24 July 2010

night swimming


By now I’ve been through the process of moving to a new place and fitting together all the pieces of a new life many times. Sometimes those pieces come together easily and seamlessly, and other times the process is long and fraught with difficulty. For the most part, Tanzania has been easy. For about my first month, though, there was one serious conundrum: how to get my normal dosage of exercise.

Four factors conspire to make working out a challenge for me here. The first is my commute, which can take up to an hour depending on traffic. The second is the daily rhythm of light and dark: Tanzania is on the typical equatorial schedule of sunrise at 6, sundown at 6 all year round. The third is the abundance of crime on the Msasani Peninsula, where I live (more on that in a moment); combined with the first two factors it means that there is rarely a time during the week when I’m home and it’s safe for me to run or ride a bike. The fourth is a shortage of options. There is one gym that I know of on the peninsula, and it charges the equivalent of $15 per workout—not really a sustainable solution for an intern’s budget. I have splurged and gone a few times, and I discovered that access to the place is controlled by a fingerprint scanner, which may explain why it costs $15 to get in. It’s the first time I’ve ever used such a device, and it frequently malfunctions, requiring a staffer to override it. This high-tech absurdity is right at home on the Peninsula.

Just as I resigned myself to returning to the U.S. flabby and out of shape, I discovered Funky’s. I struggle a little to explain what the place is to my friends, but “multipurpose family fun center” is a serviceable description. Inside its floodlit interior of its walls, Funky’s has a basketball court, an inflatable castle, a skateboard park where the teenage children of U.S. government personnel hang out, and a fast food chain that bizarrely uses Native American imagery in its advertising. More to the point, it has a 25-meter pool with lap lanes that stays open until 10 pm every night. It’s not the world’s most pleasant pool, to be sure—the underwater lights combined with the paint job give it a sickening, metallic blue-green glow. The lights themselves remind me of the headlights of an 18-wheeler closing in. Usually I have the pool to myself. Occasionally I overlap with a British woman, and we’ve exchanged pleasantries a few times, but an activity that keeps your face in the water most of the time doesn’t really lend itself to socializing. Once in a while there are some teenagers of ambiguous nationality hanging out in the water too. (Not to worry, Mom, there is always a staffer watching the pool from the sidelines.)

The process of getting to Funky’s is not ideal either. Even though it’s within a 10-minute walking distance of where I live, a taxi is a must after dark, especially because the route passes a pair of abandoned apartment buildings that act as a base for muggers and carjackers. While I was in Zanzibar the first time, there was an incident where an expat woman and her 14-year-old son were (unwisely) driving with their windows down, and two carjackers sprang on them as they stopped at the intersection near the abandoned buildings. The attempt was foiled when the mom bit one would-be carjacker’s arm hard enough to draw blood as he reached for the keys, and the son kicked the other guy in the junk as he opened the passenger side door. Though the attempt was unsuccessful—kudos to mom and son for being total badasses— it was a good reminder to everyone not to let their guard down around here. I always keep the doors locked and windows up, and I usually ride to Funky’s with the American expat community’s favorite cabbie, a guy who goes by the name of Smoker.

It took a while for me to figure out how an underpaid mzungu can get exercise in Dar es Salaam, but Funky’s is now a treasured part of my routine. I'll be glad to return to the U.S. in something better than awful shape, and my night sessions at Funky's are a useful reminder that when there's a will, there's always a way.

1 comment:

maureenpow said...

You are too funny and know me too well. As I was reading I was wondering if there was a life guard. :)