Friday, April 2, 2010

Hairy, Fatty and Dirty

Over ‘NAV RUZ’, the Tajik New Year festival, we decided to escape the Buzkashi (goat polo) and visit another politically sensitive country, Uzbekistan. Armed with two guide books, two Russian translators (friends), and two carrier bags of low denomination Uzbek Sum (currency), we crammed in taxis and trains to celebrate my birthday in the ancient Islamic cities Bukhara and Samakand.

Uzbekistan is synomynous with brutality and violence, with reported buying and selling of white slaves in 1920’s, to the Andijan massacre of 5000 protestors in 2005 by the present regime and notably its president Islam Karimov. Karimov was slammed by the United Nations, who accused him of “institutionalised, systematic, and rampant” torture. Somehow even after the last British ambassador, Craig Murray, denounced the regime stating that "Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy" and that the boiling to death of two members of Hizb ut-Tahrir "is not an isolated incident.", they still let the Brits in to spend their pounds. However, they are meticulous in fingering through your dosh during your three hour border ordeal and confiscating your press pass if you care to carry one.

Nick’s Blog provides a great selection of pictures and description of the madrassas, minuets and mosques that have been carefully restored for the frequent visits of the Japanese and French tourists. So I will concentrate on the highlight of the trip – the visit to the ‘LADIES Haman’.

The last of the middle aged mothers who patronise the Haman scuttled away giggling as we entered. This Haman is really not for tourists, so we constituted a rarity and a welcome source of income. The 500yr old Haman was the beauty treatment spa for the bequeathed women of the Emir, here they were scrubbed, perfumed and adorned, before the selection process and subsequent de-flowering.

Perched on a stone ledge in my Next boxers, the steam emanated from a dark watery pit. The Haman is a dungeon of archaic archways, a labyrinth of cells linked by marble floors. Just as the first beads of sweat dribbled off my brow a young grandmother dragged me through for a scrubbing.

Positioned amongst a rainbow of bowls she proceeded to attack my skin with a well worn silk glove in her saggy black knickers and sodden slip. She chatted in Russian, Tajik and Uzbek as the dead skin peeled from my arms, the hair yanked from my calf’s and my teeth grated with the pain. She rambled on as vigorously as she rubbed and finished the procedure by purifying my reddened skin with salty water. My small yelps of pain echoed against slimy walls to return as screams of torture.

Somewhat bemused by physical appearance she was purposeful in ensuring her final remarks were accurately translated; ‘Hairy, Fatty and Dirty Man’. Disgruntled by her diagnosis I rose out of my pile of dead skin and extracted hair to the massage parlour, leaving her to de-flake her iron glove of silk.

In Uzbekistan many international organisations are banned from working and with this the level of accountability of the government decreases. This places immeasurable importance on tourists who provide the international eyes and ears in a one state party; if they cease visiting the Uzbek people will feel abandoned and helpless against a notorious tyrant. Therefore, I would actively encourage a de-scaling in a dungeon at the hands of a middle aged grandmother in a sweaty slip.


Blaize said...

This is an excellent post. Also, now I want a Russian grandmother.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure it was called a "Haman"?

I fear the term ought to be "Hamam" however I am curios as to what your response is going to be to this correction?

Also, you lucky devil you have managed to get a good defoliation of your skin that normally costs an arm and a leg in one of the more fancy spa's and still keep on whinging, now I can see why the term whinging pom should have been coined.

The cultural shifts of women, albeit grandmothers washing the bathers is a curios phenomenon and ought to be owed to the days of USSR.

The "washers" are normally big burly men, whom first manipulate your joints, and message "pummel actually" the bathers before setting onto defoliation of their skins. Take it from me, not a practice for a faint heart, and or weak boned scruny (skinny for non Brits) sort of a character.

However must thank you for taking the time to reflect on your experience, and point out the middle-aged washer women whom have the baths named after these, as opposed to a bath exclusively catering for women or "LADIES" as you have written.

Will be back to this blog later, and keep on pontificating some more.

Another Ex-Pat

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