Friday, September 16, 2011

A Naked Tradition

The oldest of all traditions in Turkey, the hamam. Wednesday evening I ventured to an old hamam in Ankara with three girlfriends and two guy friends to experience what had been promised to be an amazing time. We pulled up in the historic neighborhood in Ankara and walked quickly down the steps to the looming white building below. The men entered through the front entrance while the women had their own side entrance. We hurried down the alley and through the doors into the women's section. Upon entrance, we were mesmerized by the expansive marble room, decorated with wooden doors signaling an abundance of personal changing rooms. We changed, were given towels and chose our services. I decided to have the normal loofah scrub down, a coffee scrub massage and the general hamam services. Here is a general picture of a hamam (but in reality there is water everywhere!)
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Depending on your preference, you can go into the hamam in a bathing suit, just bottoms or your birthday suit! We entered the steamy hamam from the main hall and were hit with steamy streams of warm air. We were led to to the washing room and sat on the marble slabs while pouring buckets of warm water from the taps onto our heads.  Twenty minutes later my quite matronly masseuse brought me out to the main room and layed me down on the raised marble slabs. The loofah message is intense. Literally, half of your skin comes off. You wonder what is all over your arms and legs. As I realized it was my own skin,  I was, quite obviously, completely grossed out. But it is totally normal. So, after all our skin was basically loofahed off, we showered, and re-engaged in the sit and lather yourself with water phase. How glorious it is. The girls and I discussed the beauty of nudity in these places, how if things like this existed in America, there would be a much better idea of body image and of self-confidence if women walked around naked and didn't care. You got what ya' got, so be proud.
After a while we were beckoned back over to the  marble slabs and were massaged form head to toe in a delicious coffee scrub. Thirty minutes and coffee scrub later, my skin has never been so smooth! The old woman massaging me kept pinching my cheeks and saying "Cok guzel!" (very beautiful!) The best part came next- we started talking to some older women who were curious about where we were from and they told us that they were at the hamam because their daughter was getting married that week. We were invited to partake in the festivities which included splashing cold water over the head of the bride and dancing around on the marble slabs together, singing songs for the new bride's husband and wishing her good luck. It was the best communal experience I have ever had with  women. They welcomed us like we were part of the family, and even invited us to go and receive the traditional henna tattoos before the wedding. Who'd have thunk that dancing in a hamam in the nude to music sung by old women would be so enjoyable! We were so disappointed that we were leaving Ankara the next morning. But enjoyed some fruit with the family before we left for the evening. In short, go to a hamam. Do the traditional thing and good things are sure to come out of it. Hands down, it was the most relaxing, enjoyable and cultural experience I have had in Turkey thus far. (Though- warning- it definitely was not a tourist hamam because those I hear are a bit cheesy.) Güle Güle (=good bye)!

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