Goats in Argas Tree
Feeling a little grubby? You’d be surprised at how much dirt can lodge itself on the human body, especially if you are traipsing about Marrakesh, up and down the dusty blind alleys, the bazaars in the medina, alongside the fruit and vegetable stands, past the perfume and spice vendors, through the noisy crush of textile, carpet, pottery and metalware souks, into the dark charnel areas where the vendors of offal trade in innards and entrails, through the tannery area where animal hides are treated with pigeon shit. The odour is atrocious at the tannery. I am ashamed to say I retched; then I discovered that my traditional headscarf could be used to enclose the mouth and nose, rather like a surgical mask such as morticians or pathologists might wear when dealing with mortified flesh. A kind gentleman noticed my distress and handed me a sprig of fresh mint to crush and hold to my nose.
Wishing to experience the authentic Marrakesh, Liz and I decided on a traditional hamam rather than the more pricy touristy version. A hamam is, in essence, a Turkish bath. The establishment we chose was decorated as I had always imagined a harem would be decorated: elaborately carved friezes and screens, mosaic tiles, Moorish arches, red and gold fabrics, Berber carpets and subtle oil lamp illumination. Arabic music tinkled in the background. We reclined on divans, sipped mint tea and deliberated over le liste de prix pour les services. The 270 Dirham (about £20) package included the disposable thong, the plastic flip flops, terry towels and robes and a locally-sourced completely natural pharmacopeia of soft black soap, frothy almond soap, and argan oil.
A special note about argan oil. This oil is obtained from the argan nut. The tree that bears it, Argania Spinosa, has vicious thorns that pose a hazard to human harvesters. Therefore the villagers cleverly get their nut-loving goats to climb the trees (honest I am not making this up). The goats eat the fruit. At the propitious time, that is, after the goats have emptied their bowels, the women (yes the women) extract the indigestible nuts from the goat shit, cleanse the nuts, crack them open to separate the kernel from its covering, and grind the kernals to extract the precious argan oil.
The masseuse dips her hands in greenish-black soft soap for the first gentle wash. She follows this by rinsing me clean with buckets of very warm water; next — 30 minutes in the marble and mosaic hot room; then she leads me to a marble table — has me lie face up and then face down; every inch of flesh is exfoliated, or should I say dermabraded — the masseuse’s glove felt like sandpaper. Ca va? asked my masseuse. Oui. Ca va. I replied enthusiastically. Getting really clean is pleasurable. She got me up and off the table and had me perch on a marble plinth so she could again douse me with buckets of warm water, sluicing off the layers of dead skin which had collected on my body like fragments of chamois leather. Back on the table for a 30 minute head to toe massage with argan oil, and, to finish — a delicious body and head shampoo with fragrant, frothy white, almond soap-suds.
I was complimented on my glowing skin by a hotel guest who saw me post-hamam. Naturally I purchased a 150 ml bottle of cosmetic grade argan oil to bring home. I don’t care that it came through a goat’s alimentary canal and asshole. We suffer to be beautiful. I happily smear it on my face paying special attention to the upper lip where my age seems to show more than anywhere else. Yes. It gets inside my mouth but since argan oil is also used for cooking I imagine it can do me nothing but good.
Anne in a Marrakesh Palace/ Photo: Liz Coppock