For most of us, the last time we were bathed by someone else was when we were babies.
Sure, maybe you like to indulge in an Out of Africa-style bath every now and again with your partner who offers to wash your hair for you as a romantic gesture –probably just a ruse to get you naked. But being bathed is actually quite different and unique.
In the last three years I have been bathed by someone I didn’t know, twice. And I liked it very much.
No, I’m not an ablutophile who visited an underground bath house where I was coerced into an infantilised state and bathed in lukewarm milk as someone suckled on my toes.
I visited a Hammam. Also known as a public Turkish bath.
Salon.com says that public bathing has gone out of fashion a long time ago - this is largely due to the fact it requires a very complex and sophisticated infrastructure to be maintained, like the Roman Empire had. But bathing has taken on various forms throughout time. People bath to get clean, to de-stress and even to be trendy.
Business Insider says there is a rise in alternative bathing practices, for example a Japanese spa, Yunessun Spa and Resort, has now made bathing even more relaxing by offering guests hot springs filled with red wine, sake, coffee or even green tea. This form of bathing is perhaps more for relaxation purposes, rather than actually getting clean or being therapeutic or healing in a true medical sense.
A Hammam, on the other hand, is known for its many benefits, i.e. it increases circulation, relieves muscle tension, increases your metabolism and keeps skin fresh as it rinses out toxins.
About 3 years ago I experienced my first Hammam in Istanbul. It’s very public in the sense that it sees you lining up to be “washed” or “bathed” along with dozens of other women.
This ancient cleansing ritual of enjoying a Turkish steam bath/sauna is normally separated by sex. You lie, buck naked (disposal undies are provided, but a piece of string would in fact provide more coverage) on a slab of mildly heated marble. You wait until your turn comes to scooch down to the washing area.
Here you are scrubbed, stretched, washed and massaged into submission.
The bikini-clad washers (who have to be inside a steam room for an entire DAY!) are rough with you. You are naked and exposed, yet feel part of history in some sense when you think of all those who have laid on that very marble, in that space before you.
When the treatment ends with a ritual washing of your hair, it feels gentle, motherly and truly very nurturing. Infantalisation minus the toe suckling.
So, naturally, when I first heard about the Hammam offering at Babylonstoren, I jumped at the chance to try it. Firstly, because I was dying to do a comparison. And secondly, I wanted that feeling back. That feeling of being, at once, both so very vulnerable and feeling very safe simultaneously.
The Hammam water ritual offering at Babylonstoren is much more intimate. It’s just one client at a time and it is very private. It’s also much gentler.
Upon entering the humid room (set to just the right temperature), I felt myself transported into what felt like a cocoon. Safe, warm, comfortable and ultimately super relaxed – I was lucky to experience this on a cold, rainy Franschoek day – the combination of the warm marble “bed” and warm water running over your skin like your own tiny private waterfall, was pure bliss.
Like in Istanbul, the therapist scrubs your body – only here it is with luxe Africology products. You are washed, stretched out and massaged. Keeping your eyes open whilst in this coma-like cocoon, is trying.
Finally, your hair is washed with divine-smelling Aesop shampoo.
This Hammam experience gave me that feeling back, the one that I’m sure you have as a baby being bathed by your mother. So naked, so exposed, yet so content with the world.