25 June 2005

Droopy middle aged bits.

Candace, Zuleyma, and I finally experienced the Turkish bath, or hammam. Definitely an event to write home about, although there will most certainly not be any pictures. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a Turkish bath, it almost defies description, but bears a slight resemblance to a sauna-high school gym locker room shower hybrid. Hammams are strictly unisex, with separate buildings for men and women, or separate times for each sex. You pay your 10 dirham admission, then strip down to your underwear and leave your clothes and belongings in the outer locker room while you head into the shower rooms.

Traditionally, Arab women come with a friend or two, and gossip and help scrub each other down- it's one of the few times in their everyday life they're free to say and do as they please. However, you also have the option of paying a woman at the hammam to scrub and massage you, and since the three of us didn't feel we were THAT close yet, we opted to hire a professional. Plus, they'll keep getting buckets of water for you, and save you the trip. The process is rather complicated, so if you've never done it before, you stand out like a sore thumb (as though the pasty white skin wasn't a dead giveaway).

Fortunately, Zalayma had been the week before with her homestay family, and she could fill us in on the details. First, you sit and sweat in the steamy room for a while to loosen up the dirt while the attendants fill your buckets for you. Then, you soap up and rinse once before the attendants come over and scrub you down with an exfoliating mitt- they lay you on the floor, across their bodies, roll you over, etc- they leave NO area unscrubbed. You can see the black dirt (and top layer of skin!) just peeling off. Then, they rinse you down again, throw a bucket of hot water across the floor to "clean" it, then lay you down and massage you on the floor (with soap yet again, bringing us to three soapings in one bath).

Finally, they leave you to wash your hair, shave, etc, before you finally leave. Longest bath/shower I've ever had- the entire process takes over an hour, but I've never felt so clean in my life. It's a bit awkward at first to be surrounded by so many strange naked women, but each group just stays in its own world, sharing the latest gossip. Although, we were almost certain some of that gossip concerned the confused looking white girls in the hammam. For the men, however, the experience is a bit different. Instead of the pampering massage the women receive, the men get what they've described as "beatings from old men." Some of the guys have begun to really enjoy their weekly beatings, but some of the others decided that one cultural experience was sufficient. I'm not sure if I'll be going back anytime soon, but it was definitely an experience.



No comments: