On Banyas

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…

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About Cole Bedford