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Tuesday, 06 February 2007

Beaten in the Banya, Ukraine - Page 4

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

I commenced to beat him with the birch branches, him telling me to hit him harder and harder. Swinging them that hard left me gasping for breath, lungs charbroiled from sucking down all the searing air. I still didn’t understand how this could enthrall an entire culture for over two millennia. I mean, I felt even worse than when I had come in.

I was relieved when we left the steam room, but dread returned when Kiril switched on a nozzle in the empty pool. High-pressured water shot out and Kiril stepped directly into its path, one hand over his genitals, the other over his heart. He rotated around, lifting his legs to get them into the spray, and then hurried out of the pool.

When I stepped into the spray, I felt like someone hit my chest with a croquet mallet. The water had been chilled to -10 in the Ukrainian winter night and now traced with needles every spot where the birch branches had hit my steam-cooked skin, a mental image of overlapping, angry red lines, a spider-web of killer bee-stings

We went back into the steam room and I sat, gasping for breath, feeling nauseous, light-headed and on the verge of passing out.

And then I felt it: a full body high, skin tingling as feeling returned to it, my head clearing out and a feeling as if I was floating inside myself. I awake, aware, serene. And in that moment was the secret of the banya.

We weren’t finished: the last step was to soap up and do some serious exfoliation with a sort of plastic Brillo pad. There was shampooing involved, and shampooing another naked man’s head is a very strange thing indeed, but then we were done.

Kiril took a home-canned jar of pickled peppers to the neighbor as thanks for letting us use the banya, and then we went home. Exhausted, I wolfed down dinner and went straight to bed.

When I woke up the next day, my sore throat was gone.

©Daniel Reynolds Riveiro

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

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