My own first memory is interlinked with my beloved tassa, a bowl commonly used in the hammam to pour water. Usually it’s made of plastic, but I was lucky enough to have one made for me in bronze, an exact miniature replica of my mum’s.
Like so many little girls, I remember wanting to emulate my mother and my glamorous aunts by pouring a handful of Rassoul in my own little bowl, adding in water – often too much – and mixing it into a smooth paste to slather over my face and body (I also did my hair, but sadly that required more dexterity than my newbie application technique could complete, and led to a challenging knot situation that we shall not discuss right now).
The mixing, the applying, the fragrant rose smell blended with earthy Rassoul, the delicate rinsing, and the residual soft skin (noticeable even to a five-year-old) led to an overwhelming sense of pride that I was following a beauty ritual women had practiced long before my time. I felt part of something much bigger than a skin care routine, and hoped it would last for centuries to come.
Still, as I grew up and left my hometown hungry to discover new places, my passion for the hammam and ancestral beauty rituals faded.
Faded, but it never disappeared.
Some days it was a smell, a sight, or a childhood memory that brought it to mind. But I pushed it away. Too busy with experiencing wonderful, new things.
The first serious flashback happened in my mid-twenties, in Paris.
The trigger was simple and unexpected: instead of asking what kind of food I would fancy from Morocco, my parents asked if there was anything I wanted from home. Undoubtedly, they thought the answer would be food-related, because it always was (and if you don’t know why, please try some Moroccan food). However, I surprised myself (and them) by asking for them to ship all the traditional Moroccan beauty ingredients they could find, suddenly excited at the prospect of mixing my own potions at home.
A few weeks later, an extensive range of herbs, clays, powders, as well as rose and orange blossom waters showed up at my door. Now, I could mix my own elaborate and sophisticated Moroccan rituals.
But I never did.
I never mixed a thing. My fast-paced Parisian life didn’t leave much time to track down specific processes and complex recipes.
But I kept all the ingredients, even as I moved house five times – including a grand leap to London.
I still have the parcel of ingredients. I know exactly where it is. I keep it. I have to. As a reminder of where I came from, our history, my story and a rite of passage passed down for generations… and a promise for the future.
Discover how the Hammam has evolved for the 21st century in part two here.