The hammam is a place for relaxation. A calm and soothing atmosphere … where we breathe eucalyptus, and think of nothing. Eventually…
In Tunisia, the Hammam is a set of weekly healthy rituals. It is a public place where all social classes meet. The hammam is a social tradition. We go there with friends, or with family. I had been initiated, from an early age, to the Hammam and its rituals, by my grandmother, Oumi Emna (May her soul rest in Peace).
She used to take us, with my sister Isma, to the Kilani Hammam, in the center of Hammamet … Oumi Emna shared the tradition of the hammam with a lot of devotion and love. She was, moreover, the kind of women who you better don’t mess with. It was better not pissing her of in approaching her seal, her products, or her space.
Oumi was sending punchlines with instant effects. The kind of punchlines that makes you lose pounds. The Hammam was synonymous with cleanliness, but also of endless laugh sessions and complicity with my grandma, and my sister … It was a special moment, with quarrels between women, and silly mockings. The traditional folk Hammam is divided into several rooms, with different degrees of heat. The bottom chamber is for veterans. Don’t even try it, if you are not used to go to the Hammam. Younger, I could hardly stay in the hottest room. Even today, I can not bear the degree of heat of this room. However, I try to be valiant. Especially when I am not alone. I pretend that I can easily handle the great heat.
To introduce you to this tradition, I invited my friend Sabrina, to join at the Hammam. We went to a traditional hammam called Hammam el Joumhourya, in the suburb of Tunis. Sabrina and I, could not help evoking our childhood memories in the Hammam. So now, let’s see some of our grandmothers, mothers, indigenes of the Hammam, key rituals!
When a woman goes to the Hammam, the number one rule is to be equipped! Oumi used to, meticulously prepare our clothes in a typical Tunisian headscarf. And no way to forget the seal, the jugs, the wooden clogs, or the plastic clappers, the gloves, the tfal (clay), the Siwak (branch of Salvatore persica to whiten the teeth), the bath towels (béchkir) for the exit of the Hammam, the comb, the foutas …
Once in the Hammam, we’re ready for a real journey. First, we stay in the hot rooms to sweat well. We try to cross the eyes of the “Harza” (the woman who will scrape your skin with the glove, so you can shine a thousand lights out of the Hammam ^^). Forget the sweetness of relaxing essential oils massages.
The Harza has a one mission: to strip you! She does not have time to spare you. She will scrape the upper layers of your epidermis, and turn you like a pancake “to finish” the job (I laugh when I imagine your reactions in reading this – it looks violent and no jokes, it’s violent!). Generally, she enjoys torturing you. The more you moan in pain, and display your frailty, the more strength she will use. “Suavemente” is not part of his vocabulary ….
A real Hammam requires the application of natural products such as “tfal” or “Siwak”.
In a real popular hammam, and when it’s crowded, there is often a few clashes between women, for reasons as sterile as the order of passage with the Harza, or the access to the cabin called Mat ‘ hara (as in the picture, here below). These exchanges are generally very entertaining, after the Harza treatment.
It is now time to wash the body, and relax in the lobby of the Hammam. Having a gazouza (local soft drink), remains my favorite moment, just before getting dressed. We usually enjoy engaging conversations, as the program of the upcoming evening.
We can now get dressed and go get ready for an amazing evening with the fellas in Tunis!
Basically, women get home to prepare for the evening (make-up, hair…). These things needs to be done after the Hammam.
I want to say a huge thank you to Sabrina and Jesser. I invite you to visit their instagram profile @vitalunaspirit or his blog vitaluna spirit http://vitalunaspirit.com/ and Jesser @jesserlahdhiri.
These two profiles worth it! Sabrina recently launched her Youtube channel! A big thank you to Jesser, the photographer who accepted the challenge of taking pictures of us, in the Hammam.