christmas. Like with Christmas, the reality was a huge anti-climax to the build-up, thank goodness in this case. The ominous tales of blood running down the streets and mass public goat slaughter were completely unfounded, and not once was I hit over the head by a lifeless hoof.
In fact, the most noticeable element of the big day itself was how like a ghost town Tarazhout and Aourire became. The pathetic bleatings of doomed sheep and goats that had filled the air in the preceding week were now eerily silenced, and all the people were nowhere to be seen – they were either in the mosque or with their families. After the initial horror at the savage centrepiece of the celebration (the ritual slaughter of a sheep or goat by each family) I ended up feeling a great fondness for the day. The excitement of the locals was infectious and I realised that their centrepiece is no different to our slaughtered turkey, except that they are much closer to the experience, rather than being conveniently and clinically distanced from it, as we are as we pass our credit card over at the supermarket in exchange for some cellaphaned, now flightless casualty. I have had some quite profound stirrings to become vegetarian since that day though…
One aspect of the regional celebration of Eid wasn’t exaggerated though – that of the macabre fancy dress parade that follows during the next few days, whereby local lads dress up in the stitched together skins of the recently slaughtered goats, wearing scary Halloween masks and generally enjoying the power of their intimidating presence as they march through the town in sinister groups. The pathetic photo below was the closest I dared to get! The town did smell distinctly ‘goaty’ for a few days too – you could smell those boys coming…
And finally, here’s a sneaky peek into a traditional Berber taxi, which took me up to a friend’s Riad in the mountains the other day – loving the gaudy tat!