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A trip to the hammam

February 17th, 2007 leave a comment


Friedel’s AccountAndrew’s Account
Just inside the main door of the hammam I stood naked and slightly cold as a breeze blew in from the street. A few minutes earlier my guide, a small elderly lady, told me to strip to my birthday suit as she took my clothes and wrapped them in my towel. The stuffed towel was placed behind a desk and I waited while she prepared herself for the hammam. Nothing like hanging around nude in a room, with several people sneaking glances at the pale-skinned visitor, to make you feel self conscious. I was glad when we started to move into the bathing rooms, but my brief relief at getting on with the bath turned to embarassment when I realised I was the only person there not wearing underwear.One of ZagoraHaving envisioned something similar to our experience in a Japanese Onsen, I was surpised to see no baths or any major changes in the room temperatures. The initial room allowed a place to change to your underwear, which thankfully I had, since the pair offered from behind the desk looked like it needed a good clean itself. Walking via the other two rooms, which were virtually empty, I was led to the last room, the warmest. I was told to sit on the tile floor and await my massusse’s return.

As all eyes turned to the tourist, I took my place on the tiled floor and my guide rushed around filling various buckets of water. Two nearby women passed me a thick brown goo and showed me how to rub it all over my body. I ended up feeling like a basted chicken, or at least that’s what the smell reminded me of! After a good rinse – no less than two large buckets of water poured over me in cups – I was led to the next room. Here the real action was happening. Thirty women and young girls sat, either on mats or stools, scrubbing and lathering themselves and each other. A steady stream of chatter ran through the sound of water flying everywhere. This was an exciting place to be, with bits of gossip and information being exchanged as mothers scrubbed their children clean. I soon felt like a child too, fresh out of the mud puddle and into the bath, as my guide grabbed a scrubbing glove and started to scrape away my skin. Her eyes got wider as more layers of skin and dirt came off and her look left me in no doubt that she thought I hadn’t bathed in a month. Once she was satisfied – and she definitely told me where she thought I needed more soap than Allah himself could deliver before supervising my extra efforts to cleanse myself – she started to massage my shoulders and arms. That done, she shook the scrubbing glove at me as if to say “make sure you use this lots from now on, young lady” and we returned to get changed. I emerged definitely cleaner, fascinated by the experience and, despite the vigorous scrubbing, more relaxed.After filling a few buckets with different temperature water, he began scrubing down all the dirt I obviously must have had. Finding some soap, which I neglected to bring in, he lathered me in the similar way. Now being squeeky clean, a few stretches were in order. One particular move made my back crack repeatedly. Being allowed to splash more water over myself, which I probably didn’t need, I was eventually led back to the changing room to get dressed again. Overall an experience to not miss, but I do look forward to the next time to compare any differences. Hey maybe I’ll be flung around the room next time, instead of just laid out over the tile floor and washed like an old rug.
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