Right now, I am in love with Abhishek. He is young, handsome, quiet and goal-focused. He is patient, tolerant, and has a great sense of humor. He also puts me through the wringer twice a week and makes me groan in pain the following morning. He is my personal trainer.
This Mumbai gig is decent as far as fitness is concerned. Other posts, not so great, although many developing nations, even those as far along as India, have challenges. I will, however, admit that some of those challenges are caused by having to use your Western-brought-up body and mind to get off your butt and work out in conditions that you are simply not used to.
I will cop to not being a jock. Growing up female in the Deep South before Title IX really hit schools hard, fitness for girls was gymnastics, dance, or maybe soccer, which were all something your parents paid for and were done outside of school sponsorship. In middle school and high school, you usually had a choice of volleyball, basketball, softball, and maybe tennis. None of which I was remotely interested in or appropriately coordinated for. I did earn a sports letter. You know how? I was a soccer ballgirl. Yes. I ran along the sidelines in a little green and yellow uniform, following the ball during games, and when it was kicked out of bounds, I actually chased it down and handed it back to some teenage doofus for a throw-in. I wasn’t allowed on the team. My skills have deteriorated since then, as has my sportiness.
By the time I was a young adult, I had discovered classes at the gym and at university. I loved it – suffering with other people – and as I am a social creature, I found my exercise niche. For years in the U.S. as an adult and as an army wife both at home and abroad, I was able to go to classes either at the Y in the U.S., a community center on post, or in a crappy, cheap, no-name gym in the one-horse town we lived in. It worked for me.
When DiploDad joined the Foreign Service, I was in NYC as a law student and still holding onto the class format. I was able to keep this throughout his first, second, and third posts, because I was working out in Charleston, WV, Frankfurt, and Hong Kong, respectively. Still, I was unprepared for my Frankfurt women’s gym to kick me to the curb and cancel my membership when I announced to the trainer that I was pregnant.
Our fourth assignment was in Accra, Ghana, and lucky for me [/sarcasm] this coincided with the Dreaded Middle Age Metabolical Slowdown. Ghana was different. There were a few gyms, but the classes being taught were often outdated (feel the burn!) and frankly, dangerous. Many of the instructors, even the young ones, were stuck in the Jane Fonda era, complete with encouraging overextension of your muscles, improper (dangerous) form, and pushing through pain. Then, there was the issue of traffic. If you got stuck, you would miss your class, although by the time you got there your heart would usually be racing enough that you could theoretically miss the warm-up.
Facilities are also often outdated in developing countries. At the local gym in Yaoundé, Cameroon, DiploDad’s first assignment while I was still in law school, I saw people lifting barbells with the weights hanging off – there were no clips or fasteners to prevent them from sliding off. The rowing machine was held together with chewing gum and twine, and had a date stamp of approximately 1962 on it. There was one of these in the corner:
I tried so hard to have a fitness routine in Ghana. I attended some yoga classes taught by a fellow expat and friend, and I visited the miniscule, albeit functioning, Embassy gym. The Embassy gym was a very nice place to work out if you could work around the fact that the local GSO staff used the machines as clotheslines after they did their laundry in the changing room sink. It even had a TV that broadcast fuzzy, scrolling AFN programs and Women’s Fitness magazines that had the telltale “cut” where the subscription label had been, indicating that one of the Health Unit staff decided to pass it on instead of trashing it.
About two years into our Ghana tour, we dogsat a Very Active German Shepherd for about 8 months, and she and I would walk in the mornings for about an hour. “April” and I would march down the dusty, potholed streets, parting crowds like the Red Sea and smiling (and barking) at the coconut man. We’d wind our way through the neighborhood past the Embassy, admiring the unusual gates of the wealthier residents and comparing barbed wire to broken glass bottles as methods of deterring fence-jumping. This ambulatory bliss was not unimpeded, however. About every half-mile we would have to deal with the “Wild Dogs of East Cantonments”.
The Wild Dogs weren’t always wild, and a few of them were obviously owned (collars) by wealthy people and were employed as guard dogs. That’s excellent if they are inside the gate. That’s annoying to passers-by when they are outside the gate and allowed to chase cars, trucks, and the random person (me) for a mile. I’d like to say that eventually they got used to us, but it’s not true. Eventually, I just got to be more accurate with the handful of rocks I started carrying in my pocket, and I figured out if you hit the Alpha, the rest of them turn tail too. To this day, April thinks it was her perfect teeth-bared growl. I let her think that.
The last year in Accra, my friend, M, made an announcement in the cafeteria: “I’m going to run the Accra Half Marathon”. Well, misery LOVES company and so do I, so I opened my mouth and committed myself to train with her. Two mornings later, I hauled myself out of bed at 4:45 a.m., pulled on some workout clothing and shoes and headed out to meet the others. Four miles. They were doing a four-mile run. I hadn’t run in a couple of years. Four miles. But I managed. It was fun.
Running in Accra is crazy. In some respects I prefer it to the well-manicured running trails that snake along the DC/MD/VA/WV area. It may be O-dark-thirty, but you are not alone. Some random guy will join you and try to convince you he is part of the Ghana national football team. (Ha.) A tro-tro full of people will swerve after forcing all of you into a ditch. A goat will charge you and you will leap over countless angry chickens. In short, you aren’t ever bored, even if you are running on something that is a “sidewalk” only by the very loosest definition, or that the air is so thick with heat and humidity that it feels like you are sucking room-temperature Jell-O into your lungs instead of air.
After Ghana and the half-marathon (I did it. I can’t believe it. It sucked. Really, it did.), we took a DC tour. I went for walks on perfectly manicured hiking trails and neighborhoods with sidewalks. I admit it; I slacked for a while. Eventually, I got back into the gym, did classes, pushed my fitness level and did three more half-marathons, a 10K and a couple of 5Ks while we were in DC. All comfortable, all predictable, and all fun.
Now, I find myself back in a new environment, and that applies to my fitness routine. Mumbai isn’t so bad, but it comes hard on the heels of that DC assignment where it was so easy to go on autopilot. I’m not especially sporty (pick me last in gym class), so I got off on a bad start, and probably let my mind get the better of me before I found Abhishek.
Some of the same challenges are there that were there in Ghana – traffic makes the trip to the gym an hour if you join one, pollution, lack of trails and sidewalks. People do get out and so many of my friends have found their groove. One guy at the Consulate gets up at the crack of dawn on Sundays and runs from Bandra to Colaba every freaking weekend. That’s a half marathon right there. There are gyms, including Gold’s gym, and many of the complexes, including mine, have mini-gyms and lap pools. Our compound has folks who organize Bollywood dancing, ballroom dancing, and yoga classes, although they are often during the day and convenient to the local school calendar and not the international school calendar. There are lots of sports pick-up teams, including one for football (soccer) that I join in occasionally. I’ve discovered throw ball http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Throwball , and play occasionally on Thursdays with the girls in my building. Trainers here, including Abhishek, are well educated and good. And affordable.
It’s just been a matter of recalibrating my “normal” again, and finding a solution instead of complaining about what I can’t find, much like the rest of expat life. So I am back on the fitness train again, full-time. It only took me nine months to do it. (I’m getting older; I had surgery and I broke my toe since I’ve been here so cut me some slack for being slow.) Eventually, I may even conquer running in my neighborhood and the Mumbai half-marathon. Eventually. For now, I’ll just stick with the dreadmill, the occasional throwball or soccer game, and Abhishek.
He’s determined to help me look like Deepika Padukone in a lengha.
I’m just determined not to look like Moby Dick.