May 20, 2010

Escapades at the Gym.

Following several posts of a very heavy nature, I thought I would dedicate this post to a lighter topic of conversation. No pun intended.

After two solid months of consuming daily Tanzanian “delights” (I use that term lightly) at CARE’s lunch club, I am 20 pounds heavier than when I began this journey. Or maybe just 10, perhaps even only 5 pounds, really the numbers are a bit fuzzy in the absence of a scale, and perhaps are of little consequence anyway, but my wardrobe does not lie. I am left with very few articles of clothing that properly fit me, and I now find myself lamenting the fact that sweat pants are not appropriate work attire. All the while, Andrei is getting skinnier and skinnier, life is cruel isn’t it?

It was our recent trip to Thailand that provided the impetus for change. The food there was delicious beyond words, eating was a sheer joy. A little bit of this, a little taste of that – I discovered the joy of snacking. And I loved it. It all felt so healthy, light, and flavorful, a meal or snack, or whatever, never seemed to weigh me down, instead food represented a refreshing refuel for our next adventure. It was there that I decided it is neither worthwhile nor fun to be gaining weight while eating less than satisfactory food, instead I want to be eating genuinely delicious and enjoyable food. Lunch club at CARE was decidedly not.  I was simply eating a plate of warm, starch heavy food everyday to feed the belly, but not the heart and soul.

With newfound resolve, I now carry my own lunch to the office each day. This provides more balance, variety, and nutritional content, but opens a wide window of curiosity. Fingers point directly into my lunch plate, heads dip in far too close for comfort to catch a whiff of my meal, and worse yet,
sometimes people even sample my food in an uninvited and unapologetic manner, grabbing food directly off my plate. Matty, what is that? You eat that mixed with that? Despite my high level of annoyance with these curious reactions, there have been several moments of hilarity. Take, for example, the grapefruit. Upon the introduction of a never seen before fruit, a litany of questions inevitably commenced. Is that an orange? Kind of, yes, but a little bit more tart and sour. Where did you get that? At the grocery store. Would you like to try a piece? After which Mr. Ndaki informed me that if fruits were priced in the market according to taste, this would be the cheapest fruit in the whole market. I take it he did not like it as much as I do, especially given the respective price point of grapefruits here.

My commitments to eating on the lighter, healthier side begged a complementary exercise regimen. We all know that the only proven method for sustained weight loss is eating less and exercising more, try as we might to convince ourselves of secret formulas otherwise…But truthfully, since my arrival here, I had been practicing yoga regularly. Also, I had discovered a jogging route and had been doing resistance training at home with several work-out DVDs and associated props including an oversized ball and rubber band. But all of this seemed to have little effect, and certainly did not counterbalance the heaping portions of starch at the office each day.

After reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s soul searching descriptions of her four month’s long yogic journey at an ashram in India in her book Eat, Pray, Love, I have decided to abandon yoga. Maybe not forever, but for now at least. Not to say that her story was not somewhat compelling, but I have decided that I need to beat the recent waist line bulge with more intense forms of exercise. This decision nicely aligned with the recent discovery that a nearby gym allows you to drop in to their spirited aerobic classes without being a member of the otherwise drab and under-inspiring gym.

The profiles and settings of the yoga classes versus the step aerobics classes could not be more divergent. The yoga class was full of, for lack of a better term, yogis. There were the super serious ones, contorting themselves into unguided pretzel-like positions before class would even begin, simply warming up. Those with long, lean bodies that would have even Radio City Music Hall Rockettes gush with jealousy. There were those eager to announce their regular attendance in the “advanced” class on Tuesdays, open only to those with a personal invite from the instructor. For some, I suppose this would have been inspiring enough, but really it was the setting that kept me coming back. The Monday evening yoga class takes place on a large outdoor patio overlooking the Indian Ocean where the sounds of waves crashing against the sea cliff provide the background noise. Better yet, the class is timed according to the sunset, bursts of orange and pink alter the skyline as traditional fishing dhows glide by bringing in their fresh catch of the day. I often imagined that this was the type of setting where home practice videos were filmed.

On the other hand, the aerobics classes represent a motley bunch in a less than inspiring setting. There is the generously sized woman in the corner, who tries really hard. She elicits the pity vote – at least she is out there trying, despite, you know... There is the rhythm less woman who is a downright liability to be stationed next to – her flailing arms transform into potentially dangerous weapons during the routine. Watching her, I am sometimes nervous her torso might become detached from the bottom portion of her body. There is the beauty queen, ever fearful of breaking a sweat and even more careful to ensure the best view of herself in the 180 degree mirrored walls, no matter the exercise at hand. Her pursed lips seem an apt proxy measure for her pain and effort in the exercise regimen, but I somehow suspect they are an even more apt measure of her sense of self-satisfaction. The classes are often filled to capacity, and with that the less than fragrant smell of crowded, sweating bodies heightens given the lack of air circulation in the dilapidated building. The floor boards are uneven, warped and weathered, while charming in a Mount Pleasant row home, this is downright dangerous as the staging ground for a group exercise class.
And so it seems I have abandoned a hip form of exercise in a truly idyllic setting to embrace a rather dated exercise program that harks back to the good old days of Jane Fonda. But the good news is, I can now fit into a pair of pants I had optimistically put aside for later use.


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