Hammam Clean (with Moroccan Black Soap)

My First Hammam Experience

A hammam, or public bath house, can fog up your glasses pretty quick. My Moroccan friend and host indicates that I should take them off and tuck them into my bag. At a moment where there isn’t much left on to take off and I’m about to walk into a room full of strangers where I stick out like a sore thumb, taking off my glasses actually seems comforting. At least I won’t be able to see if anyone is staring at me.

Although my initial response was one of apprehension, I quickly find that the hammam is all about relaxation and self care. The warm air, sounds of pouring water and casual conversation put me in a better mood.

Here is the moment where I first experience Moroccan black soap, or savon beldi. My friend pulls out a small plastic-wrapped bundle of a greenish-brown substance. “What’s this?” I wonder, my curiosity piqued, especially since I can’t see clearly beyond the end of my hand. I quickly find out that it is a type of soap, though nothing like the bars or bottles of liquid body wash I am used to. The texture is almost caramel-like, but it quickly dissolves and lathers up. The smell is unique, not exactly like olives but a distant relative. It is not unpleasant. I realize that this is the smell permeating the hammam and its importance in the bath house becomes clear. A little goes a long way, and soon I have rubbed it in to my skin head to toe.

My friend watches my progress than demonstrates the next step, exfoliation. She has a black glove, which upon closer examination has a bit of a rough texture to the fabric. I later learn that this is called a kessa. She begins to vigorously rub her skin with the glove. She invites me to do the same and offers to help me get started with my back (I later learn that having a friend or relative, or hammam assistant help with the hard-to-reach spots is part of the experience). It feels a little scratchy against my skin, but in a pleasant back-scratching way.

Let me stop and explain that I am an American who has primarily taken daily showers her adult life. I consider myself generally clean. I was proven wrong that day.

All of a sudden dead skin is rolling off in the path of the kessa glove. I can’t believe it! I take over the kessa glove from my friend and try rubbing my legs. With some practice I see dead skin starting to roll off.

I continue with the rest of my body, rinsing as I go. I take my time through this process, careful to clean each limb and digit. However, as I rinse off and gather my toiletries I realize that my friend is still bathing. Having been trained all my life to efficiently take a shower, I was shocked at how much time could pass while at the hammam. It really is a time-out for self-care. What a great way to recharge and refresh.

Once out of the steamy hammam, I can feel my new super-smooth skin. Looking around at those leaving, now wrapped up in post-hammam attire, I see that everyone has a squeaky-clean glow about them. I feel like a new woman.

I can definitely see how this can become a regular part of my skin care routine.

So it did. When I moved back to the US, it was one of the many wonderful aspects of Morocco I thought I had to leave behind. That is, until, we started Moroccan Find and began bringing the Moroccan Black soap over to the US. We’re still working on how to bring over the entire hammam. 


How to use Moroccan Black Soap at Home

For Exfoliation

You will need:

A grape sized amount of Moroccan Black soap

Kessa exfoliating glove

Argan oil/other moisturizer (optional)

Steps:
  • Rinse skin with warm water in a shower or bath. It is best if the room is steamy.
  • Apply a small amount of Moroccan Black Soap to the whole body and leave it for approximately 5-10 minutes. It is best to do this with your hand, but a washcloth can also be used. You should not use your kessa for applying the soap. A soapy kessa will not work as well to exfoliate.
  • Rinse off skin completely with warm water.
  • Wet the kessa glove with warm water. Using medium-pressure, move the kessa glove back and forth over your skin. It should feel pleasant like getting your back scratched. If you feel pain, use less pressure. It can take time for dead skin to start rolling off. It is better to be slow and persistent with the right pressure that you feel comfortable than to go fast and apply too much pressure. We want to protect the new layer of skin underneath your dead skin.
  • Take your time to go over each area of your skin. You can also continue the process on your face, but it is not recommended if you have sensitive skin in that region. Instead, try using rhassoul clay for a mild exfoliating effect.
  • You may rinse your skin with warm water as you go, or rinse off after you are finished exfoliating your whole body.
  • Some people like to end with one more final soap and rinse, this is optional. Moroccan Black soap can be used again for this.
  • Once you dry your skin with a towel, apply a small amount of Argan oil, or other moisturizer of your choice.
  • Enjoy your silky-smooth skin! Repeat this exfoliating ritual as often as needed, paying attention to your skin’s needs during the different seasons. Some Moroccans will exfoliate two times a week, but more commonly once a week. My skin usually benefits from exfoliating every other week. I would recommend exfoliating at least once a month in order to continually see benefits of this process.

As a Daily Body-wash

Can you use Moroccan Black soap everyday? Of course!

You will need:

A grape sized amount of Moroccan Black soap

A wash cloth (optional)

Steps:
  • Lather the Moroccan Black soap in your hands, or in a wash cloth. The soap does not foam like some manufactured soaps, but should form a thick lather. 
  • Apply soap over your body as you would normally
  • Rinse.
  • Repeat daily or as often as you bathe. 

This soap is gentle and moisturizing. I currently use Moroccan Black soap as my daily soap and see a difference in my skin’s health–less dryness and fewer breakouts.

For Shaving

You will need:

A grape sized amount of Moroccan Black soap (maybe less depending on the area being shaved)

Razor

Argan oil (optional)

Steps:
  •  Work the Moroccan Black soap into a lather between your hands or with your hand on the area of skin to be shaved.
  • Cover the area of skin to be shaved with the lather.
  • Shave with razor. Rinse off soap.
  • Apply a few drops of Argan oil to moisturize and nourish your skin.

Moroccan Black soap doesn’t foam like other manufactured products. Foaming agents can dry the skin and moisturizers need to be added to counter act this effect. Moroccan Black soap is naturally hydrating and nourishing. 


Our Moroccan Black soap

What is Moroccan Black soap made of? 

Moroccan Black soap is a simple Castile type soap. It is made from olives/olive oil and potash using a saponification process. The result is a natural and mild soap, perfect for most skin types. 

Moroccan Find’s Moroccan Black soap adds nothing to this original formula except for orange blossom (neroli) essential oil. Orange blossoms bring me back to the springtime in Morocco–a heavenly scent. We’ve added it for your enjoyment.

 


The Beauty of Moroccan Embroidery

I spent hours watching the thread go back and forth through the fabric in a careful precise pattern. It is a peaceful activity, keeping the hands and eyes working in coordination. When we were gathered together at the nedi, or club, conversation was free flowing and comfortable above the constant activity of embroidering.

There was a significant age gap between those that were full members of the nedi and their students. The art of sewing and embroidery passed down to the next generation. And there I was. Younger than the women who were in charge of teaching their craft, but older than the high-school aged girls. My purpose, as a peace corps volunteer, was to help with small business development in the area of artisan groups in Morocco. Each situation is different, and mind involved working with several different groups in the town I was assigned to. This nedi was one of those groups.

Largely in charge of creating my own projects, I ended up teaching different crafts and English to the students at the nedi. You never know what might stick, and what beginnings might lead to new avenues for making income or changing the course of a life. Of course, I am the one who undoubtedly learned the most in this situation. I learned a completely new and different language, culture, and craft. All of this continues to have an impact on my daily life in the present. Which brings me back to the main point, embroidery.

What is Moroccan Fezi Embroidery?

Fezi, or Fesi depending on your transliteration, embroidery to be precise. The origins of this type of embroidery are in Fes (or Fez), Morocco. Fezi embroidery has set motifs that a student learn by first creating a sampler. She will then usually work on some personal items for her current or future home, after marriage. The designs can be tricky. Not only should they look like the particular motif from the front, they also need to duplicate it on the back. To do this, each stitch has a precise order so that no thread is out of place on either side. The double sided quality makes it great for bed linens, table cloths, and napkins where both sides may be seen and used.

The motifs are primarily geometric near-abstractions, loosely referencing natural elements such as trees, plants, and birds. Dense embroidery can adorn luxurious pillows or wedding linens. Usually simpler, more open designs can be found on table cloths and napkins.

Although I had seen examples of Moroccan embroidery from almost the moment I arrived in Morocco, I didn’t understand or completely appreciate it until I began working with the women at the nedi. The geometric and organic patterns certainly have an appeal. It has a handmade look and feel to it, in a tidy way. The human attention paid to the details gives off an ancient feeling of luxury that no machine made textile could compete with. And that isn’t an exaggeration. Palaces were filled with Fezi embroidered garments and decor. A visit to one of the Moroccan museums or collections of historical items will attest to this.

So where does this leave Moroccan embroidery today?

Although I was working with a younger generation interested in some part of learning this art, overall it is a dying art. Far fewer Moroccans are taking the time to master this time consuming craft that requires a decent amount of memorization. Of course, there are far to many other things competing for our time and use of eyes and hands (smart phones are everywhere). Additionally, it is not seen as a lucrative career path. There is a general devaluing of “women’s work” and it is hard to make a decent living wage with embroidery.

Maybe I can’t stop the overall decline of fezi embroidery within the next generations of Moroccans. However, I can work to open this art up to new markets in a purposeful way.

I start with Fatima.

Fatima is one of the members of the nedi I met all those years ago. She is a master Fezi embroidery artist. The images I am sharing with you are some of the pieces she has done for friends and relatives. These have become treasures.

Fatima herself is a treasure. She was always easy for me to talk to, even early on when my Arabic was very clumsy. She had experience with the volunteer that had come before me that made it an easy introduction. She is practical and still has a wit that follows her through every conversation. Her home is perhaps humble to some eyes, but also full of warmth and welcome. Long after my time of service, I have kept in contact and made repeated visits to her home while back in Morocco.

“I haven’t forgotten about you.” I remind Fatima as we began this project, Moroccan Find. “I will bring you work.” And here I am, and that is my purpose. I want to see her, and hopefully more like her as our business grows, inshallah (God willing), with another outlet for their craft. One that pays better and fairly for the work and care put into each piece.

I have started with having her add Fezi embroidery to children’s clothing. Why? Because I have a young child and I love to see her wearing something cute, and purposeful. My desire is to see something different than what is already most popular items to embroider, but there may be some napkins, tablecloths and pillow covers making their way into our finds in the future.

Where would you like to see Moroccan embroidery?

It begins…

We love Morocco. It has a beautiful and unique culture and history. The people are generous and inviting. Everywhere you look there is color, pattern, texture. It is a feast for the senses. Not to mention the culinary feasts you will be served at any home or restaurant in the country. Is it possible to not fall for Morocco’s charms?

And when we cannot be in Morocco in this present moment, it is nice to have a piece of Morocco with us. That inspires our mission at Moroccan Find. We want to bring Morocco home when home is not currently Morocco. We think you might be entranced by Morocco just as we are– or if not yet, that your curiosity has been piqued.

Please join us here as we will discuss our newest finds and favorite things about Morocco. We are in the processes of acquiring our first round of hand crafted items and beauty products. Keep an eye out on our blog, or sign up for our email newsletter, so that you will be one of the first to hear about our latest finds.

Marhaba, welcome, and we look forward to sharing our love for Morocco with you!