Showers like you see in the states are a pretty rare thing here. Whether a family has one at their home or go to a public one, the banya is the common way of getting clean.
Much to the envy of my fellow trainees back in Kengesh, I actually did have a shower at my house and as nice as that was at the time, I missed out on learning how the banya works until I got here to Talas. Usually showering or banya-ing happens on Sundays, but with all the craziness of getting to site last weekend I missed out and was a little overdue (read: smelly) by yesterday.
Nurkalyi drove me to Kirovka, dropped me off at the public banya, and drove off to some business that he had somewhere – obviously sure that I could figure out the banya procedure myself. I walked into a sort of community pool like place with a little café and dude standing behind a counter with towels and soaps. By way of pointing, I indicated that I would like “one banya, please” and paid the 100 som ($1.30) fee.
I walked around to a changing room just like a public pool back home except along the walls were wooden closets instead of lockers. I knew enough about the process to know that it’s birthday suit only, so I stripped down and checked out the actual banya in the next room.
The room was kind of like a high school gym shower with some shower heads, but there were also a couple stacks of basins and taps with blue and red handles sticking out of the wall all over the room. Taking my cues from the other guys in the banya, I filled a basin with water from the taps and alternated scrubbing, showering, and sitting in the (incredibly hot) sauna next door.
I was very happy to be clean and even got a hair cut afterwards; felt like a whole new man.
And that was my, pretty representative, experience with the banya. The whole process is pretty new and the amount of nudity is a little, ah, jarring, but the it worked for the Romans, right? So when in Rome…