Damascenes enjoy tradition of public bathing despite deadly conflicts

Damascenes enjoy tradition of public bathing despite deadly conflicts
# 25 January 2013 23:24 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Despite the deadly conflicts that creep close toward the center of their city, Damascenes are unwilling to give up their old tradition of bathing in public baths, locally known as Hammam al-Souk, APA reports.

At the al-Malek al-Zahir Hammam that dates back to the year 985 A.D., young men streamed in over the weekend to bathe their friend who was getting married on the same night. Also, a grandpa and his sons and grandsons dashed through the cave-like gate, excited about having a hot bath that could beat the January cold.

People also came to the public baths because of the shortage in heating diesel and the long hours of electricity outage nationwide that made bathing at home not as easy as it used to be.

Upon entering, the visitor would be warmly greeted by the servicemen who offer the customers clean fluffy towels, laurel soaps and a pair of vintage wooden clogs that make loud clacking noise on the stone floor but do prevent people's skidding.

With towels wrapped around their waist, men would exfoliate their skin with sponge mitts and pour hot water onto themselves.

People who come to the public bathes, which are inherited from the Ottoman era, enjoy dowsing in sweltering hot steam and water, a vigorous scrub by a specialized chubby man, who would slam the customer's back when he finishes and sends him over to a masseur. After the massage, the customer will lounge in a room swathed with towels to enjoy a long, gentle recline with a glass of sweet red tea and an apple-flavor hookah pipe.

Bassam Kubab, the manager of the Malek al-Zahir, told Xinhua that "the turnout for public bathes has to some extent declined due to the recent security situation."

He said "there are those who are affected and want to have a bath, and others who just want to retain the tradition and have fun."

"The affected people make up around 10 percent of our customers. They come here due to shortage in electricity and heating diesel," he noted.

The country is experiencing now a steep shortage in all kinds of fuel and most fuel stations are shut down. The shortage has been attributed to the economic sanctions imposed on the country as well as the armed groups' attacks on fuel tankers and diesel freights.

In a bid to sooth the people's anxiety and impatience with the situation, many government officials have stressed that they are doing their utmost to bring the energy and food crisis to an end.

Surprisingly, the energy scarcity is not the main reason behind people thronging public baths.

Mohammad Tamim, a school teacher, told Xinhua "every month we come here with friends after work. Especially on Thursdays, we go out for picnic and come here for a hot bath."

Tamim said his visit has nothing to do with the lack of fuel or electricity.

However, the weekend tradition of bath-taking, albeit alive, is accompanied by outbursts of violence.

Late on Thursday, two suicide car bombs simultaneously ripped through a military security branch in the Sa'sa countryside of Damascus, fully razing the facility to the ground and killing most of the officers and soldiers inside, media reports said.

The blast coincided with another one that rocked the Damascus district of Barza and caused property losses. The drumbeat of shelling resounded through most of the districts overnight.

Activists said the rebels Free Army carried out the blasts at the security branch.

The Syrian government called Thursday on the exiled opposition to return home, promising them immunity in hopes of launching an inclusive national dialogue that could bring an end to the 22- month-old conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to UN figures.