Recently for a homework assignment we needed to ask at least five people a simple question that we had thought up. My question was, “If you had your own house, what would you prefer an inside shower or a banya?” A banya is basically a sauna and is the main form of bathing in Kyrgyzstan. Most houses, especially in the village, do not have indoor plumbing so a bathing house is built next to the main house. It is usually two rooms, with one being the readying room and the other where the bathing happens. It takes some time to get the banya ready due to needing to warm up the room and getting the rocks hot enough to make steam.
I asked some people this question, thinking that at least half might prefer doing things as usual versus needing to install indoor plumbing. The answers took me a bit by surprise. Most answered that they would prefer an inside shower to a banya. “It’s more comfortable,” they answered. “You don’t have to go outside in the winter to bathe and it won’t take a long time to have to heat,” others answered. One girl said with a laugh, “With a banya maybe only once a week a person will bathe because it takes a lot of work, but with a shower you could take one every day.”
Then they asked me what I would prefer. I told them I love going to saunas but explained to them that in America going to a sauna is expensive and that sometimes a person would need to become a member of a club to be able to go. I said that living in Kyrgyzstan is great because going to a sauna is normal here. It isn’t expensive, is very easily accessible, and everyone has a sauna house. How so very lucky! Only the rich in America have their own personal sauna houses, but I would love to have a banya in my house. I said that it could just be that for me it is exotic and new, since I grew up with boring showers. They laughed at me and said that if I ever get to build my own home I can build it with a banya and be happy.