Our English Language Training instructor is a brilliant woman. Forthright and fascinating, she holds the attention of everyone in the room with little trouble. This morning, she told us that her classroom philosophy is “what you learn in pleasure, you remember.” How true!

Yesterday was overflowing with learning in wonderfully pleasing environments. We had the day off! Hurrah! Since I didn’t have to wake up early, I stayed up to listen to the Razorback game (VPN still working only off and on so I couldn’t watch it on ESPN… Peter? help a sister out). The first win in 10 games! 73-7 over Nicholls state! Oh, finally some feelings of joy while watching football! Even if it was excessive!

Anyway, back to Turkey. My roommate, Lisa, and I decided to have a totally Turkish day on Sunday. This, apparently, means going to the mall. I hate the mall; I hate shopping. Its not ISIS or Russia or the deadly cold winter in Erzurum that is going to make me want to come home. Instead, I’m pretty sure that I will fly back to Arkansas if I’m forced to go to the mall to often with my Turkish friends. But Lisa dragged me along to go shopping, cause that is the (apparently nearly official) National hobby of the Turks. She bought a new head-scarf and we both got some freshly squeezed juice. Pomegranate and banana and mango! After our refreshing vitamin infusion (that was written on the shop window), we headed to the hamam.

A hamam is a Turkish bath and we chose to hit up one of the oldest baths in Ankara, the Şengül Hamamı. It was built in the 15th century, restored in the 19th, and is in immaculate condition. Since the women’s side was full of naked women (go figure), we didn’t take any pictures. Here is the website for reference:


A few photos (from their website):

The inside of the women’s changing area

The inside of the bathing room (grotto)

The experience was incredible! First we were lead into the camekan, a beautifully crafted “changing room” where women were milling about and chatting. We stripped down, wrapped ourselves in the patterned peştemal (Turkish bathing towels) and entered the large marble room with the stars in the ceiling shown above. It was hot and visible humidity clung in the air. Inside, women of all ages were chatting and laughing together as they congregated around the multiple marble basins. They would use small pitchers to pour steaming hot water all over themselves, lay back on the marble to relax, and then pour another pitched of water over their head. We sat, drenched ourselves, talked, and relaxed. Once we’d been thoroughly “warmed up”, two of the women who worked there directed us (with very expressive gestures and laughter) to lay on the marble slab, the göbektaşı, in the middle of the room. Thankfully, we’d already watched a number of other women go through the following process, so it wasn’t totally foreign:

1. Lay down on the marble. Realize its being heated from below and is searing.
2. Lay still and clench your teeth as the masseuse scrubs you down with a bristly pad (3-5 min)
3. Flip over and continue the sandpaper rub down (3-5 min)
4. Laugh at the insane amount of dead skin that is sloughed off
5. Sit up in order to not drown as buckets of steaming hot water are poured over your head repeatedly (2 min)
6. Fling your hair around and giggle at your friends (3-5 min)
7. Lay back down, remember its burning hot. Wait as the masseuse mixes together water and coffee grounds for step 8
8. Lay still as the masseuse rubs your entire body in the exfoliating coffee scrub (10 min)
9. Sit up to get the invigorating, tingly caffeine concoction rubbed and smoothed into your face and hair (5-7 min)
10. Take a short trip to the shower tap to wash off the coffee. Speak in very bad Turkish to the girl next to you (2 min)
11. Return to the göbektaşı for the rest of the massage
12. Luxuriate as the masseuse rubs you down with Turkish soap and try, repeatedly to tell her that it smells amazing (first say “My Turkish is very bad,” followed by “I, you, it smell very good!”) (10-15 min)
13. Sit up and receive more buckets of hot water (2-3 min)
14. Say thank you a million times
15. Return to the area surrounding the göbektaşı to hang out with your friends and compare how soft each others skin is

So, as our teacher said, I learned so much while I was there, but the pleasure made it seem easy! Altogether, a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. After we’d dried off and blow-dried our hair, we headed over to a kabap stand. We ate some lentil soup and I learned that I should never go outside with wet hair in Turkey as it is interpreted as an announcing that one has just engaged in sexual activity. Oh the horror…

After the hamam, Lisa and I took a long walk through the city and ended up in the city center where the Kocatepe Mosque is located. What a breathtaking building. I plan to return this week, so I’ll leave that for another day, but here is an image to give you an idea of scale:



Also! A few superior pictures of our Turkish festival night from my fellow grantees. Photo Credit: Nina Mast and Theodore Charles.