Caution: The following contains graphic descriptions of a grown man having a bath. You’ve been warned.
S.A.M. doesn’t ordinarily go in for massages. Or spa treatments. I’ve come around to foot massages, but the rest is outside my comfort zone. A Turkish bath, though, has been on my list of things to write about since arriving.
The proposal came in an email from a friend.
“Hey! Was wandering around the Souk and found a Hammam or Turkish bath. One review said it may be the oldest in Amman. It could be sketchy, it could be great. Are you in? “
Spouseless and bored, why not? We made plans for the following day and headed down to the Souk area. Amman’s oldest area in the shadow of the Citadel and old Roman amphitheater.
Relying on memory, directions from strangers and a ferreting sense of manly moisture, we found the place. Down some crumbling steps and then down some rickety stairs to where street level must have been hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
The front door is open. Green carpet covers the floor. Several men sit around talking and smoking. A soccer game is on one tv. Arabic news on another. Pictures of Mecca and, maybe, Khadijah cover the walls. Another man is napping in the corner. It’s humid. There are plastic plants. This must be the place.
Mid-sentence, the man behind the desk calls into the back. Two men appear. Turns out they’re from Iraq. I didn’t get their names. I imagine that the must have real names and Hammam names. In my head, I name them Usay and Uday.
Usay speaks better English. He shows us around. Translate the Arabic price list. Steam, sauna, bath. The works. Let’s do this.
We head through the laundry area to the locker area. We’re given a locker and lock. “Put everything here. Money, phone, clothes.”
A man changing next to us speaks English very well. He emphasizes “Yes. Put everything away. Everything.”
Wrapped in a bit of a bed sheet, and broken flip-flops we’re led on in. A shower first. A couple of buckets of hot water dumped over head. Then on to the steam room. A 6×10 foot cell with steam so thick and hot, the presence of others is revealed only by voice.
15 minutes in, I remember that my toast and coffee breakfast was 9 hours ago and I’ve had nothing to eat or drink since. The steam seems to get thicker. I excuse myself.
“Haha, you can be the guinea pig!” Shouts my friend as I slip out early.
I was hoping for a breath of air, but Uday is waiting for me, now dressed in a bed sheet. He points at me with a finger and beckons me into a stall. Marble slab along one wall. He pats his hand on it. “Up!” I climb on
Scalding water washes over me. I might have shrieked. “Sorry!” He cooled the water immeasurably.
Then the Brillo. Starting with my feet and working up. Every square inch of me is scrubbed with what feels like a Brillo pad. “Ew!” I hear
A little higher. “Ugh!” he exclaims. I wonder if this is a normal service. Making customers feel dirty. A couple more utterances. He takes my hand and pulls it back and slaps it on my thighs. “Touch here!” My rump. “Touch here! See this? This is all skin!
Paraphrasing. “When’s the last time you washed?! Did you scrub?”
“You know, I’ve never done this before.”
He nods in such a way as to say this is obvious. “You should do this every month! Keeps the skin off!”
Scalding water rinse and then I flip over. Repeat. My nipples must look like dead skin. They’re thoroughly rubbed raw.
Prone again. I’m rinsed. While rinsing, Uday hands me two packages. “Open these! My hands are wet.” He douches me with another few gallons of water. My own filth washes by. I start to laugh. One package is a cheese cloth. The other, an Arab variety of lifebuoy soap. Smells pleasant enough.
He snatches them from my own wet hands and the sudsing begins. I don’t know if it’s the soap, or the cloth or the magic, but gallons of foam ensues. From my pinky toes to my skull I’m scrubbed and lathered. There’s a rubdown, as well. Bending, massaging.
My head pulls up a nervous song to play a long “The ankle bone connected to the leg bone, the leg bone connected to,the thigh bone…”.
The soapy cloth reaches my soapy ass. “Massage here?”
I clench. “Uh, no”
“No, thank you!”
“Ok, ok, ok.”
You know, I’m Glad he asked. I’m not sure anyone back home would be kind enough to ask. Ok. I’m pretty sure no one back home would strip down to matching bed sheets and massage another stranger on a marble slab. I could be wrong.
Sitting upright now. Uday picks up the bar of lifebuoy and proceeds to lather up the top of my head. Foam again ensues. He starts scrubbing my forehead, then my cheeks. Then nose. Then eyes. My God the eyes. I have no idea why, but my eyes must have been extra dirty, for he scrubbed and scrubbed. I felt thumbs in my eye sockets massaging suds into them.
“ow, Ow, OW!”
“I can’t! It hurts!”
“Ok, ok, ok.”
Laying back down the sudsing and massage continues. Wanna know something that hurts? Soaping up your freshly abraided nipples. Yep, he did.
He raises my arm and scrubs the side of my chest. I’m regaining my sight now. He tweaks a few of my underarm hairs.
“Why you don’t shave here or…? “ he glances at the bed sheet wadded over my junk.
“It’s just something I don’t do.”
“You want shave?”, he asks.
“What? My armpits?” There is one dim flourescent light. It’s damp and you can’t open a pack of soap. You think a razor is a good idea? “No, thank you.”
“You want hair remove creme?”
A double no thank you, very much.
He shrugs and goes back to sudsing. “You should.”
“Yes. It’s cooler in the heat.”
“Really?” I think, what’s your data to support that. I’m really skeptical. (Stayed tune dear reader for an upcoming blog where I shave one armpit and compare heat perception.)
And another thing, Uday! You can’t hide anything in your bed sheet. You’ve got a super hairy chest and back, how does that make any sense? Cooler in the heat! Pshaw! I say!
A final rinse off with progressively cooler water then he sends me off to the steam room.
I cycle in and out of the steam room waiting for my friends turn, in a state of semi-shock, semi-pain, semi-relaxed. In the waiting area, other men smoke cigarettes furiously. Of course, we’re in Jordan. Some sing songs. Talk shop. Talk geo-politics.
Three hours after we walked in, we’re through. We change and head out. The guy who was napping is now saying his prayers in the corner. We settle up. 15 bucks a piece.
I try and figure out a tip. Any feminine vestiges have nearly been removed. I’m no longer a filthy pig, at least for a month. My eye sockets have been scrubbed. I once was blind, but now I see. I’m still too hairy. It must be worth 20% for the experience alone.
Would I try it again? I might. I might even spring for a higher quality place with a softer Brillo pad.
P.S. If you’ve not been in a while, venture over to notsosecret3.blogspot.com for some interesting questions.