Monthly Archives: September 2008

a much-needed, good scrub…

This is a stock photo from the internet. I would have been thrown out if
I had a camera in a hammam. The layout is very similar to the hammam in this story.
I try to take a deeper breath as we enter the “Bahceli Hammam” ‘s cold room. The room that is supposed to be cold, is already too hot for me. I look for an empty locker, and look around to see what the dresscode, or the nakedness limit is.
My mother in law, my husband’s aunt and myself are on a mission to get a good scrub and much needed relaxing bath. My husband is from Eskisehir, it’s currently a liberal city with a big student population due to Anadolu University. Hammam is a big part of this city’s day-to-day life. When my husband and I started to date, he was going to go to his hometown and visit his family for some reason. Then he told me he would probably go to hammam first, then go home… I remember thinking “is he weird?”. Then I guess he saw the “freak alert” look in my eyes, and explained in detail that Eskisehir was home to one of the best thermal waters in the world. He went on to say it was still a big thing to go to hammam a few times a week. Since my husband is pretty cool and a pretty good looking guy, I left the conversation with a raised brow.

I am originally from Mersin, which is 100F+ degrees in the summer, and average about 75F in the winter… The only hammam I saw in my life was Galatasaray hammam in Istanbul. My Mom took my brother and I when we were about 7-8 years old. I remember my brother freaking out once we entered. It should have been a life changing experience to see tons of naked women and gush of steam coming at you at that age. I still remember my brother running out and sitting in the cold room with wide open eyes. Of course, being the curious traveler I have always been, I held my great Aunt’s hand and let her give me a good bath. I remember the wonderful light in the room and the hot steam…

When Turkey started going through all the modern changes and trying to clone ourselves into Western Europe, most of the hammams in the cities have been closed. It wasn’t until the 90s, that several hotels revived the old tradition again for the tourists… However, I was never tempted to go into those tiny hamam look-alikes. Then a few old historic hammams in Istanbul started to find some marketing articles in the newspapers. I guess noone can even challenge the architecture and the beauty of any of those old hammams. I am so glad they weren’t torn down and most are reopened today… When I was in college we talked about going to hammam a few times, but then it never happened. So I have been left with my only memory as a child until I went to a real hammam in Eskisehir…

A few times during our wedding preparation days, my husband’s family women made jokes about taking me to a hammam. There is a practical joke in Turkish culture that the brides are taken to hammam to see if there is anything wrong with them that they are hiding…. – I guess these days the most of what people hide are in their minds and in their hearts. So seeing a missing toe is not a big deal anymore-…

My first Eskisehir hamam experience was a few years ago… they finally convinced me to go. E’s late grandma, his aunt, my mother in law and I went. My mother in law is not originally from Eskisehir either, so we both have our limits for hot water… That experience was a memorable one… I have never seen that much naked women in my adult life. The first few moments is really weird. Then there is a funny feeling like a crowded bar where people are just going about their own business and socializing at the same time. When I was on the steps to go into the main section with 20 more topless women I thought it was similar to waiting for your drink in a bar. Everyone whines about the crowd, but still chit chats and enjoys their time…

This time we opted to go at a less crowded time of the day… I still feel like a rookie for this hammam trip, and there is definete hammam etiquette you need to follow. Don’t even let it cross your mind that all the nakedness allows room for disrespect. There are many older women in the hammams, who are never shy of correcting misbehavior. Even though I am a pretty laid back person about social conduct, I admit to “fear from the elderly” and try to do my best to get approval from this social group. I am pretty good friends with my mother in law, and she is a very open person. So I follow her steps… We paid, 6 liras (about 5 dollars) for a private bath, Aunt O wanted the main section and that’s 4 liras. Things move pretty fast, so there is no time to feel like tourist here. People are there to take a bath, and then they have to go shopping, go home and cook… There is a lady that takes your shoes, offers non-skid slippers.. it’s pretty similar to a coat hanger in a bar (I told you the etiquette is very similar to bar scene)… She gave a number for our shoes in exchange for 0.25 liras.

We entered the cold room, and it was pretty hot in there for me. Since the weather was cold outside, I was in my jeans and my fleece wind jacket. I immediately felt like I was overdressed for a hot summer day. The cold room is a part of the hammam where your body gets used to the heat, and you get to rest here after your bath. In Bahceli hammam this section also has the lockers. I asked my mother-in-law about the dress code… and how much or how little clothing was appropriate since I didn’t remember from last time. She said, “only undies” was the proper way… I took a quick glance around and yes, that was what it is… We went into our private bath after we called the nice “locker lady” to lock the doors. Your underpants, a bar of soap, shampoo, hamam tasi (a metal bowl to hold water) a kese (a coarse bath glove) is all you need in an Eskisehir hammam. Some touristic hammams might require otherwise, but here, this is the etiquette…

This hammam’s private bath rooms are pretty plain. It is very similar to a master bathroom size room, with a white tub, marble floors, a beautiful marble sink bowl and thick pipes that carry the water. I am not a big fan of sitting in a tub, so we opt to sit on the bench next to the marble bowl. The hot water is… well extremely hot… so we turned on the cold water to adjust for the extreme heat. The funny thing about both times at this hammam is the cold water is also pretty hot for me… well, after a few bowls of water I get used to it. We immediately call the scrub lady… this is something that almost all Turkish people have heard of, and somebody giving you a scrub in a hammam is expected. But I still feel weird about the subject. I also feel weird about massages, I had quite a bit of them while I was training for a marathon, but I am still not very comfortable about a stranger squeezing and poking me… In the case of hammam, the scrubber is also half naked. I cannot stop wondering how one must feel coming to work everyday to scrub people, in that much heat.. and in a half naked body.. both for the customer and the scrubber… A definete respect grows inside me for this person…

My respect is well deserved. The scrub lady is an upbeat, chatty, funny lady… she has a strong but gentle hand. I told her that I am not from Eskisehir and she needs to be gentle with me. My MIL tells her that I am a bride to the city… Scrub lady quickly dismisses and says “brides can take quite a bit… they are pretty strong”… She then asks if I have kids.. I mention my 2 totsicles. She looks to be 35, and she also mentions kids. One 19-year-old one 17. I ask her if she had them early. “Yes” she says. “I was only 25″… My quick math brings her to mid 40s, but she really looks young… Then she informs us that she is divorced, with a humble and sad voice… “aahhh” I say.. “that’s the secret for your youth”…. she cheers up again and talks about her son and his bride-to-be… she continues to tell how much her husband drank and how much happier she is now… and if she married she wouldn’t marry for money but would marry for a good heart, telling all this while continuing to do her job. I keep thinking all things and environments might change, but the matters of the heart, marriages, the stories of men and women are pretty much the same everywhere. After the back and the front scrub she also offers a wonderful massage. From head to toe, I am in hammam bliss… I am scrubbed, washed with soapy water and given a massage…

to be continued… (the observations from the main section, the real deal about a hammam)….

Lukewarm waters…

Last week, I decided to continue my blog in Turkish. I thought noone was reading it, so I wanted to make it easier on myself. So why am I writing if noone is reading huh?? Well, I kept journals when I was in high school, that noone ever read… I actually write deeper when there is not an audience. Anyway, then a non-Turkish speaker good friend of mine sent me an email this week, telling me that she read my last entry, and that she really liked it… so here we go again, continuing in English. I apologize for the countless grammar and spelling errors, when I don’t write in my native language, I feel like I sound like an 8 year old. I also just don’t have the time to proof read anything. I appreciate any feedback though, if you see anything that is out of place let me know. If you can make sense of it, just don’t bother and keep on reading…

Most of you have been wondering and asking about my mother’s health. Thank you all so very much for your support and well wishes. I guess I am one of those who say things as it is. But it took a while for me to come to terms with her situation. It has been about 3+ months and I guess right now I am more level headed about it. I guess time helps all even getting used to living with cancer.

Here’s the technical stuff as it is. It’s lukewarm news for us… there are good news… then we have some bad news… Mom responded very well to first 2 rounds of chemo. She also had a gamma knife procedure on a brain tumor. That tumor is gone altogether… So technically that might now bring her cancer stage to IIIb I guess. (it was stage 4) I am not a doctor but I like to think about it that way. The primary tumor in her lung is reduced in half after the first 2 rounds. It’s about 2cm now. -such a small but strong enemy in her beautiful body-. However, we didn’t get the same response to chemo #3 and #4. It’s still the same, not smaller… but not bigger either… Her doctor stopped chemo for now, and now she in on a cancer drug… a new amazing pill, that costs a fortune, yet again, our hope for a cure…

On the emotional side of things, we had a few tears this week. We are now experts at reading MRI reports, and we can even make sense of the medical terms… Mom always felt good about her treatment, stayed very strong and didn’t get that much affected by chemo. She was tired for 2-3 days, then she was up on her feet running after 2 very active toddlers. Feeding, changing diapers, waking up at 5am to fix breakfast and just being a wonderful grandmother… After this week’s sour news, she has slowed down a bit for about eerrr.. one day…

We no longer have our babysitter to help us. She is back to school and of course there is no room for feeling sorry for ourselves. Life goes on in this house… M & A wake up like clockwork at 7, they like to chit chat and exchange toys while sitting in there crib, but they are ready for breakfast at 8:00 By 8:30 we have 2 very messy toddlers who need to be diaper changed, hands and face washed. We also place them in their playpen with much rejection so we can clean up the olives, feta cheese, numerous forms of bread (chewed, half chewed, split), and pieces of fruit from the floor. While do the dishes and they are screaming to be rescued from the playpen. By 9:00 they are running around the house like crazy. “Don’t touch that”… “no… no.. nooo, that’s grandpa’s laptop”… A likes to run around with a whole garlic in his hand he also likes to get a few bites from it. While M likes to push her tricycle in the house with her stuffed bunny sitting on the saddle. By 9:30 we are pretty tired.. but it goes on like this with a few diapers to clean with a few snacks, a few rounds of playing music, clapping hands, dancing, reading books etc. By 10 we have milk and it’s time for a morning nap…

I am not going to continue with the afternoon routine… but we have a very busy 7am-8pm schedule. Our employers are very strict, no error is excused, they are specific about their meals, and they are very demanding about their wants and needs!

Shortly, I continue to be a full time mother and grandma continues to be the queen bee. She is here and and after a while we don’t care about what’s going on in her body. M&A love to touch her bold head and they try to even comb the few fuzzy hairs on there. For them she is just grandma, who spoils them rotten… and for now that’s how we like it to be…

Hugs,

g.