The Sketchy Street Spa

We’re still without access to a car. Legally, anyway. So, some of the further flung places in Jordan aren’t quite accessible to us.  It’s fine.  It allows us to explore,our immediate surroundings a little more.

This weekend we headed down to the souk area of downtown. Even though it was the Muslim Sabbath, many shops opened up after 1 pm.

We grabbed lunch at Hashem’s, one of the oldest dining establishments in the area. The King and Queen eat here from time to time. It’s really just a hole in the wall, an alley with some awnings. The food was very good.  Like many of the places here, the menu is limited. Falafel, some salads, some bread and some tea or cokes to drink. They had the  best baba ganoush we have had here, which makes it the best ever.  The falafel was a little dry.  All in all, it was a feast for around ten dollars. We left full. Service was brusk, but efficient. Definitely an eat it ‘n beat it kind of place.

Afterwards, we wandered the souks. Rabbit warrens of commerce. Perfumeries where you can mix your own knock off scent. Clothing vendors, both traditional and modern. Trinkets. DVDs. A whole street full of tailors.  A whole street of denim. Fruit and spice sellers. You name it, you can probably find it. Well, except kosher salt. That is proving difficult to source.

We had time, so we ambled. And toward the end of our day, Mrs. S.A.M. was lagging in some trinket shop. I ambled by a barber with some men sitting out front.  

Now, before I continue, do you know who Michael Palin is? He’s a former Monty Python member. But, I’ve been watching is travelogues on the BBC for a while. You can more here. He’s travelled much of the world by train or van and donkey or whatever.  He always seems to find interesting local people. He gets worked over roughly in a bath house. Unconventional acupuncture treatments. He finds the barbers that give him a nice shave and a haircut and it still costs two bits.

Walking past this barber, I kinda had a Michael Palin fantasy moment.

“Welcome! Please, come sit” said a barber.

“Oh, no thank you!”

“It’s okay!” He took me by the hand and led me to a mirror.  He gestured to my forehead.  “We’ll just clean you!”  

I double checked the mirror. I showered that morning, but maybe I missed a spot. A giggling Michael Palin was looking back at me. Another man took my other arm and they plopped me into a barber chair by the window. “How long will this take? I’m meeting someone soon.”

“Only a few minutes!”  And they pulled off my glasses.  Now, I’m am quite nearly blind without corrective lenses so what follows is largely from smells and sounds and impressions of light.

One thing I did feel was Mrs. S.A.M.’s aghast look at me through the window as she caught up to me.

“What the hell are you doing!?”

“We’re cleaning!”  cried the barbers, “Please, come! Sit! Wait!  You want cleaning?”  

And just like that she was in the chair next to me. Some mentholated ointment was being smeared across my face. A steam wand contraption was rolled over and fired up. It started breathing hot moist air on me.  Because the floors weren’t level the machine kept rotating and the hot metal arm drifted precariously close to my eyes. I would lean away, maybe seeking listeria-free air. The barber would grab my jaws and turn me back into the vapor.

My barber breathed through his mouth and he smelled like 4:30 in the desert. He rubbed off the first ointment with a cloth and then rubbed on a second batch of something.

Next chair over, Mrs. S.A.M. is having her face threaded. Methodically ripping out any follicle, visible or not. This finished and she had mentholated ointment smeared on.

My guy is unwinding a cord to a small white power drill, the bit of which is a disk of linguini-like fingers about an inch long. He power buffs the second batch of ointment into my face. “Don’t open your eyes” he says as he presses the linguini gun into my sockets and then down the side of my nose. Thwapa-thwapa-thwapa…

I know only about 10 words of Arabic and “do we need a clean linguini pad for her?” isn’t among them. But, I think that’s what my guy asked.  I do know the word for “no”. And that was the response.  He passed off the power drill and Mrs. S.A.M. had her face buffed.

My face was dried and another box brought out and plugged in. I perceived a clear plastic spoon emitting sparks. He proceeded to glide it over my face. It clicked and tingled a bit.  

“What’s this?”


I lurched a little. “Don’t we need, like, safety goggles?”  


I closed my eyes.

A Dead Sea mud mask was next. Or that’s what he called it. It could very well have been dust from the gutter mixed with water.  Who knows?  Didn’t smell bad.  

Then my lower face was lathered up with shave creme.  I did hear and see a package of cheap disposable razors get opened. The shaving began. Michael Palin is rolling on the floor. I’m getting nicked up. A styptic block staunches the flow of blood

Another man walks into the barber shop which is only about 6×9 feet.  He proceeds to wash his feet, one at a time, in the shallow sink between the two chairs. He walks out.

Her face freshly pasta’d, The Mrs. has her face lasered and then suction cupped with a tiny cup.  Cleaning out pores perhaps?  Who knows? Then she got a Dead Sea mask.

My shave complete, my barber stood me up and I sidled over, slightly to the sink. I bent over and tried to rinse off my face. “I’ll do it” he said, mouth breathing all the while. He shoved my face deeper into the foot bath and we rinsed. He pressed my nose back into, my skull. He pressed his fingers into my eye sockets. Again with the eye sockets!

Drying off, he asked, “you want hair cut? It’ll take five minutes.”

I’ve been worked over, buffed, electrocuted and salon-humiliated in front of this store front window. Of course, I want the haircut!  Bring it on!  Let’s ride this train!

45 minutes after the whole ordeal began,we are finished. The haircut is passable. It’s the moment of financial reckoning.  I was hoping for the ultimate travelogue score. A deep discount. It wasn’t.

60 bucks and a trip to the atm, and we’re free.  

Was it worth it?  You tell me.  

Here’s before:

And here’s after:

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