Scrub Me, Baby!
After Israel, I made it to Syria from Jordan rather easily, the little “stamp me on a separate piece of paper” thing working quite well.
Syria’s polite and genuinely hospitable men were a welcome break after the sleaze overdose of Egypt and Jordan. However, Damascus’ great mosque was just another mosque to me, and its supposedly unspoiled and mystique souq (market), in my humble opinion, didn’t even come close to Jerusalem’s timeless Islamic quarter.
Still, not in any way did this make my stay in Syria an uneventful one. Indeed, who would have thought this would be where I’d get to show off the results of my Bedouin waxing job (see the Cairo story), let alone to a naked sumo-wrestler size woman?
My guidebook said one of the highlights of Damascus was to visit a Turkish bath, or hammam as they are called in Arabic. Unfortunately, all the best and exquisitely decorated hammams cater to men only. Women are left with only one option, a very local institution that rarely sees any tourists. Yet when an adjnabiya does show up, she gets a treatment she’s not likely to forget…
After getting directions from Kelly, a fellow traveler at my hotel, I found the women’s hammam at the end of a narrow back alley, bearing a Arabic sign that simply read “hammam”. I went through a first door, then followed a winding corridor through a curtain door and finally pushed into a large bright reception area. The room had a high vaulted ceiling with a glass dome, numerous colourful sofas lined every wall and Persian carpets lay everywhere. A ceramic fountain/pool adorned the centre of the room.
This being the local place that it was, obviously nobody spoke anything but Arabic. My limited vocabulary was therefore put to the test again, helped by a lot of nodding and grinning.
I was first invited (read ordered) to take all my clothes off save my underwear. I protested; was I to do so in the middle of the reception area?? I had been told walking around in nothing but your underwear wasn’t that big of a deal in a hammam because there is so much steam no one can see anything anyway. But this was as bright and steam-free as a dentist’s waiting room… and of course I had a G-string on, and still bore that horrendous fresh camel-riding scar across the middle of my butt.
There was no way I had enough vocabulary or sign language abilities to explain this. But then again, I had made a fool of myself so many times already, what difference would one more time do?
So I stripped down to my bubble gum pink G-string, feeling so tall and white amidst those brown short women. As I waited to be told where to go next, I felt like somewhat of a voyeur watching local women who had walked in completely veiled swiftly strip down to nothing but their underwear. I must admit most of them looked much better with their veils on…
I was lent a pair of plastic sandals and directed to a small steam room at the end of a maze of downward sloping corridors. Four small rooms were arranged around a central one, star-like, each serving either as a steam room or a wash room, with hot water taps and plastic basins to splash yourself or whoever you had come with.
I sat by myself in my little steam room sweating away for some 20 minutes, not sure what I was expected to do next. Half naked middle-aged women came in and out every few minutes, scrubbing themselves with a coarse black glove, mostly ignoring me. I finally worked up the courage to ask one of them where I could get such a glove.
“You take a taxi, go to the souq, turn left, right and left again and…” she fired back in Arabic. Ok, so I took it that I had to bring my own. No glove for me this time.
But before I had time to feel sorry for myself, the masseuse showed up. Quickly realising her rural Arabic was a complete wash out to me, she forcefully grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out of the steam room and into the “scrubbing room”.
Her name was Fakhriya, and as far as I was concerned, she had all it takes to make the sumo wrestling world finals. I wasn’t equipped to take any measurements, but I couldn’t be that far off saying she was wider than she was tall. Her naked watermelon-size breasts rested on the great mass of flab that was her stomach in which there was ample room to hold 8-month old triplets.
Needless to say, it is somewhat intimidating to be vigorously scrubbed all over by such a massive woman, especially when she is as stark naked as you are. Actually, Fakhriya did have some sort of underwear on, but her stomach was so incredibly huge that it hung half way down her thighs, completely covering whatever piece of cloth there might have been to protect her modesty!
Fakhriya first ordered me onto a plastic covered massage table, face down, so that my scrub may begin. She used a coarse black glove like those of my sauna mates and proceeded to scrub me from my neck to my toes. It soon became clear that my G-string would not survive the intensity of Fakhriya, so I signalled her that I would take it off and she nodded in approval.
As she leaned over me, her flabby breasts and stomach brushed up and down my back. But none of this seemed to bother her. She was as professional and emotionless as if she’s been ironing a shirt. Fakhriya then made me flip over and scrubbed me everywhere mercilessly, without any pity for the tender skin of female attributes…
Back at the hotel, Kelly had told me that, when she went the day before, she had been provided with a cloth so she could clean her private parts herself. But in my case Fakhriya was on a roll. When she saw my Bedouin waxing job, she apparently became intent on either stimulating regrowth or preventing ingrown hair, vigorously digging the coarse glove between my thighs.
So I now had a naked obese woman frantically scrubbing my bare crotch with a coarse loafah glove! Need I say this whole situation started to dangerously border the erotic, like some second rate S&M porn where there always seems to be an obese woman involved…
But the best was still to come. Fakhriya made me sit up facing her and grabbed my wrist to scrub my arm, holding it parallel to the ground, palm up. Her breasts being as huge as they were, this meant I had her nipple resting right in the palm of my open hand! Extremely uncomfortable, I immediately tried to turn my hand down, but she twisted it right back up with a grunt. And did the same with the other arm. So I focused on keeping my hand stretched open as wide as I could, fighting the urge to clutch my fingers to better stand the painful scrub!
Just as I thought it couldn’t get any more grotesque, Fakhriya unexpectedly grabbed my head with both hands and shoved my face right into her jiggling stomach, making it disappear between her gigantic breasts so she could scrub the back of my neck. Welcome to Jello land!
When she seemed happy with the job, she dragged me off the table and onto the concrete floor, making me sit down next to a wash basin. She mumbled some more “instructions” in Arabic that I couldn’t understand and finally opted to splash me clean with hot water, much in the same fashion my grandfather used to wash his cows.
Then I was back on the table to be lathered in soap and “enjoy” a full-body massage, front and back. Again, no body parts were off limits, so I cannot conceive how a male masseur/scrubber could manage to remain completely cool and professional with a female client. My guidebook reported that some gals had complained about male masseurs having erections under their towels. Duh! Wonder why!
Finally, Fakhriya splashed me clean a second and last time and ordered me out after I stubbornly declined her offer of a shampoo.
I sheepishly grabbed my wet G-string and walked out naked, by now too traumatised to care about how inappropriate this was…
As I was getting dressed in the reception room, Fakhriya came to me to collect what she was owed.
“So, huh, what’s your name?” I asked her.
“Me? Fakhriya. Why?”, she inquired.
“Oh, hum, I just think you work very well, that’s all,” I replied.
She flashed her two silver front teeth in delight.
Fakhriya. I just HAD to put a name on that experience…