Full Report on Bahrain Royal Masseuse Originally Published on Australian Website “News”
2016-12-29 - 1:40 am
Bahrain Mirror: From private jets to 2am massages: Inside the life of a royal masseuse
Era Sugianti used to be the Queen of Bahrain's private masseuse.
"IF THE queen got a mosquito bite and I didn't notice, she would be very upset," recalls Era Sugianti from a villa in Bali.
In 2004, the now 35-year-old spa therapist swapped her village of Gilimanuk in Bali's north for palaces and private jets, taking up a post as the personal masseuse to the Queen of Bahrain, Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the first wife of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
During her three years in the Middle East, Era, now a retreat manager in Bali's Canggu, was offered a rare insight into the secret lives of Arab royal families.
At face value, fuss over a minor affliction such as a mosquito bite might be the type of behaviour befitting of a royal. But Era stresses it was one of the ways the queen's longing for attention manifested itself. "I think she was very lonely. Her dining table was three or four metres long and she would sit by herself with all this food," she tells news.com.au.
After landing the job at 23, Era was whisked off to Bahrain, her first time overseas, and into an unknown world, despite the pleas of her parents. "I was very shy and didn't speak English. I didn't even know what a spa was, my Dad wanted me to be a policewoman."
But she failed the test and soon after, Era caught wind of a spa job going at a nearby resort. "I studied with Mandara Spa and while there I heard that the Queen of Bahrain was looking for a therapist."
She claims it was coincidence that got her the gig, when a chance meeting outside with the interviewee worked in her favour.
A few months later, Era was sharing the queen's palace in Bahrain with more than 1000 staff and starting her work days at 2am. She reveals it was strictly forbidden to leave the palace for more than a few hours at a time or to take photos on the grounds, a rule that was enforced by the general manager.
Inside, a huge underground spa with a jacuzzi, hammam and gym, doubled as a bomb shelter. As one of two personal masseuses to the queen, Era was required to accompany the royal to Paris, London and Cannes and aboard superyachts on the Mediterranean in summer.
"My mum didn't want to let me go, because during that time there were a lot of cases of abuse against foreign workers. When I got there, it was so hot, around 51 degrees Celsius. I told my mum, ‘this is hell'. Then after a few months, the queen said we were going to Paris.
"Her private jet was something else. Every time we sailed on the Mediterranean, I felt like a celebrity. Our boat was always the biggest in the port and everybody would take photos of us," she reveals.
Back in Bahrain, Era says she filled her days with episodes of BBC Food. "Most days I would watch TV and learn to cook. The queen only needed me during the night, when she would have her massage around 1am or 2am," she explains.
Middle Eastern royals often get a bad rap for flashy their displays of wealth and a history of mistreatment to foreign workers, but Era's experience paints a different picture. "The queen was like a mum to me. If she heard bad news about Indonesia, she would tell me to call my parents. Every week she would give us a phone card, pocket money and cash to buy ice cream when we were out," admits Era.
The queen also lavished her with gifts. "Sometimes in Paris, she would give me a credit card and tell me to go to a restaurant so that I could tell her what it looked like inside and what my favourite dish was," says Era. "The most money she gave me was $1,500, I bought some diamonds.
But despite her soft spot, the queen was also guarded. "No one was allowed to see the king," says Era. "I heard a rumour that he had an affair with one of the maids and that's why the girls weren't allowed around the palace when he was there."
So naturally, it came as a shock when the queen allowed her to meet him. "She called me and said ‘tomorrow his majesty is going to have a treatment with you'. I was very afraid. I didn't want to look at him, I feared I would get fired. She watched me give him a massage. I don't think she trusted either of us," she says.
The staff, Era says, were well aware of the internal struggles endured by the queen, who was one of four wives.
"Her assistant told me that when the king got married for the second time, the queen was very emotional. She was very unhappy, always yelling at the staff and would often make them cry or slap them."
Even Era found the palace isolating. "The worst thing was that it was hard to make friends. I was her massage therapist and people were afraid of me. They thought that if they made a mistake, I was going to tell the queen," she says.
In the end, that's what drove her to leave. "I actually met a guy there and fell in love," say Era.
"He was a pastry chef at the palace, but we weren't allowed to have a relationship. Every week I would meet him for two hours, but after a few months, someone told the general manager. He was my first love. But it was too hard not having any freedom, that's why I resigned" she says.
She never saw the chef again, and Era returned to Bali, where she lives with her six-year-old daughter, Emily.
As a departing gift, the queen sent her off with a little nest egg. "She gave me a lot of money, about five years of my salary," says Era, who is in the process of building a home near the beach in Bali's Lovina.
Note: Bahrain Mirror Arabic had translated excerpts from the article before it was deleted, and the translations could be viewed here
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