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  • Writer's pictureAbby

8 surprises of a Zambian gym

I joined a gym where David has held membership for the past two years. It is the Bank of Zambia club so the place hosts events, has pool tables, bar, etc., but it also has a small gym.

Talk about an aerobics class experience!!! I love work out classes (namely pure barre which I wish they had here!). There were a few things I wouldn't have expected and found different from my experiences of taking work out classes in the states.

Time. I was worried about being late as I ran back to grab my keys before riding my bike 5 minutes to the gym. I arrived about 18:03 and then stood around for the next 10ish minutes, unsure about what was going on. So we started the class 15 minutes late and more people came up to half past 6pm. In the states for pure barre class, I arrived 2 minutes early once and was locked out of class! Figuring out time here has been an interesting one. It's a cultural difference you always hear about, but it's so inconsistent. If we're going to have a braii (BBQ) with friends, we might start 2-4 hours after the estimated time. Work is essential to be on time or early! Although one meeting at work was planned for 9am but we didn't meet until 10:15? We went to church a little late on Sunday and we were notably late. Hmm I just don't win! So next class, I'll try showing up about 18:10... but then again maybe they will decide to begin on time that day!!!


Gender. Maybe I was way off... but I expected it to be mostly, if not all, women in the class. The workout classes I've attended in the states have always been this way in my experience. However, earth to Abby, the instructor is male and the class attendants were about 6 women and 6 men. Right on.


Weight. Everyone was overweight. So different from my experience in gyms in the states! Again, another sensitive thing, weight and gender. But I have usually been surrounded by extremely fit people in gym classes in the states, yet here it was so opposite that I actually felt thin.


Style and difficulty. It started out slow and simple so I thought it wouldn't be hard, but boy did it kick my butt!! I was already sore as I was riding my bike home and the next two days David made fun of me struggling to walk down the stairs.  There were moments when almost no one was following the instructor because it was getting so difficult, but he just kept telling us to keep up and didn't let down. That was actually my favorite part. Granted I haven't worked out for the past month ... I see so much room for improvement and challenging in the class!

Apart from the workout class, let's just talk about the gym.  Disclaimer: there are gyms that are just like the states but also cost the same as the states (when our salaries are about 1/4 or less than what we were earning. Just a difference in economy.) And this one is a club rather than solely a gym.


Size. One small room, 2 treadmills, stationary bikes, weights, bench press, and a multi-function large weight machine. Just enough for about 3-5 people in my experience. But it sounds like it doesn't get very crowded, so I think it will suite us fine.


Power. Zambia has been load shedding. Basically, there isn't enough hydro power for the whole country, so we just don't get power all day. Thankfully it is now down to regulated 4 hours a day only during the week. So either 6am-10am or 10am-2pm, there is no electricity. The first day I paid for the gym I went to go work out. The manager was showing me around and then I said, "thanks, I'll stay and work out!" as I hopped up on the treadmill. He looked at me and said, "there's no power..." Ahhh yes, going to the gym is not the same when electricity is not a given!!!


Wildlife. Okay there is basically no wildlife in Ndola. We don't have giraffes in our backyard and no, I don't fall asleep listening to the lions roar. But, there was this bird that kept flying into the workout room and perching on the stationary bike! The sweet bird would fly in and out through the open windows and then choose different workout equipment to land. That would have been so strange in the states! Side notes: there are billions of bird deaths per year because of all the huge closed windows... so maybe the open windows are saving birds here?!?!


Sauna. Things don't always work, and it's good to experience this as I come from a country where almost without fail, everything works! And if it doesn't, we believe it is our right that it must be working so we will be outraged and change the situation. On my tour of the grounds, the manager said, "okay, let's go see the gym and sauna. Did you know we have a sauna?" I didn't realize that was part of the deal so I got my hopes up (I'm American and I believe you when you say you have a working sauna. David would have known.) We get to the sauna room, and it's a beautiful brand new looking sauna, full of boxes and equipment.... he said they would be clearing it out for use soon. Ahhh "soon."


If you didn't notice.... time and things don't work, or at least not the way it may be expected or stated. Inconsistency is a real thing here. Standards aren't accountable. There is a lack of objectivity. Here are a few examples (on a different topic). Ice cream shop - one day the chocolate will be amazing, creamy, delicious, and the next day, it's still yummy, just tastes totally different! Restaurants - one Saturday it's got a vibe going that the next Saturday is completely different and then the next Saturday is even more different from the previous Saturday's. Mixed drinks? You might have a great drink but you may never get that same drink again! In Chicago, you know what you are getting with basically all main establishments. In Ndola, it's random and inconsistent, which is sometimes more exciting, but for me, it can lead to disappointment if I hold on to my expectations and background knowledge too tight. Everyday I'm letting go of my cultural expectations and perceived "rights" and I am yielding to the culture and people who have so graciously accepted and welcomed me into my new home.

So I already have learned a great deal, just from becoming a member of Bank of Zambia gym and sauna. I hope you learned something, too!


XO from Ndola to wherever you are reading this

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