I am now more convinced than ever that we in America are total wimps. Yes, wimps! Even those of us who think we are in “good” shape.
I came to Kenya not necessarily thinking I was in good shape. But not in bad shape either. My body had seen the inside of a gym recently. I could climb stairs without huffing and puffing. I knew I ate more vegetables than I did fried foods.
But in the moment I set foot into a class called “Step Aerobics,” with a friend here, I knew it would be more like boot camp than anything I’d ever known.
In the US every time I’ve attended a similar class, there were always options for routines. The teacher would say something like, “If this is too hard for you, try this.” The teacher would be required by her fitness training to pay attention to the progress of the class participants– if any looked like they were on the edge of passing out, the class would be stopped immediately. And of course there would be a lot of all class water breaks with instructions from the teacher at the beginning of the class, “If you need to stop and any time and get water, feel free to do so.”
So these were my expectations coming into the same type of class yet in Kenya: options for routines. A teacher who cared about my distress. Lots of water breaks.
Yet, NONE of this was what I found.
As much as I wanted to pat myself on the back in congratulations that I was actually attempting exercise in a place so far from home, I quickly realized upon meeting Peter, the aerobics instructor, I’d not be flooded with praise just for showing up (as is the motto of my Golds Gym in the US).
Nor would I be praised for keeping up with the routines as he asked. Nothing about this experience would be about me and my needs.
There would be ONE option for the routine. If I was too out of shape to keep up, then I should just try harder.
The teacher did notice me. Yet, if I felt like I was going to die from the strain of the physical activity, then tough luck. I should just find a way to keep going.
There would be NO breaks for water. If I felt like I needed water in the 1.5 hours of the class, then oh well. For if I tried to sneak my way into getting some water, I’d be chased (yes, literally chased) back to the main part of the floor.
My friend told me afterwards, “There’s a reason, you know why Africans runners always do so well at the Olympic Games.” After all those years watching the Games on tv, I now understood completely!
And it is amazing what your body CAN do when you give it the “no stopping option.” You keep going. You don’t stop for as much water. You do one more sit up, one more leg lift, and one more “around the world” on the step bench. You don’t want to be that out of shape and lazy American in the class.
I loved how I felt afterwards so much that I have already gone back 3 different times during the course of my visit. I guess I enjoy torture!
Who would have thought that coming to Africa for this now self-declared out of shape white lady, would bring a whole new opportunity for physical fitness?
One more fact to note about African Aerobics and that is the music.
In the gym in the US, the music for the routines often changes depending on the preferences of the instructor but usually is in line with whatever is the craze in pop music at the time. But in Kenya, going to such a class is like going to church. It’s all Jesus music all the time. Or least a large portion of the routines are church songs.
Yesterday at class I heard Christian music hits from the early 90s like, “Awesome God” “You are Holy” and even an oldie, “This Little Light of Mine.” Earlier in the week, I heard some of the Greatest Hits of Michael W. Smith.
Though I thought I was going to die (yes die and I’m not being dramatic here) at several points, I couldn’t help but find amusement in the whole situation. Only in Kenya would I find myself in one of the hardest exercise classes I’d ever known all while listening to Jesus music. It kept me going.
What fun cultural experiences that I’ll never forget! I know I will never complain in an US aerobics class again.