7/22/05 Life at the Banya

Hello All,
We’re super busy this week. We find out tomorrow where we go for our permanent site and we can’t wait.

Here’s the latest from Kazakhstan. Hopefully you aren’t getting tired of the emails yet. Last weekend we went to Almaty again, and had many unique experiences.

Jack: People have asked for a little bit on Russian and or Kazakh, so here goes today’s mini lesson. In Russian, the verb “to be” in the present tense is understood. Also, there are no articles. So, for example, in English you say “I am a lawyer.” The same sentence in Russian is simply “Ya yurist.” It’s actually quite convenient because in many languages articles are complicated, and Russian simply doesn’t have them.

Kazakh has the fascinating habit of using postpositions. We use prepositions, so for example in English you say “I am from America, from the state of Ohio.” In Kazakh you say “men americadanmun, stat ohio-dan.” “Dan” means “from.” So that means I am from America, from the state of Ohio. (Except that Jack is from Michigan—Aunt Ami, who knows these things.)

First, we went to the banya! This is a large public bath-house. It is separated (naturally) into male/female. There are Turkish, Russian, and Finnish baths. I did the Russian and Finnish ones. The Russian and Finnish ones are extremely similar except the Russian one is hotter. It is kind of like a sauna, but about a million times hotter. There is a room with hot rocks that they throw steam on. It is really hot, border-line painful. You do that for about ten minutes, and then you get out and jump immediately into a cold shower. Then you take 10-20 minutes in the pool, and then you go back in the hot room. This process is repeated a few times.

Amy: I went to the women’s Turkish banya. Oh to be clean, really clean in Kazakhstan! It was heavenly. After disrobing we entered a large room with a high dome above it. In the middle of the room was an enormous circular marble slab that was slightly heated. Around the room were individual marble slabs and four showers. I opted for the showers first and happily threw away my towel (hey, when in Kazakhstan, be happy for the moments when you can clean everywhere). After showering twice, I ventured into the “hot” room. This was a small room with another marble slab, this one heated quite a bit more than the others. After lying on the slab chatting for awhile (and turning often to avoid scorching my bum) I returned to the cooler room and partook of two more showers and a lay on the cooler marble where many women were getting full body massages. Soon afterwards we ordered tea and sat in a smaller area off to the side, which was slightly warmer. All in all, it felt wonderful to be pampered, if only for a moment, and all for about $5.

Jack: Also, we got to go out for Chinese food in Almaty. It was very tasty, and not at all like American Chinese food. I don’t know if that makes it more or less authentic.

Amy: We ordered something called “Chicken with Onion on Something.” We couldn’t decipher what the something was, but we went for it anyway. We waited impatiently to see if our something would perhaps be octopus, or cat liver, or whatever. To our great happiness and joy the something arrived and it was…a sizzling platter! It ended up being chicken with onions and peppers on a sizzling platter. There are few times when I think I have ever been so happy. Unfortunately, true to form, I quickly dropped a piece of chicken on my last pair of clean pants. Guess you can take the Amy out of America, but you can’t take the Amy out of Amy. Or something likes that.

Jack: Wednesday we had a day off and did laundry. We got it all done and on the line, and the rope broke. Into the sand it went. So we did all the laundry again, and hung it up, and the line collapsed. Into the sand. Again. There was audible weeping. So we had quite a bad day off and all we got out of it were clothes that have been washed three times and yet are only marginally cleaner than they were. Actually the shirt I have on is dirtier, but I cleaned it three times so it’s clean, and I'm going to wear it about six times before I even think about washing it again. (deep breath)

Here’s another question you’ve asked:
Do people miss the Soviet Union (and if so) WHY? People miss the Soviet Union almost universally. The only thing they really don’t miss about it is the fact that Kazakh can now be spoken freely, and Kazakh nationality is being celebrated. Other than that, most people miss the USSR. The reasoning is extremely simple. Then we were a world power, now we are not. Then we had more stuff, now we have less stuff. That’s it. The thinking is very straightforward.

Missing you lots,
Jack and Amy