I’ll tell you one neat thing about Tozeur: they all use the hamam here. Having seen the shower facilities in some of these homes, I’d probably seek external hygiene options as well. The Hamam sits on the ground floor of a nondescript yellow building, on a nondescript yellow street next to an empty sand lot. It’s a solid, low-slung maze of marble corridors and increasingly unbearable heat. Each chamber is tiled floor to ceiling in a different color- blue, green, aqua, purple… They echo and drip sweat in co-misery with me, the unsuspecting tourist, who has been brought here to die. Cruddy wood and brass taps pour water continuously onto the floor. There’s a few in each chamber, and you get to choose between either scalding, deadly hot or shockingly, deadly cold. You have to be a mixologist to make sure you don’t end up peeling all your skin off! Or stopping your heart.
I went with Zied and his friend Mahar, who led us straight to the hottest room in the back (lime green). We started by soaking our feet in plastic buckets while I clung to consciousness. I didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of my new friends (especially since Mahar used to be the kung-fu champion of Tunisia, no joke) so I pretended it was super relaxing .
Actually, aside from the dizzying heat I rather liked the process of what amounts to showering for over an hour inside a facility the size of an apartment. You walk from room to room, collecting water in various buckets. Then you can sponge it onto yourself, or use a ladle, or do what I did and just pour it straight over your head. It’s a much more engaging process to cleanliness. ‘Take your tiiiiiiiime’ the old men’s fat rolls seem to say. ‘Lather uuuuuuuup.’
Unlike the German sauna I went to in Konstanz, nobody here was naked. I’m not sure if it’s modesty or religious imperative that makes them bathe in swim trunks, but it suited me just fine. If I had asked my penis if he wanted to come out into the steam, he probably woulda been like “Nah dude. I’ll wait for you outside” and hopped off my lap. I hallucinated a little peach worm squeegying itself across the floor. Or did that actually happen? God it’s so hot!
Earlier in the evening I had gone with Mahar to collect the bath accessories from his house. He lives in the center of town, and ushered me through the front gate with a bow and an enormous smile. His mom was in the kitchen, sitting on a bed and peeling potatoes. “He’s American!” he yelled to her, and I finally found someone who didn’t care. “I find the stuff. You can wait here!”
He grabbed a chair and let me sit in the courtyard, the massive open-air square around which the single rooms of his house create a border. It was a nice place, simple and clean. His grandmother was in one of the rooms, laying on cushions on the floor watching a tiny television set. I watched him flit from room to room, weaving inside and out, stuffing everything into an overnight bag. There were towels of various sizes, bottles of soap (scented and un-), plastic shovels and ladles, one of those castle molds for sandcastle building, and a tooth brush. The most formidable object in his bag was a brush-glove. It’s got a soft side and a rough side, and slips over your hand for maximum cleaning power. Later on, he would use the brush-glove to scrub the back of my and Zied’s necks. And when I say scrub, I mean he scrubbed the shit out of the back of my neck. There’s no dirt left cuz there’s no skin left. It was the exact opposite of sexy. But still kinda sexy ;-)
The whole evening cost about two dollars, which Zied demanded he pay for. This was disappointing because Tunisian money is really fun. The coins are big and heavy, exactly like pirate gold, and I enjoy handing it over to people and pretending I have an eyepatch. We recuperated by drinking Fantas brought to us by some man in a bath robe. In the lounge area up front, we sat on cushions under the open window, and waited for the cool, desert air to re-inflate us.