Moroccan Baths Pull the Plug | God's World News

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Moroccan Baths Pull the Plug

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    A worker walks through an empty Moroccan traditional bath in Rabat, Morocco. (AP/Mosa’ab Elshamy)
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    A steam room inside a Moroccan traditional bath (AP/Mosa’ab Elshamy)
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    Morocco’s famous public baths must close three days per week in an effort to save water. (AP/ Mosa’ab Elshamy)
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    A poster encourages people to save water inside a Moroccan bath. The poster in Arabic reads, “Shower while preserving water.” (AP/Mosa’ab Elshamy)
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    An elderly man washes at a traditional bathhouse in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP/Hani Mohammed)
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    A man ignites a furnace to heat a bathhouse near Rabat, Morocco. (AP/Mosa’ab Elshamy)
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Need a bath?

Sorry—it’s closed today, tomorrow, and the next day too. After a grueling, six-year drought, bathhouses in Morocco now have to close three days each week.

Public baths (hammams in Arabic) have been a big part of Moroccan life for hundreds of years. For a handful of change, rich and poor alike relax on stone slabs under mosaic tiles in a haze of steam. They lather up with traditional black soap before washing with scalding water from plastic buckets right alongside friends and neighbors.

Many other cultures have similar bathhouse traditions. Visitors to a Japanese sentō leave their shoes and clothes behind to take a dip in herbal or black spring water baths. Finland sauna-goers join friends in a little room heated to over 200° Fahrenheit before taking a roll in the snow. Russians enjoy similar bathing spots called banya. In Mesoamerica, people enter steam-filled temazcals, or “houses of heat,” in an attempt to clean not only their bodies but their spirits too.

In Morocco, though, drought math is simple. Less water = fewer baths.

Fatima Mhattar has welcomed bathers to a public bath called Hammam El Majd for years. She greets families lugging buckets filled with towels, sandals, and other bath supplies. But the closures concern her. Fewer open days will likely mean fewer customers, and fewer customers might mean she gets less pay. “Even when it’s open Thursday to Sunday, most of the clients avoid coming because they are afraid it’s full of people,” Mhattar says.

Meanwhile, hot temperatures bake the land. Water supplies shrink. This frightens farmers and the municipalities that rely on them. Moroccans make hard choices about what to do with the water they have left. Officials craft new rules for hammams and car washes. A chorus of hammam-goers and politicians suggest the government is picking winners and losers. Critics ask: Why should some businesses get more water than others? Why not instead make water use laws for fancy hotels, pools, and spas? And what about farms? Hammams don’t use nearly as much water as farms do.

Mustapha Baradine is a carpenter in Rabat, Morocco. He likes to enjoy hammams with his family every week, and he doesn’t understand how the small amount of water he uses would matter so much. “I use only two buckets of water for me and my children,” he says. “I did not like this decision at all.”

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. — Psalm 51:10

Why? In times of want, officials must plan wisely so that all people—rich and poor—are cared for well.

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