One of the things I love to do here is go to the banya. A banya is simply a bathing house, and is the main source of bathing for many people, as they most likely don’t have indoor plumbing. It works like a sauna, in that people go to sweat to clear their skin of dirt and impurities. There are both public banyas, where people pay to enter and is good business around here, and there are private. There are several “treatments” one can do to help achieve a better clean. One thing is to do a “peeling” which is a hard scrub-down all over the body. Most often after the peeling one can do a “scrub” where a mixture of natural ingredients are rubbed all over the body and allowed to replenish the skin. Several examples include mixtures of honey, sea salt, and oatmeal or honey, sea salt, and lemon, or yogurt and oatmeal. Another treatment that is frequently seen in the banya is to beat oneself (or another) with a venik, a “paddle” of branches and leaves used to purge the body of dirt and impurities. They say this is to open and purify the pores more effectively. Derrick respectfully disagrees.
My routine at the banya involves three trips to the hot Russian sauna. One day, before my second trip in I sat resting on a bench next to the room. A lady came up to me with her scrubber and asked if I have scrubbed yet. Upon hearing that I hadn’t she offered, “If you scrub my back I’ll scrub yours.” How could I resist? I could save money by not having a “peeling” and get all those hard to reach spots on my back cleansed. As I was standing there, I kept thinking to myself, “This is one of the strangest things I have done: Letting a complete stranger, someone I have never seen before in my life, scrub my back.” It may have been weird but at the end of it all I did achieve my better clean.