Before heading to a Synagogue in the New City of Fez for Rosh Hashanah services, Andrew and I visited the public bathhouse for a serious scrub down. My father and grandfather always described the hamam in Iran with smiles, sighs, and nostalgia. Now I can relate. I also now understand why they always frowned upon loofas as inferior scrubbing devices.
In the States, you soap, lather, and then rinse off under a shower. In the hamam you sit cross-legged on a tile floor as a mustachioed gentlemen in his 50’s pours scalding buckets of water on you and then proceeds to rub you down with saboon beldi (traditional old-fashioned soap that looks like black petroleum jelly). After a second rinse, he then slips his hand into a kis, which I would describe as an abrasive mitten that you would only use to clean the rust off of an old bike chain. While the purpose of the loofa is to lather soap all over your body, the kis is meant to remove your first (and sometimes second) layer of skin. As I held back tears, the man peeling off my summer tan asked if I was a student of karate. Apparently anyone in Morocco with well-defined pectorals is considered a fighter. I laughed. He then rocked my world.
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