After a long day exploring the wonders of ancient Petra, a group of us decided to go
check out the ‘Turkish Bath’ that we’d heard about, which is located just up the street
from the Movenpick hotel in Wadi Musa. It was, to say the least, a learning experience.
On the way there, our tour guide Kamel pulled me aside and said, “I’m glad you decided
to come along. I didn’t want to be the only guy here tonight.” I didn’t really understand
why he said that until later.
When we got to the baths, we entered a smoky parlor lined with couches, and were
greeted by a skinny guy with a big grin. He welcomed us and ushered our group into a
changing room, with booths for men and women. We quickly changed into our bathing
suits and then skinny guy directed us into a large, tiled room with a raised marble bench
in the middle, about five feet by ten feet long. In the corners of this room were two
smaller rooms with small sinks built into the floor near the entrance. Kamel and I were
seated in one of these rooms, and SG turned a knob releasing a blast of steam that quickly
filled the room so that it was difficult to see one’s own hands. Kamel was telling me
about something while I was remembering my childhood – my Dad was a fireman, and I
used to always be the test dummy in the training house. They would fill it with thick
smoke and then the firemen would try to come and find me. As Kamel continued talking,
I had to fight the urge to stop, drop and roll.
Once the girls arrived, they were shown to the small room in the corner opposite ours. By
then the steam was so thick that it lent itself to some mischievous pranks – Kamel and I
snuck over to the girl’s room and tossed buckets of cold water in the door, then ran for
our lives. The Teen Girl Squad soon got their revenge, however, by showering us in
much the same way.
The steam was getting so thick that I really was having trouble breathing. So Kamel and I
went out and reclined on the large marble bench in the main room. SG was coming and
going through the main door, so I hung my head in that direction and tried to catch a
breath of fresh air when I could. When he came in and asked who was ready for the next
step of the treatment, I happily volunteered so I could go somewhere with air.
I was then led into a smaller room, also tiled from top to bottom. Another smiley skinny
guy showed up and motioned for me to sit with my back to the wall. He then picked up a
sort of sandpaper-loofa glove and started scrubbing my arms and legs with a soapy
vengeance. Every few strokes he would stop and show me the glove – pointing at it and
saying “look! Dead skin!” I grimaced. “It is now.” Whatever suntan I had worked to
aquire in the days previous was now being meticulously scraped off by loofa man. It
reminded me of going through decontamination training in the army.
Next, he had me turn over and lay face down on the floor of the room. I started
wondering about the people who had been there before me. Great, I thought. Watch me
end up with athlete’s face. Loofa man continued to scrape and scrub, gleefully showing
me every minute or so the great amounts of skin he was relieving me of. “That’s wonderful,” I
answered wryly, “Will you put it in a bag so I can take it home as a souvenir?” Loofa
man had no idea what I was saying, so he just grinned and said, “Good, good!”
When that was over, I was rinsed off and shown into the next room, where a burly Arab
man stood bare-chested waiting for me. He directed me to lie face-down on a high
marble table, whereupon he began giving me my massage. At this point, I was getting a
little wierded out at having all these men’s hands on me. So I tried to strike up some
manly conversation with my masseur. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Muhammad.” The man grunted as he kneaded my shoulders like dough.
“Oh, that’s great, I’m Chuck. So do you have any kids?”
“Okay…uh..well then, How ’bout them Packers? Got a heck of an offense this year.”
At this point Muhammad began quietly singing some sort of Turkish drinking song to
himself and ignoring me, except for his ham-sized fists which were busy pounding on my
spine, which I suppose was meant to be relaxing. I was feeling more like it was a medical
procedure of some kind, though. But at least the song was sorta manly.
So I continued to talk at Muhammad about whatever manly things came to mind, like
Home Depot, Beer, and my chainsaw collection. He worked me over like a professional
wrestler in the meantime, and then when he was finished, he doused me several times
with water from a bowl, and then held up a towel and directed me to remove my shorts.
“I’m sorry, what?”
Muhammad grunted and pointed to my shorts, holding the towel out for me. Oh well,
when in Rome…
I quickly traded my trunks for the towel, hoping that the TGS wouldn’t suddenly
round the corner. Then Muhammad then opened a door and pushed me through it.
It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the bright light, at which point I realized that I
was back in the smoky waiting area! Several men sat around on the couches, smoking
and looking at me. Standing there wearing nothing but a towel, my mind kept reminding
me that I was essentially NAKED, until Skinny Guy showed up again with a glass of
hot tea, and motioned for me to sit down and drink. I did, feeling kind of like a naked
white guy in a room full of smoking Arabs.
I could hear one of the girls going through the process right behind me. I wondered if
Muhammad would treat her the same. Soon, I heard a female voice say, “NO, I’M NOT
TAKING IT OFF!” I smiled and forgot my own awkwardness for a moment.
Ten minutes later I’d had my fill of tea, and the girls were coming out the door one by
one, looking flustered. And that made it all worthwhile. I got up, retired to the dressing
room, paid Skinny Guy my $20, and then we went back to our hotel.
I called my wife that night, and caught her at church on her cellphone.
“What are you doing right now?” I asked.
“Ooohhh.. I’m getting a back massage from Amanda Brandt.”
“Hey, I got a massage today too.”
“What!” She shouted. “By whom?”
“Some guy named Mohammed.”
Connie’s laughter made my night.
Guys, if you ever visit Petra, I’d recommend the Turkish Baths as a great place to send
your wife while you surf the internet next door at the Aretas internet cafe. If you’ve never
had a massage before, you might come away from it feeling like you’ve just been to the
Chiropractor, but your wife will come out feeling positively pampered.