The whisky sours of the previous night, my jet-lag and probably the overexertion of my senses during the previous week in Afghanistan, made me sleep in well into Friday. Afghans have one-day weekends, but all international organisations take Fridays and Saturdays off.
I don’t remember when was the last time I slept until 11:30 AM. I woke up to a bright sunlight and a clear mountain view from the window. Slowly I made my way into the kitchen to have some tea before checking out the hamam.
Although my room has its own bathroom and toilet, I find the water pressure too low to be able to wash my hair, unless I am willing to spend a couple of hours on it… and I am not exaggerating!
So I was very happy to hear that the old hamam is still functioning and is lit up every Thursday night and all the way through Friday. I missed the chance of going to a public Turkish hamam a couple of years ago when I visited Istanbul. This private hamam would give me a chance to experience how in the old days the well-to-do Afghans washed.
The hamam consists of four rooms. The first room is a small vestibule, which opens to the courtyard and is separated from the next room through a wooden door. The next space, which is sandwiched between the main washing area and the vestibule, is furnished with a bamboo mat on the floor and a couple of wooden chairs. This is a dry room where one undresses and dresses before and after the bath. A small wooden door separates this dry area from the wet room where all the washing takes place. The small size of this door, against whose frame I bumped my head twice, is to help minimise the heat loss. On the inner wall of the wet room at waist height a small arched opening provides a window into the pools of hot and cold water. The bodies of water mirror some of the daylight from the skylight into the wet room, lending the hamam a romantic air.
I imagine that in the old days water was ladled into buckets though this opening. Today, two separate faucets under the arched window provide hot and cold water. Later I was told an Australian visitor to the Qala, unfamiliar with the concept of hamams, once said, ‘The hamam is excellent, but the hole through which you are supposed to dive into the pool is too small.’ I’d have to confess, at some point, the thought crossed my mind, too.
A big wood oven, which Kaka Daoud dutifully lights every Thursday at dusk, heats up the water. As a result the wet room gets extremely hot, much like a steam sauna. Not being a big fan of heat, for me even the cold water is warm enough for washing. I managed to wash in 30 minutes without fainting before I stepped into the fresh air of the courtyard.
The rest of Friday was taken up with preparations of a feast that was to place in honour of one of the wood experts. He was leaving Kabul after two years. An Indian colleague was preparing an elaborate multi-course dinner and everybody was helping out. The meal was a great success. Afterwards,leaning back on our cushion around the colourful spread, people started to take turns singing songs in English, French, Latin, Indian, and German. When my turn came, as usual, I shied away by saying that I do not have a singing voice. The truth is, I have always wanted to learn how to sing, but the thought of singing before an audience has always petrified me. After lots of prompting, to my own surprise, I finally gave in and gathered the courage to sing Dokhtar Shirazi.
The audience was extremely kind and gracious. They seemed to like the song, maybe because it was a simple song in Farsi and they could understand the lyrics. I had crossed a personal threshold and the positive response made me feel good about it. Who knows maybe someday I will find a singing couch, who can teach me how to sing my favourite Persian folks songs.
The next morning I was going for a walk in the countryside about 20 miles north of Kabul.