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Tuesday, 06 February 2007

Beaten in the Banya, Ukraine - Page 3

Written by Daniel Reynolds Riveiro
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I was naked except for a pair of plastic sandals and the brown felt version of Gilligan’s hat. My friend, Kiril, was unadorned in the exact same manner. He was also beating me with birch branches. I’m told this is a Ukrainian tradition. I probably shouldn’t have told his mother, Larissa, that I’d had a sore throat

The “pool” was on the left, a four-foot deep hole in the ground lined with cement, two feet wide and six feet long. It also had no water in it. Between the pool and the steam room, a showerhead jutted out of the wall.

We waited for a minute before the three teenagers spilled out of the wooden room, thick plumes of steam following them. Inside the steam room, I sat on a wooden bench while Kiril put some birch branches with wide, flat leaves in a pot of water to soak, then poured more water onto the upturned mouth of a piece of pipe running to the furnace.

The steam slapped me in the face and turned the skin on my arms a devilish red. I was informed the steam was over 200 degrees Fahrenheit; something my burning body had no trouble believing. After a minute, it was simply too hot and I had to leave the room, the three boys looking at me with confused expressions. Shame made me go back in and be properly masochistic.

Back inside, Kiril sat upright, eyes closed, head in the steam gathered near the ceiling. He pointed at the ski cap on his head. “To keep in the heat,” he said.

Sweat poured out of me, off of me, running down me in rivulets and pooling in the sandals on my feet. I felt horrible, having to make my mind go other places just to deal with the painful intensity of the steam. Eventually, I could run my hand down my arm and dead skin would be pushed ahead of it, gathering into white gunk.

Finally, Kiril reached for the branches. I sucked in a burning breath of dread. Taking them out of the pot of water, he held them over the steam rising out of the upturned pipe to get them that much hotter, and then told me to turn around.

Slowly, I did.

Thwak! Thawk! He began hitting my back and butt with them. Thwak! Thwak! And surprisingly, they didn’t hurt. Possibly I had permanently damaged my nerve endings, but the branches just left a pleasant tingling sensation. He told me to turn around and told me to cover my groin with one hand and my heart with the other. He began beating my stomach and chest, my face turned up and to the side, eyes closed. By the time we were done, the floor of the steam room was littered with leaves.

(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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