There is nothing quite like an hour long African aerobics step class to conclude a day of work. No matter what my mood is, how lethargic I am, or how scrambled my mind feels from the day, my spirits are always higher as I stretch my fatigued legs on the half mile walk home in the evening’s twilight.
A routine of self care has been essential to this experience of travel and service. Without regular physical movement my spirit dampens as my body weakens.
Before starting this journey I was worried about what my access to exercise would be like since my SST experience was significantly lacking a fitness routine. Thankfully, it has been a delightful experience finding several active communities throughout Arusha to be a part of. And Johanna and I thankfully share a drive to keep healthy and workout.
First, we tried out the well equipped and comfortably western third floor fitness center at the Njiro Complex across town (an hour daladala ride). The zumba classes were fun but low-key and ultimately it was just too far and too expensive for us. Then we enjoyed the high intensity aerobic classes each evening at the Bravo Gym, located at a popular pizza place in town. These 60-90 minute classes in their small, hot, and jam packed workout room consisted of blasting fun and motivating African dance/pop music while the instructor pushed us to a sweat soaked exhaustion reminiscent of my preseason conditioning during collage volleyball. We really enjoyed that jelly leg inducing workout experience, but once again it proved to far across town to make it a consistent routine.
Come the New Year, Johanna, Violet (on occasion), and I have been thrilled to join the new Sakina Fitness Club located on the dusty top floor of a building only a 10min walk from our house. Here we attend aerobic step and “insanity” style classes every evening from 6-7pm.
It’s a new gym so the atmosphere is relaxed and everyone is enjoying getting to know each other as they build their fitness. We even got workout shirts (which are very popular here).
Establishing a routine of walking to the gym, saying hello to familiar faces, getting a healthy sweat going, walking home for a cold shower and dinner has done wonders for making me feel at home.
I’m usually more of a runner, only doing group classes if they’re yoga, and focusing on getting outdoors as much as possible. But here I’ve had to tailor my activities to the circumstances, culture, and location. It’s crazy dusty here and walking around gives me enough of a sore throat, not to mention the amount of unwanted attention I get. Running in my neighborhood would be even more unpleasant. I do yoga on my own as much as I can though I get confused stares from my Tanzanian house mates as I bend and twist. I’ve found I really enjoy the intensity of the aerobics classes and the motivation that comes from exercising with a group of various abilities.
The exercise and health culture here is subtle. When I was in Nairobi the running and outdoor culture was very clear, very visible. But here outdoor activities are seen as very touristy, and people who work out tend to only do so in the gym context I’ve mentioned, which naturally caters to the middle/upper class who can afford the memberships. Even though these memberships are very reasonable for western standards ($2 a visit for our gym all the way to $40 a month at Njiro).
It’s an important reminder that exercising is a privilege. If income is a daily uncertainty and hunger a frequent presence, then time and energy is a valuable commodity not to be burned away pumping iron. There’s some irony present in the moto on our shirts: “Health is wealth.” There is a lot of evidence showing that statement goes both ways.
Working out has helped keep me sane while also battling the high carb and fat diet I saturated in here. I’m thankful that I have the resources to spend on this important part of my life.