A Local Moroccan Hammam and the Unexpected Goat

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This is why I pay attention to my intuition. You just never know where it’s going to take you.

From Fes, I took the train to Meknes with the intention of staying the night in the old medina and maybe checking out the ancient pilgrimage site of Moulay Idriss. I took a taxi to the center of town but when I looked around, it looked like downtown Los Angeles in the 1990’s: shady as hell. There were people in dirty clothing and grey buildings with trash strewn about the front. I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt so I looked for a decent place to stay in a cleaner part of town. I wandered around with my backpack getting progressively heavier with every step for about 20 minutes. Every turn in the medina took me to a more desperate area. I had to reconsider this plan.

I decided to go to nearby Moulay Idriss but I had no idea how to get there. I hopped in a taxi and asked to be taken to the bus station. No, the train station. Shit, where was I going?? The driver asked me what I wanted to do as he was not going to drive in circles all day with a crazy white girl whose French was dreadful. I have no better hold of French than a 6 month old and that’s the language they speak here. Well, that and Arabic but I’m still in the womb with Arabic. It’s been challenging to say the least.

I said Moulay and he told me to take a grand taxi (a shared beaten up Mercedes that is packed with 7 people per trip). This should be fun, I hadn’t taken a grand taxi yet! I hop in and off we go.

Moulay Idriss is a small town built on a hill and there’s a mausoleum of a famous Muslim saint there. It sees some tourism but not loads and I was ready for a little break after Fes. My intuition led me to a great hotel, Dar Zerhoune, that is owned by a beautiful Kiwi woman. I felt right at home there and settled in for just one night. There were 2 other American women staying there so it was like a feminine oasis in the middle of what had been mostly a masculine trip thus far.

Rose, the owner, asked us if we would care to go to the local hammam and I quickly said, “Hell yes!!” A girly field trip! We would be pampered and scrubbed within an inch of our lives, or so I thought.

It was a very local hammam (read: I would have never in a million years have found it on my own or even thought that it was indeed a hammam). While descending the steps it got hotter and more humid. But wait. Why is there a goat tied up on the steps?? Must be for Ramadan or a gift for someone. We stepped over the goat and proceeded down the stairs.

Damn! We forgot the scrubbing mitts! We told the 2 American women to get undressed and wait for us to bring back the mitts. They were a bit uncomfortable and it would be good for them to slowly settle in. We got the mitts and hurried back. On the way back we heard some ululating and women yelping. When we descended the stairs there was no goat to step over, but taking the turn into the hammam we saw the goat. There was blood everywhere and the goat lay on the ground, its head separated from its body by about a meter. The women cowered in a corner fully dressed, heads down. When they noticed our arrival they looked at us with traumatized eyes. The goat had been beheaded in front of them. They are vegetarians.

Let me just say that blood was still pumping out of the carcass profusely. I was engrossed in this whole scene, a very old hammam, ancient women ululating and me, utterly confused. We hightailed it out of there to another hammam, the old women protesting that the goat was no intrusion on our hammam experience. I begged to differ. Nothing like the smell of goat to kill a relaxing day.

We went to another hammam and stripped down to our undies. Nothing like meeting someone and an hour later getting naked and scrubbed by a large woman with pendulous breasts. At least there was no goaty eyes staring at me this time.

Photo credit: MariaLovesWords.

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