Traveling with multiple sclerosis can often be tricky. Traveling overseas, even trickier. But because I love to travel so much, I usually say pshaw to my disease and dive into the experience with reckless abandon. In late 2008 I voyaged to Morocco, an enchanting and diverse country in northern Africa. I had to worry about my meds freezing while camping the Sahara desert (Christmas night got down to 36 degrees!), getting run over by donkeys along the impossibly narrow stone paths that weave through the ancient medina of Fez, and fending off with my cane snake charmers and monkey wranglers in the plaza of Marrakesh. Nothing though, challenged my MS quite like a traditional Moroccan hammam.
A hammam is a public bath with steaming hot rooms, slick tile floors, and little else. No benches, no railings, no chairs—absolutely nothing to grab onto. It was just me, my bare feet, wet tile, near sauna-like temperatures, and one very important new friend. Fortunately my guide knew about my issues and I was assigned a strapping and impressively chiseled young Moroccan man to lead me through the hammam. Lowering me to the ground carefully in the hottest room, my new companion proceeded to scrub me down from toes to ears while I lay on the warm tile floor, protected only by a bathing suit. And when he scrubbed, I mean scrubbed, using everything from coarse soap to full-on loofahing (is that a word?). I was so clean when I stood up (okay, technically I was lifted up with one swift tug) that it didn’t bother me that afterward I couldn’t see too well and that my balance was even sketchier.
Now I’m not encouraging everyone to rush out and do something that amps up your MS symptoms. I’m just saying, don’t necessarily avoid those experiences, either. In minutes my vision came back and I was walking as normally as I could those days … and I got a memory that will be with me until my last breath.
Originally published January 30, 2009. Edited for clarity.