Social Circus in Mardin part III – Hamam Secrets on a Women’s Day Out

After the smashing success of the closing shows on Sunday, it was time to leave the clean-up for another day, have a decadent brunch with new found friends soon to depart and treat ourselves to the finer things in life.

Since first arriving in Turkey, I had badly wanted to try one of the famous hamams, the Turkish bath houses, preferably without spending over 100€ for a touristy spa experiences or being utterly embarrassed and outing myself as an ignorant foreigner in front of a bunch of naked ladies, so I couldn’t have been happier when a bunch of us volunteer women, including our Turkish friend Damla, decided to go together.

The traditional Turkish bath houses had intrigued me since long before I came to Turkey and the magnificent old buildings housing them in Istanbul and Iznik (pictured here) did the rest…

The day had started slow and we all felt somewhat sluggish in the dusty heat of the early afternoon. We weren’t quite done digesting our brunch when we gathered our towels, some fresh clothes to change into after the hamam and some soap and made our way to the local bath house, and let me tell you, it turned out to be one of the most profound and bonding experiences I had on this trip!

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, it is easy to sometimes feel isolated, to be lacking a sense of community as a millennial nomad who hasn’t yet found her place in the world and there is something especially warm and nurturing about the companionship of other women, of having a secret sisterhood of five, even if just for an afternoon, for the duration of sharing a bath.

It’s a slow day at the guest house – a rare picture showing a tiny bit of rain on the patio

When we enter the hamam, we are each given a plastic bowl, and for a little less than a Euro, we can purchase a scrubbing glove, akin to something you might find in a workshop to sand down a rough piece of wood.

Four of us at first, we strip down to our underwear and step inside the hallowed halls of the old hamam building, into a small room with a dome shaped roof and four giant stone sinks with two taps each – one for hot and one for cold water. We chat while we repeatedly fill our bowls with the almost scalding water and pour it over our own and each other’s backs, legs, arms, until our skin begins to soften.

The entrance to the renovated Savurkapı-radviyye Hamamı in Old Mardin

A lady whose body has seen the wonders of giving birth more than once and whose face is equal parts love and authority, her near-nakedness notwithstanding, comes in and checks on our skins. With a disapproving shake of her head she mentions for us to carry on soaking as our pores aren’t wide open yet, our skin still dry from a summer in the desert, not malleable enough for her work.

After another few rounds of of chatting and bowl-bathing, she deems us ready and while I’m curious, I am relieved when another girl goes first. Five minutes later, she is back, looking more relaxed with her skin red and her face adorned by a wide smile. Convinced, I go next. Like a piece of meat, the hamam lady places me on a cool marble surface, face down, takes the scrubbing gloves and begins polishing my shoulders, my arms, my legs. While the first part is tolerable, enjoyable almost, my ticklishness makes me jumpy when she turns me around and I breathe deeply as she comes close to what feels like taking my skin off around the breasts and collarbones.
I look like a lobster after a tour through the car-wash when she is done, and float back into our dome-shamed room, into the arms of the sisterhood.

Old wood burner in a defunct hamam in Iznik

The others smile at me, and Damla, who has been through this experience more times than she could count, explains that I am now allowed to wash myself. My body feels incredibly soft, grateful for a day spent on the luxury of treating it to touch, cleansing and community. As we each take a turn receiving a scrub, another friend arrives and is welcomed with cheers in our midst, and I discover the incredible acoustic of the hamam, singing overtone and old shamanic melodies.

Together, we share a wonderful afternoon, massaging each other and allowing ourselves and our bodies a break from the stresses of our individual journeys, and I could not be more grateful. For the rest of the day, I am floating. When I look around, I think we might all be.


More about Turkish rest day activities tomorrow, if everything goes according to plan… stay tuned!




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