A new Kazakh first--- I found a fitness club! I have been feeling pretty lazy all winter and got the usual itch to exercise once the days started warming up here. I have run down our road a few times which is okay, but I can see how that will get boring after a while, and I really don't have that much patience with running (or life in general). So my friend told me that a fitness club opened up and we went to check it out. This gym is an open space above a very smelly public toilet that has been partitioned off with plastic screens. The workout area has an elliptical machine with a broken internal computer, a treadmill that tires out after 3 miles, a stationary bike whose seat is stuck on the lowest setting, a few hula hoops, a boxing bag, and a smattering of dumbbells and weight machines. I love this place! I knew the minute we came around the corner to discover that the next corner was indeed the "fitness club" that this was a great discovery.
OH! I forgot to mention the fat-jiggling machine! That thing is hilarious. I don't know the logic behind it, but you just strap a belt around your waist and it jiggles away. The women love it because they don't actually have to do any work, but I have never been a fan of my fat jiggling.
Today was the first day two of my friends and I went to work out there. They had no idea what to do, but I showed them around and the lady running the club also loves to be a trainer, so she showed us the equipment. When I was running on the treadmill, she came over and increased the incline to the max, then increased my speed. When I was stretching on the ground she made me do a back bend. When I was doing sit ups on the incline bench she told me exactly where my hands needed to be! I told her that my students were really interested in yoga and asked if she would be interested in doing yoga at this club. I can kind of teach yoga- at least enough to get beginners stretching and feeling good! She was very interested, so that is an exciting prospect. This club is only 200 tenge for an hour and a half which is just over one dollar. Can you imagine? I don't think you can even walk into a fitness club at home for a dollar.
People's opinions of fitness and health are, as expected, completely different between Kazakhstan and the States. Just the fact that an hour and a half at this gym cost almost one dollar when I could easily have paid a couple hundred dollars per month at home shows how each culture regards fitness. Another somber reminder of this is the early deaths of many people in Kazakhstan. My neighbor and relative (host uncle) just died of a heart attack at the age of 53. I was surprised until I did the math: overweight, chain-smoking, Kazakh male over the age of 50. Unfortunately this equation led exactly to the expected result, but left a wife, two college-aged daughters, and a brand new grandson behind.
When I asked if heart attacks were a big problem for Kazakhs, especially males, the answer was yes, of course. When I asked my host mom, a nurse, why she thought they were a problem, she said that men worried too much about having too many children and not enough money. Of course stress is a contributing problem, but what rarely comes to their minds here is the amount of salt, fat, and oil in the daily diet. There is not a meal that goes by without something cooked or fried in oil and salt.
For example, my counterpart teacher and I are organizing a summer camp for English students and we sat down to plan out the food and the budget. The summer in south Kazakhstan brings bountiful fruits and vegetables, so I was thinking of meals centered around those foods. I was not too surprised, but a little sickened when she told me we would need at least five kilos of oil and one kilo of salt for the week long trip. So, I offered the idea that maybe we could teach nutrition and health as one theme for the camp. She agreed, but said that sometimes the students just need that hearty, oily food to keep up their strength…?
Kazakhstan certainly has some battles to fight in the future. The presence of fitness clubs and other healthy lifestyle trends are promising, though, and I am really excited about the gym!
Spring is here and almost as hot as June in Colorado. I am getting excited for my summer projects, though sometimes wish would slow down! I hope all is well at home. Keep healthy and safe and eat an extra large salad for me!