What Exactly Happens at the Russian Banya?
Authors Note: As I was editing this post, I turned on the news and heard the news about the airport bombing in Moscow. My prayers are with the Russian people at this time.
Как поживаете? Добро пожаловать!
It started out as a potential date idea and something that I wanted to do. So why not kill two birds with one stone, right? The date never happened, but I decided to go by myself. Now, I have fallen in love with one particular Banya and walked away with a few Russian words in my vocabulary.
The idea of purposefully putting yourself in rooms that are over 200 degree Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius), might seem crazy. Who am I kidding, it does seem crazy. Until, you leave the room and immerse yourself into a cold ice pool (for us babies, we can take lukewarm or cold showers). Banya refers to saunas and steam rooms and the bathing ritual is one that has been taking place for hundreds of year.
I did not have to go to Russia, to get a feel of Moscow. As soon as I entered, I could barely read any signs, pretty much everything was in Russian. As I made my way into the steam room, it was pretty clear I was the only Black woman (let alone the only Black person) in the place. The stares started but then something else happened. People were really friendly and wanted to make sure that my Banya experience was amazing. The tips and secrets started to come out. People started to tell me what room I should go into first. Make sure that I wear a towel (or hat) over my head, to protect me from the heat. Apply honey, it smoothes your skin and the office can give you some!
Currently, I have a membership and faces are becoming familiar. The banya is my little glimpse into “little Russia”. Families bring their children, sometimes as young as five years old, to experience a bit of their culture and tradition. Friends and family discuss the happenings in town, in Russia and who will make it to the SuperBowl.
I realize that I have come to love the Banya because my mind becomes open and I just relax. I have nothing to worry about, no tasks to complete and I can sit and rest. I can just be and leave with AMAZING skin! The banya has great health benefits: increased circulation, removal of excess toxins, increased metabolism and overall oxygen levels. Once inside the banya you should try to have someone gently massage you with oak or birch leaves.
My last visit to the Banya was with my running buddy (a Black woman), who needed time to relax and refresh her muscles. As I started to show her the different rooms and get her familiar with the process, people started to wave and tell us what we should do and not to hesitate to ask any questions if we needed help. I felt really comfortable. My buddy said ”you know, if only people took time to genuinely learn and try to appreciate other peoples culture, the world would be a better place”. As two men came into the wet banya room, they greeted us and one guy asked where we were from. He also had Haitian friends, he greeted us with “sak passe?” (what’s going on?) and I said well now you have to teach me a few Russian words. Hello is “Привет”, which sounds like Privet. What’s going on? is “Что происходит?”, which sounds like Chto proishodit. He said if I keep on coming I will learn more Russian. I have a feeling he is right!