I was never very comfortable in places that have only women customers. They remind me of the time when I was 7 years old and my parents went on a trip for a month. They decided to send me and my siblings to Mashad to stay with my dad’s distant relatives. They figured that spending a cool summer month in the old brick house in Mashad would be a nice change for us.
After a week or so in Mashad, my dad’s old aunt told me that the following day she would take me to a public bathhouse (Hamoom Zanooneh!) She thought that it would be a good way to keep me busy during the morning. And also, she thought that at that age, I was old enough to take care of myself and yet young enough not to cause any trouble with the women at the bath!
In the morning she packed some Koofteh, Torshi and bread for lunch and we headed out to the bathhouse. On the way over, she cautioned me several times not to stare at the naked women at the bath. She said that Emam Reza is watching me and he would be very angry if I do anything bad! She promised that if I stayed quiet and behaved myself, she would buy me a Fanta orange drink for lunch.
She then described what the bathhouse was like and said, “The large hot pool is used by the men early in the morning before they go to work. When the men are all gone, the women can come in and use the pool. The men and women should never be in the pool at the same time because the women can get pregnant! Khadijeh, the daughter of Haji Mehdi who lives down the alley from us got pregnant last year. Her mother says that she must have stayed too long in the pool and because the men used the pool in the morning, that’s how she got pregnant! It is a blessing that they asked Emam Reza for help. A young Afghani guy who worked at Haji’s rug store (Hojreh Farsh) came forward and asked to marry Khadijeh. Haji was so pleased that he bought them a small house and sacrificed a few lambs for Emam Reza.”
At the time I had a limited knowledge of the sexual relationship between men and women, so I was very curious about the mystical hot pool that could make the women pregnant! I could not wait till I get to the bathhouse and see the pool.
There were naked women of all different sizes and shapes in the bathhouse. Most wore home-made shorts and nothing else. They washed themselves in the shower area and then came and sat in the pool. Some of them held a wash cloth in front of them; very much like the way Eve holds a fig leaf. I tried to keep my head down, but couldn’t. Every once in a while, I would raise my head and take a quick look!
Later on I learned that young women who wanted to get married showcased their bodies to the female relatives of the potential suitors in the public bathhouses. So when a guy was interested in a girl in a conservative place like Mashad, he would dispatch his mom or sisters to the bathhouse to take a close look at her and report back! It is in a way like the Iranian version of eHarmony!
The next time that I saw so many naked bodies was when my classmate Iraj brought his father’s Playboy magazine to our 7th grade class. At the first recess, he pulled the Playboy out of the sports magazine that covered it and laid it on the school bench. In a matter of minutes there were 20 or 30 of us stacked on top of each other trying to get a glimpse of Miss October’s pictures. Every 2 or 3 minutes when everyone agreed, Iraj would carefully turn the page and there would be a big cheer. The word soon got out to the other classes that somebody had brought a Playboy magazine to the school. At every recess, kids from other classes came to see the pictures. Iraj was the most popular guy that day!
After a while as I sat quietly on the edge of the hot pool, looking down and splashing the water with my feet, trying not to stare at all the naked bodies, an old lady came over and talked to my dad’s aunt. She looked at me and said sarcastically, “He is too old to be here among women. Maybe next time you should bring his father too!”
We left after a while and I never visited a public bathhouse again.