I was convinced that I was never going to see my family again. How could I have been so stupid?
It was my last day in Turkey and I still had not had been to a Turkish Bath (Haman). Turkish Baths have been around for thousands of years and started out as a place to clean yourself, which is very important in the Islamic religion. It soon took on a social aspect as well, where friends could chat, deals could be made and secrets shared. It has been an important part of Turkish culture ever since.
I had heard about them before leaving and everyone I spoke with told me I had to experience a Turkish Bath. I was in Bodrum and I was leaving for Greece in the morning, it was now or never. I walked into a shop that advertised tours to a traditional Turkish Bath.
For seven Euros they picked you up, took you to the Haman and brought you back. Deal. Sign me up.
The man who sold me the ticket told me to wait outside of the shop and the ride would arrive in about 15 minutes. As I was sitting there a black Kia Rio with Turkish house music spilling from its windows pulled up. There were two men inside, the driver appeared to be in his forties and the passenger in his early twenties. The passenger jumped out and ran into the shop where I just bought my ticket. He was wearing all black, with dark black hair. He was very cute. The shop keeper came out with him and they both looked at me. I smiled.
“Ok you go now” the shopkeeper said to me as he pointed at the car.
The young man opened the back door and was waiting for me to get in. You have got to be kidding me. No tour bus? No other people? I look back and forth from the shop keeper to the man holding the car door open, unsure of what I should do next.
“Are you ready?” the young man asks obviously growing impatient.
Scenes from the movie Taken are running through my head. There is no way as a writer and a responsible traveler that I can leave Turkey without visiting a Turkish Bath. On the other hand, how far am I willing go to for a story? I hop in the backseat and say a silent prayer to God that I haven’t made the wrong choice. Then I say one to Allah too, just to be safe.
The two men talk to each other in Turkish as I continue to pray in the backseat. I imagine they are discussing how much they will get for me when they sell me into the human traffic trade.
“Her blonde hair and blue eyes will get a good price”
“Yes but she is late twenties, not very young, that will drop her price.”
“She is slim, but not very tall and she is small chested.”
We speed, twisting and turning getter further and further away from the safety of my hotel. I try to remember every detail so if I manage to escape I can find my way back. We turned down one more small road and stop at a dead end. I look around and all I see is a wide stone staircase leading down. This doesn’t make me feel better. The younger of the two men jumps out of the car and opens my door. He instructed me to follow him down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was a small sign that said Haman. Who would put a Haman out here? It’s not close to anything touristy and is so hard to find. The young man I came in with speaks in Turkish to a boy about 16, who wore brown capris and a baggy black shirt. They shake hands and then the young man left, without looking at me.
That’s it I have been sold!
The inside of the Haman did not look like any of the pictures I had seen. It was a big room, with a small counter over to the right hand side a hand with a hand written sign that said Tips Welcome. In the centre of the room there were three white leather couches, arranged as if around an imaginary television. There was an extremely narrow hallway that led to a dead end with a door on either side. The whole place had the feel of a school gym. I wondered if it was too late to back out and go back to the hotel.
The 16 year old boy then handed me a red and white checkered linen towel and pointed me toward the change room. The room was small, one wall held twenty pea-green lockers and a wooden bench. On the other wall was a mirror with two sinks and two bathroom stalls. I am not sure if it was the grey cement floors or the lack of windows but the place had a basement feel to it. I got changed and left my things in a locker with no lock. Stupidly, I forgot I was carrying my passport with me. Well that will be a nice bonus, I’m sure a Canadian passport brings in a great profit, maybe it will make up for my age. I closed the locker door.
I was now naked except for my checkered linen towel. I slowly and cautiously left the safety of the change room. I looked down the hallway, there was no one to be seen. I took small steps not really sure where I was supposed to go and what to expect. With each step my heart raced a little faster. All of a sudden the boy appeared out of what seemed like thin air. He smiled and walked quickly to a large wooden door to the right of the hallway. He opened the door and directed me inside.
This new room was circular and made entirely of white marble. It was hot, like a sauna, and smelled of chlorine. Running around the perimeter of the room was a two foot wide marble bench and every 3 or 4 feet was a white marble sink. The sinks had brass taps that poured a steady stream of water which flowed over the edge onto the bench and floor. The sound of the flowing water echoed against the marble. In the centre of the room was an 8×12 solid marble table.
After assessing my new surroundings, I very slowly sat on the marble bench beside the sink, gripping my towel tightly. The boy did not speak English and with hand motions told me to pour the water on myself. He then smiled at me and left me alone in the marble room. On the side of each of the sinks was a small wooden bowl, I picked it up and dunked it into the sink. I poured the warm water onto my legs and arms being careful not to get any on my checkered towel. The water felt good as it washed over me and onto the floor below. I was starting to relax a bit when the boy poked his head around the wooden door…
“Man or lady?”
He does speak English.
“Pardon?” I asked not really sure what the question was.
“Man” he pointed to himself, or “lady” he pointed to me and then mimed giving a massage.
“Ohhh, lady please” I asked, smiling.
“Ok” he said and was gone again.
I looked up at the domed roof. It had ten small stain glass windows about the size of side plates. Not big enough to crawl through, I thought. Don’t be silly Tara, I attempted to calm myself. This is obviously a real Turkish Bath. But then why was I the only person here? My internal debate was broken by a girl about 17 poking her head around the big wooden door.
“Hello” she said smiling.
She was beautiful, dark deep eyes. Light brown skin. Delicate features and a big angelic smile you couldn’t help but return.
“Hi” I answered. Then she was gone.
Inspecting the new merchandise.
About five minutes later she came back in wearing the same checkered linen that I wore. She smiled at me again which made me feel calmer. She hummed a song that reminded me of The Little Mermaid. I smiled. She filled the small wooden bowl with water and without warning dumped it on my head. That was a shock. As I was blinking the water out of my eyes she did it again. She kept filling the bowl until all of me was completely soaked, humming the entire time. She put down the bowl and picked up an exfoliating glove and began to work on both my legs. She then did my arms and my back.
This is kind of nice.
She then started to undo my towel. I immediately held it tight and looked straight into her eyes. I don’t do well with nakedness. I could never change in the girls locker room, I always went into a stall. The thought of strolling topless on a beach gives me heart palpitations. Even undoing my bathing suit straps to tan made me nervous. Now this girl wanted me to just drop my towel?
“It ok, no man, no man.” she said shaking her head and pointing towards the door.
Realizing she had limited English, I came to the conclusion that explaining my lifelong uneasiness with being naked would most likely be lost in translation. She stared at me with young innocent eyes. Oh what the hell, I have come this far,I let my towel fall…
She continued her exfoliating and her humming. Just as I was beginning to feel a tiny bit comfortable – she dumped water on my head again. She was rinsing me after the exfoliating but it still shocked me. She then instructed me to lie on my stomach on the large marble table in the centre on the room.
“Relax” she whispered into my ear as she placed my arms by my sides.
Relax, right. How can I relax when I know that she is just primping me to be sold to the highest bidder!?
I tried to relax.
She dunked what looked like a white rag into the sink and when she brought in up, it filled with air and looked like a pillow case. She dragged it all along my body and it left a trail of thick, white bubbles. She did this twice and then began to give me a massage.
Ok, this is nice, try to relax and enjoy Tara, this is nice.
“Ok turn over” she said.
Relaxing moment gone.
After repeating the procedure I was brought over to the sink to be rinsed off. She then dried me off with a large, thick, plush towel and wrapped it around me tightly. Ahhhh- exhale, covered again. I began to march to the change room to check on my passport and get out of here, if that was even possible. This place was giving me the creeps. So eerily quiet. No one here but me. The staff disappearing and reappearing all the time. I was ready to go back to the hotel.
“No” she said as she grabbed me by the hand and led me to the three leather couches.
She pointed for me to sit on one of the couches, but as I did she walked away into the change room. So now I sat alone, in a towel, on a couch, wondering what in the world I was doing there. I was clutching my towel tightly, feeling more than uncomfortable. Is this where the people come to purchase me? Is this where they decide how much I am worth?
Just then the trusty boy appeared from behind me with some Turkish tea. Turkish tea is served in a small tulip shaped glass on a side plate with two sugar cubes and a small spoon. The glass gets very hot and you must pick it up by the rim to avoid burning yourself and then return it to the small plate when done. I didn’t really want the tea. I wanted to get dressed, get my things and leave, but it’s considered very rude to turn down tea, so I took it and drank it as fast as I could. I looked around for someone to hand my empty tea set to or for some indication of what I should do with it. But yet again, I was alone, so I gently placed it on the table beside the couch and headed for the change room. The girl who had done my massage was in there getting ready after her shower. She was still humming. She looked at me and chuckled.
“ You fast.” she said looking at me through the mirror.
I guess most people relax and enjoy their tea instead of inhaling it. But there was no one else around and I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I opened my locker and went through my stuff, everything was exactly where I had left it. The pains of guilt began to crawl up my stomach. Shame on me for thinking such things. The Turkish people had been overwhelmingly gracious, generous and kind. How could I have thought that they would do anything so horrible?
Shame on you Tara! I tipped and thanked the girl and then left the change room and walked down the hall to the front door.
Standing at the entrance to the stairs there was a man about fifty, leisurely smoking a cigarette. He looked surprised to see me.
“Oh, your driver is not here yet. Ten minutes. You are very fast.”
Yes, the fast Canadian who flew through her Turkish Bath for fear of being sold to human trafficking. Stupid me.
“Ok I will just wait here” I said, smiling.
“You ok?” he asked looking genuinely concerned.
I nodded, still smiling. My driver came and I made it back alive. No one tried to sell me, or kidnap me, or steal my passport. I am sure they are still laughing at the terrified looking ‘fast’ Canadian girl.
“How was it?” the man at the front desk of my hotel asked.
“Very relaxing” I lied. Or at least, it would have been had I not been an over imaginative drama queen.
It’s one thing to be cautious while traveling, especially when traveling alone as a women. It’s another to let these cautions take over your experiences. I was angry with myself for letting what was suppose to be a very relaxing afternoon become a very stressful one. That’s the thing about life, if you stress too much and allow the over anxious media effect how you see the world, you will neglect to appreciate the precious tranquil moments.