Steaming is something that is a large part of the culture here. Many families have their own steam houses built to use, but it is sometimes a social thing. I was told when I got here that it consists of a bunch of naked men or women sitting in a room and that I shouldn't go if I would feel uncomfortable in this situation. I was also warned that if I did go, I'd better go when invited by someone I trust because it is a tradition to try and burn out the new guy so everyone can laugh and poke fun for a while. They do this by making it too hot to stand for someone unaccustomed to steaming.
The Steam House:
The steam house, at least the one Molly and I went to, had a room to get undressed in and then the steam room. The steam room has a stove with a fire in it to make it nice and toasty! A bucket of water away from the fire, the cold water. A basin of water on the stove, the hot water. There are rocks piled on the stove, which when water is poured on them the room gets hotter. I think this may be where the term "steaming" gets its name. There are also several basins for individual water, places to sit, and a wing (possibly from a raven) for beating.
How to Steam:
Molly and I were invited by one of the teachers at the school and her husband to come steam in their steam house on our own for our first time. This was the day we got back from the carnival and they thought it would be less threatening for us to steam together on our own for our first time rather than with a bunch of less known people that would try to burn us out. . .At least the men do this to newcomers.
Once the hot water is burning hot you enter the steam room and fill a basin with a mixture of the hot water and the cold water. This is used to wash with by splashing and pouring. The wing is used to beat out on kinks you may have by getting it wet with hot water and hitting yourself or others with it. It actually feels very good once you get past the whole wing thing. Once washed up it is a place to splash some water and relax. I put too much water on the rocks and we had to open the door because of the heat, but other than that it was quite relaxing. It is just like a sauna, but with a wood fire going, no chlorine smell, a bird wing, and the washing thing.
When we were done we stepped outside into a perfectly clear Alaskan night. The sky was clear and filled with stars. Very beautiful. I'll add more as I learn more about steaming.