Monday, February 27, 2012

What happened when I tried to get a massage in rural Bangladesh

After a long day on the road we arrive to the town of Kulna in rural Bangladesh. My room has no running water, but the hotel has a spa, so I figure I might as well use it instead. It’s almost closing time and I’m the sole customer, but they take me in. After closely reviewing the list of available services I choose two: oil hair  treatment (which will at least mean I do not need to wash my hair for another week), and a full body massage.  The price seems a bit high for the standards, but I’ve been riding up and down this country in the back of a car for over a week now, and my body can use the pampering.

One lady begins the head massage with what appears to be your traditional kitchen grade olive oil. Meanwhile,  four idle ladies stand next to the mirror in front of me, staring straight at me like I’m the 4 o’clock news. Subsequent  social outings would confirm this as normal behaviour around a foreigner, or “farnear” as they call us, which if you think about, is probably the origin of the word to begin with.

"where you come from?”

one finally ventures

"Spain” I reply, still uncomfortable with being the entertainment.

I will soon learn that this is pretty much all Banglas want to know about me. Once that question has been answered they can move on, their curiosity fully satisfied. In Africa the question is “are you married.” Here it’s “where you come from,” sometimes  followed up by  question number two: “do you have facebook?”

Soon the head massage begins and my mind wonders off as does the novelty and they go back to their activities. They are all wearing matching black and maroon uniforms, which are a westernized version of the local long top and baggy trousers. One is getting her hair done. She giggles in a most contagious manner. They are chatting loudly, with none of that reverent spa attitude we are used to expecting in the West. Eventually we move  on to the massage room. We haggle over where my things should go, and nobody leaves the room in order for me to change. Two keep reorganizing things, while others come and go. We are a crowd when I finally lay down on the massage table,  and then I understand the reason behind the high price of the massage, as each lady grabs one leg and begins massaging. 

I’ve had a four-hand massage before. There is something utterly decadent about it, but frankly, I find it hard to focus, especially as they keep chatting and giggling while trying to coordinate their movements, so now I’m focusing on wether or not they manage. I feel like I should be helping them keep rhythm or something. Then a third lady walks in, grabs my right arm and starts going at it. At this point I’m starting to suspect that they’ve  figured this way they might finish faster, and frankly, I wouldn’t be too bothered if this experience was cut short. Another lady, the one with the contagious giggle, comes in and begins massaging the stomach area. I hold on to a tiny scrap of towel that is still covering my breasts afraid of spending the next twenty minutes getting a one-on-one boob massage. Then the fifth lady grabs the remaining bastion, my left arm. At this point I am  being tossed and pulled in five different directions. There are ten uncoordinated hands pulling and pressing my body  at different beats, and I can’t work out if I’m in a soft porn film or an automatic carwash. There is nothing relaxing about it, my body is fully exposed and I’m getting kind of cold. They carry on giggling and chatting as if I wasn’t there at all. Sadly, the highlight of the experience is the hot shower I take after, which makes me conclude I would not be a good orgy partner.

As they dry my hair I notice the ladies getting ready to head home. One by one they slip out of their westernized clothes and into their long covers. I watch them carefully place the veil over their forehead and tuck it behind their ears. As we leave they have transformed from women who ignore my naked body displayed like an anatomy lesson, to clothed ghosts, their brisk happy walk the only reminder of the giggling ladies that have tortured me for the last 90 minutes.  

strange "farnear" under observation