May 28, 2011

My Bathhouse Massage in Casablanca Was Amazing, Until My Credit Card Didn’t Work.

Romanesque meets Ganesh -- visions from Moroccan bathhouse

As our plane made its descent towards Casablanca, I wondered, how would I pass my 12-hour layover? A visit to one of the local hammams or bathhouses, felt like music to my ears and medicine to my weary body and aching soul. I decided upon the Sheraton Hotel Casablanca as my place of respite where I’d be able to immerse myself in water, rest a while, do a bit of work on line, have a late lunch and then leisurely make my way back to the airport.

Barely alighting from the taxi at the hotel, I was immediately attended to by their concierge who took my bags and honored my request by escorting me directly to the spa.

This space was exactly as I’d envisioned, terra cotta tiles and warm marble floors, with the smell of aromatic oils and spices emanating from the walls. With the exception of a plane ride later on that evening and no commitments to tend to, I granted myself permission for a long overdue day of blissful solitude. So far the gods and goddesses seemed to have been working in my favor, as I was the only customer there during those early morning hours.

My first stop after the shower stalls was to the sauna. Its temperature was just right, allowing me to lie on the top shelf. Once there, I engaged in deep breathing, placing my left hand at the base of my abdomen and my right one on my heart. With each exhalation, I felt the drudge of travel slipping away from my body. Slowly, I exited from there and had a cold shower before slipping into the Jacuzzi where the pressure pumps gave my lower back and still healing ankle gentle, consistent massages.

While frolicking in the Jacuzzi, an employee entered and I managed to decipher through her combination of Arabic and French that she was the person who would ‘administer’ my bath in the hammam. Made of solid marble and reminiscent of the Roman Empire, there is a sacredness that one feels and experiences while being laid out on a marble slab. Here this large, robust female with beautiful dark hair flowing to her knees and expansive brown eyes through which we communicate, scrubs the daylights out of me. I’m a tad embarrassed when I see the grub and grind that she is removing from me, despite my daily dry skin brushing before showers as well as the use of a loofah to apply all natural soap. It makes me wonder about this all-natural stuff for which we spend significant amounts of money in organic establishments in the West.

The second step in this process is the application of some sort of mud-like masque that is applied over the entire body and then I’m instructed to lie flat on the marble platform. The heat coming from it melts away any tension that I may be holding in my back and shoulders.

In a deep meditative state, I am pleasantly surprised when the Reiki mantra – in Japanese – finds me. Even though I have been invoking it practically non-stop since being introduced to it about nine months ago, I’ve never managed to commit the Japanese to memory. Or so I think as my DNA certainly remembers it, having heard it said a few times by my Reiki guide.

*Kwo da kewa
Shin pai suna
Kan sha shite
Gyo o hageme
Hito ni shin setsuni

Just as I’m about to submerge myself even deeper, a bucket of tepid water is thrown over me and brings me back to this marble enclave.

This Moroccan crone helps me to get down from the marble slab and holding my hand, she escorts me over to a fountain where she provides me with a brass bowl that I dip into it and cascade the water over me for my final rinse.

She then wraps me in thick white cotton towels and escorts me to a rest area where I further deepen my relaxation while waiting for the final touch, a massage with pure Moroccan Argan oil. Lying here, I am visited by two of my favorite Hindu mantras; Jaya Ganesha and Om Namo Narayaanaya.  I am awash with gratitude as I invoke these that represent giving thanks to the remover of all obstacles and inviting peace into my life and the world at large respectively.

By the time I get to the massage room I am in such an altered state that I barely manage to get myself onto the massage table where I fall into a deep slumber only to be occasionally awoken by my own snores!

Lost in time, eventually I get dressed and feeling renewed and refreshed I start to envision the delectable tagine and couscous that I will savor; a lunch fit for a Queen.

As I present my credit card to settle my bill, the attendant informs me that it must be paid in cash. Too chilled out to query this, I ask her where is the nearest cash machine. I am relieved to hear that there is one in the hotel lobby. I advise her that I will have something to eat as by this time I am now ravenous and will return afterwards to pay her.

When my ATM card does not work at this machine, initially I do not worry. Having traveled in these parts before this is not unusual.

However two hours later and after having been to just about every ATM and bank in downtown Casablanca where my ATM card does not produce the joy of dirhams, the local currency spitting out at me, I acknowledge that I have a problem. Flashbacks of my first visit to Morocco many years ago when I had cash stolen from the safe of a 5-star hotel, return to re-traumatize me.

Just as I’m about to go into full-on panic mode, an internal voice whispers re-assuredly, “all will be well, all is well.” In an instant, a woman appears next to me as I am struggling to explain my dilemma to the person seated at the customer service window of the fifth bank that I’ve been directed to try.

She looks into my fear-filled eyes and promises that she will remain with me until this problem is resolved. In the meantime, she’s trying to solve her own issues of trying to change dirhams into US dollars for her upcoming trip to Miami at the end of this week.

Yet again, I am visited by the Reiki mantra, this time in English:

*Just for today,

Anger Not,

Worry Not,

Be Grateful,

Do your duties fully

Be kind to all living creatures.

I inwardly repeat this, over and over and over again.

Now beyond hunger and with only remnants of the morning’s bliss remaining, I say to her that I will return to the hotel and they will either have to take my credit card or have me arrested.  I am now defiant; I refuse to visit yet another bank to be sent to yet another bank!

On the way back to the hotel, I remember that I have another ATM card in my hand luggage that I rarely use. Seeing that I am trying to get the equivalent of less than USD 100.00, I am confident that this card will work. When it doesn’t it dawns on me what has happened – I’ve been down this road before.

Somewhere in my travels, all of my cards managed to get de-magnetized as none of them are working.

The hotel staff seemed to now realize that I am telling the truth and they decide to accept a credit card payment. Luckily, I’d manage to change some money prior to leaving the airport so that I could pay the taxi and have enough to get back to the airport later on. Instead of taking a taxi back to the airport, I opt to go by train, which in the end, leaves me with more than enough money to buy lunch and even a souvenir perhaps!

What’s the moral of the story here? When the going gets tough and unpredictable, breathe deeply, invoke your mantras with unyielding faith, send healing light to the situation and then without attachment, just watch the miracles unfold before you.

I also learned a very important lesson on the path of meditation. When we are still the mantra that we need appears. Clearly my Higher Powers knew this even before this saga began to unravel before me. Even though I’ve been practicing meditation for several years, I’d only recently learned this while attending a meditation workshop led by Rod Stryker. According to him, when we change our breath we also change our minds.

After another eight hours of travel, I managed to arrive home safely.

The following morning as I attempted to start the car that is affixed with a security element for which I need to swipe a card in order for it to ignite, nothing happened. I swiped several times before contacting the transport officer who thankfully was in the neighborhood and came to my rescue within a matter of minutes.

This time I smiled, as I now knew for sure what I’d suspected during those final moments in Casablanca – all of my cards had very much been de-magnetized.

All is well, indeed.

And so it is.

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