Getting Fit in Doha

Trip Start Sep 22, 2006
Trip End Jan 2007

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Flag of Qatar  ,
Sunday, October 8, 2006

I've decided to join a gym. I used to be into going to the gym to work out, until I realized that I far preferred being outside enjoying the fresh air while doing something active like cycling, running (OK not so much enjoyment there but still good to be outside), hiking, paddling - whatever, I wasn't too picky as long as I was outside. That being said I've tried walking to work twice since I've arrived here, the second time being this morning. As I'm heading off to work at 7:30AM I thought the walk was pretty manageable even with the heat. After all it's only about a 20 minute walk, maybe a couple of km's, nothing I can't handle right?
Wrong. Completely wrong. It's taken me two tries to realize that the looks that I was getting when I mentioned walking - the looks that said "Ah, eager new recruit is going to walk...that'll last a day." - those people were completely right. Most at least tried to humour my well-intentioned efforts at exercise, not outright trying to discourage me, perhaps just waiting for my inevitable failure. Except of course my 2 Greek co-workers who dismissed me with a wave of the hand and an emphatic exclamation (in unison) of "You're crazy, walking. Walking! Nobody walks - its disgusting, you'll be disgusting, sweaty and smelly when you get here! Crazy, malaka!"

I chose not to heed those fairly clear words of warning and found out for myself that upon arrival at work after my 20 minute walk, I was indeed disgusting, sweaty, and smelly. Not the best way to start the day.
And so, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to go indoors to keep fit and fill up some time in the afternoons after work. I headed over to Al-Massa Active, located just steps away from "Cholesterol Corner", so named for the McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Hardees, and Chilli's found around the roundabout. I'd heard that there was a good selection of classes, including spinning, you got a free 30 minute massage on joining and it was pretty convenient to work. And of course it was segregated into male and female sections.

As I walked up through the Chilli's parking lot towards the stairs leading to the gym, I looked up at the huge glass window fronting onto the lot. There were about 10 treadmills, each about a foot apart, and half were occupied by men running along and watching the TV's mounted over the treadmills. I looked to the other side of the stairs and noticed another large plate glass window, except there was no way to see inside as large cream coloured drapes were pulled tightly shut across the whole height and width of the windows. That, I presumed, would be the women's section.
My hunch was confirmed as I walked upstairs and through the door leading to the women's only area - large signs in English and Arabic were plastered all over the main door "Ladies Only" and "No Men Allowed". Just in case any men should try to sneak a quick glance in there was a portable screen set up immediately facing you as you opened the door.

There were a couple of other prominent signs around - one kindly asked you to show modesty and use the change cubicles provided instead of changing in the common area where others could see you. I thought this was a bit of modesty overkill until one day I walked into the changeroom sweaty after a tough "Legs, Butt, Thighs" class and found a woman in a full abayah (the black gown and veil) prostrating on a prayer rug on the floor in front of my locker, obeying the mid-afternoon call to prayer. In that case I could see why stripping down and towelling off in public might seem a tad offensive. By the same token I'm not used to a change room doubling as a prayer room. At the moment I'm actually fine using the change cubicles as it gives me a chance to gulp down a bit of contraband water in daylight hours without offending anyone!

The other sign which is posted at least 2 dozen times around the gym is the one that reads "Regarding to many complains we would like to ask our members to take care of their personal cleanliness and taking a shower before and after workout." I can't help but wonder what kind of complaints were received that they needed to be so emphatic about this message?

It's strange to see the women at the gym unveiled and looking just like anyone else in an aerobics class. When they are veiled and out in public there is a certain enigma and mystery about them - the only distinguishing feature is often their style of sunglasses and the embroidery on their abaya. I always feel like they have a secret of some kind that they are hiding some beautiful mysterious feminine element or something. I guess this is my own romanticism of the culture, I romanticize it because of the freedom I have to choose what I wear, and should I want to wear an abaya I have the choice to do so. If I wanted to take my abaya off when the temperature was above 30 degrees, I could do so. So this notion of mystery is really quite na´ve on my part, but still I guess I feel a little bit surprised every time I see a woman unveil herself to reveal someone who looks so...normal.
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