Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • “Power wash," I thought as the woman barked at me.



    I didn't understand until I saw the word printed on the wall, the pools in the floor. Jacuzzi. I stepped out of my slippers and stared at each tub for a while before picking the one on the left.

    It was deep. Deeper than I expected. Standing on the tips of my toes, I tilted my head back to breathe and then, I climbed on a ledge to consider my power wash.

    The woman who scrubbed me, who threw my wrap on a heated marble slab in the center of the room, who ordered me down, scrubbed with alacrity and efficiency if without warmth.

    "Turn!" she said. "Turn! Sit! Slowly, slowly!"

    The English she spoke seemed to be the English she needed to do her job and what a job it was. I got paid to do math in a government office building and she got paid to scrub the tar out of topless women. Strangers. In a steamed room from the 1580s.

    Like the scrubber, I wore a black bikini from the hamam . Unlike the scrubber, I wore only the bottom. In my first visit, years ago, all of the scrubbed were naked and all of the scrubbers wore one-piece black swimsuits, but this time, everyone wore bikinis given out at reception. The bikinis earned my eternal gratitude when I accidentally glanced past the feet in my hair. (Half naked women were scattered hodgepodge around the slab with half naked women scrubbing and sudsing.)

    “Praise be bikinis,” I thought. “Did she just kick my head?”

    Great piles of foam followed the scrub as the scrubber talked over my head, great piles of gossip, soap, dishing, in a language I couldn’t understand. The woman scrubbing the girl with the feet in my hair answered in kind.

    "Turn! Sit! Slowly, slowly!"

    I stared up at the holes in the ceiling and the stars beside them as the topless stranger scrubbed, soaped and rubbed every bit of me. More gossip. More orders.

    "Turn! Sit! Slowly, slowly!"

    The woman washed my hair, my long, thick locks, soaping and rinsing, rinsing and soaping, and sent me into the jacuzzi were I sank into the deep, dark tub and considered it all. It was bizarre. Unlike anything I’d experienced in my life but my first Turkish bath and unlike my second (in Budapest).

    Eventually, I would move to lighter, warmer pool. One rested at a degree above body temperature and the other, one degree below. In the heat, I watched bubbles form around my hands and the key on a band ringing my wrist and I lost track of time and space. Bubbles.

    A pair of half naked Spanish women joined me; it felt only slightly odd to sit half naked in a jacuzzi with strangers but after the power wash, the feet in my hair and the kick in the head, having done it before, nothing really seemed strange.

    I had not slept in days. Travel. Sickness. Life. I hadn't stopped to think and then, with the bubbles I stopped thinking completely, watching them shift and change in the weak light. And then I climbed out the tub and back into the cold air of life. My friend had barely started the scrub when I left to rinse, dry and dress. I found myself waiting a half hour for her to finish the experience we started together.

    Çemberlitas of today differed greatly from my memory of Cagaloglu from six years ago, but in many ways, they were the same. The steam. The scrubbing. Feeling cleaner than I’d ever felt in my life, clean, safe and warm.

    Experience and comfort surely played a part in the differences as did the time of day - Sunday morning versus late night as well as the size of the crowd but maybe it was just me. I wasn't the same person I had been six years earlier.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.