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Banya Funya

September 26, 2010

It’s nine o’clock at night. Danil comes into my room and ask me, “Do you want to go to pool?” “Ummm…okay?” I reply. He had told me on Friday that he wanted to go swimming this weekend, but we didn’t go during the day because I was busy jumping out of an airplane. I’m a little confused because I thought the swimming pool was outside. “Won’t it be cold?” I ask, overly hesitant as usual. He says it’s indoors. We can get some beer on the way. And some potato cheeps. Sounds good to me.

His three friends come and pick us up. They are all bodybuilders; I’m pretty sure they are all named Lyokha. We cruise to some Tupac over to a Narodniy, a local market chain that is all over the city. I browse the food. “What is this?” I ask, pointing to a plastic-wrapped sandwich in a fridge. “Eet’s a ketchup sandweech.” I pass that up and go with a slightly more appetizing chicken version, get some beer (They have Hoegaarden! Wonder of wonders), and some sausage and cheese flavored chips. I also want to get what look like Cheburashka themed cheese puffs, but Danil tells me they’re covered in sugar. Well that sounds good to me, but he just shakes his head and looks at me like I’m stupid.

I eat my sandwich on the way to the pool and find it’s mostly pickles. When we get to there it’s almost ten o’clock. We pay five bucks and go into the changing room. With not a shred of Western self-consciousness everyone strips naked and two out of three Alyoshas put on speedos. I look like a goon in my board shorts.

The pool room is cavernous and the air seems sort of green. Everyone dives in but I can’t dive so I just do a little plop. There is an old Russian couple flirting in the far left lane. The man has a bulbous nose and keeps grabbing his partner’s legs, grunting. Life is not good for the Russians here – the Kyrgyz have taken most of the jobs after the Soviet Union collapsed, and many pensioners sit on street corners, selling silverware and pantyhose. I imagine that this is the highlight of this guy’s week, sneaking off from his wife to play around with his old secretary in the public pool.

I sit in the bleachers and drink my Dutch beer and watch Danil and his humongous bodybuilder friends giggle and horseplay. They chase each other around and push each other into the pool. There are three cement diving platforms high above the pool, and they take turns doing dives and bombahs (cannonballs) while screaming maniacally. They make sure I am getting it all on video. When I’m done with my beer, I jump off the lowest platform myself, but find the height unnerving and flail my limbs before I crash into the water. Danil asks me why I won’t do the higher one and I explain that I don’t have a parachute. Some fears are slow to conquer.

I have another beer (this time Brazilian) and swim around a little. I’m all about just some easygoing floatation, but the Russian boys can’t stop showing each other up, jumping farther and farther from the concrete ledge and throwing each other into the pool three at a time. I hover on the edge of the pool and feel like I’m emasculating the American name.

The pool’s about to close so we decide to shower off and head across town to a banya, a Russian sauna. The inside of the building is all lacquered wood and it’s already humid before we even get near the banya itself. We are given towels, derobe, and file into the small room. I think, well jeez, it’s not thaaaat hot, but then one of the Lyokhas goes and get some water and throws it on a pile of rocks in the corner. The rocks have been heating over a fire and as they sizzle a huge cloud of steam surges up to the ceiling. “Oh shit, get down!” Danil yells, laughing, as well all flee to the bottom wooden step to escape the blistering heat as it rises. We take turns sticking our heads into the uppermost levels of the saunasphere and breathing in the hot air. It actually feels really good. We’re sweating like dogs. Luckily, the branches some Russians use to flagellate each other are nowhere to be seen. When we’re sufficiently smoked, we scutter over to a warm pool outside and swim around. Skinnydipping here is not done just for some adolescent dare.

We do another round in the sauna and then take turns throwing ourselves into an ice-cold tub in the next room. The whole regiment is surprisingly refreshing. Danil explains that tonight’s version is not wholely authentic, because we should be putting back vodka in between sessions. He has to drive later, though, so we settle for a game of Russian billiards in the room upstairs. The Russians all boast about how many women they have slept with there.

On the drive home, I am treated to the hilarity of funny guys making dirty jokes in a language they don’t really know. “Hillary Clinton – prostitute!” “Arnold Schwarzanegger – stinky bitch!” Mostly they just repeat a certain swear word that sounds like Kant, growling it over and over between fits of laughter. I laugh along with them, finally a little loosened up. A Russian banya will do that to you. When we got home, my host mom told me I would sleep like a baby. She was right.


Bonus KeenonKyrgyzstan Video: Watch the Lyokhas dive into the green murkiness.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Palmer permalink
    September 28, 2010 7:37 pm

    Do they really think Arnold Schwarzenegger is a stinky bitch?

  2. D Solid's woman (Jade) permalink
    May 23, 2013 4:33 pm

    Daniel Rickleman’s link to your blog got me here. Hey, where is this awesome swimming pool? This anglichanka wants in!


  1. Keen on Kyrgyzstan, In Review « Keen on Kyrgyzstan

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