A few weeks ago, I blogged about how I was jealous my friend’s city had a heated pool for swimming laps in. Well, since then I have found out that the city I live near (50 minutes by van, 250 tenge) has a heated pool with a bubble covering. (The pool in his city is actually outdoors.)
My first attempt to swim at this pool was an abject failure. After having been told about it by my friend in the city, I decided to visit it the next time I made the trip in. I was ready with my towel and shampoo when I entered the pool lobby at about 12:15 or so. The lady behind the desk told me to come back at 12:45, which confused me. I thought maybe they were closed for lunch. No, she told me, but I can’t go in until 12:45. While understanding some of what she was saying, I really didn’t understand what she was saying. 12:45 was too soon to the English Club I had to give, so I decided I would just go another time. I left feeling defeated and down on my Russian skills. I couldn’t even talk my way into the local swimming pool.
The next time I saw my friend in the city, she explained that you can only enter the pool on the quarter hour. You pay by the hour, so you go in at 12:45 and stay until 1:45. While this does make sense to some degree, I would have never considered this myself. I then realized that I didn’t understand the woman before because my mind was in no way prepared to hear that explanation in Russian. So my brain just couldn’t understand that foreign of a concept in a foreign language.
For my second attempt, I was ready and at the pool at 1:45 on a Sunday. This time I took no chances and quickly explained that this was my first visit to the pool and I had no idea what I was doing. She quickly asked if I was American (how she knew, I don’t know). I said yes, and I was on my way. I began by paying her the 400 tenge it took to enter the pool. Then the woman pointed me to the desk for the coats. I gave them my coat but the woman also wanted my shoes in a plastic bag. Fortunately I had a plastic bag with me from having bought a Goosebumps book in Russian (You Can’t Scare Me) earlier in the day, but this step was not expected. Now in my flipflops, I walked to the next station and handed my wallet and valuables to another woman who locked them behind a different desk. Then the first woman escorted me to the locker room and handed me off to a fourth woman. She was standing in there with a ring of keys, and unlocked locker number three for me. She told me to go shower and come back to her. I put my bag in my locker and just stood there. Where did I change, considering there is a keywoman standing in the middle of the locker room. She told me I could go in the bathroom area. I did this. Went to the shower room. Showered. And then went back to her. She locked my locker and then escorted me toward the pool area before handing me off to a little kid walking in, explaining that I was American.
Finally, I was at the pool. I felt a little silly having to be led through the entire process of getting in there, but I was comforted by the fact that even if I could speak perfect Russian, I would have not understood what the heck I was supposed to do.
The pool itself was about ten lanes wide and fifty meters long. There was a swim team practicing in the last three lanes and a lot of people just sitting on side of the pool in the first few lanes, but I had a lane in the middle all to myself. The water was not particularly warm, but warmer than most indoor lap pools I have been to. My only complain would have been the lack of flags at the ends of the pool to measure my backstroke flipturns. But hey, this is Peace Corps right?
I was tired after my first initial laps, but I felt determined to stay for the full hour. I was also lacking goggles, so my strokes had to be modified a lot, making them much less efficient. However, most of the time was just occupied by the surreal thought of me swimming in an indoor heated pool while in the Peace Corps. Overall though, I probably got in at least 1200 meters or so. Not bad for the first time in a body of water since my triathlon last July. Afterwards, one of the guys swimming next to me even asked if I had been swimming for a long time.
At about 2:45, the alarm went off and we all exited the pool area. I once again asked the woman in the locker room to unlock my locker. Then showered, and then changed in the bathroom area. Then I went back out. Got my valuables, my coat, and my shoes. This time I left feeling good. Not only for had I gotten a great workout, but I had also conquered the public swimming pool.