So, are there gyms in Mogadishu?” I ask. Immediately, I get the feeling that I have asked a question that only a naive person would. There are stares, then silence. The people I generally addressed my question to shift their attention to their phones, as if to avoid my question.
Well, I realise my mistake. This is a country that is just rising slowly from decades of conflict. So, I rephrase my question: “What do people do for exercise?” This time, I get a response. Yasser smiles and says: “We do the natural gym. We walk.” At this juncture, everyone turns to look at him. We are seated at Karmel Restaurant, with two other companions, sipping cappuccino.
I mean, he seems to be more than 70Kgs, and for his height, he could be called overweight. He then answers all our silent questions, laughs and says, “Well, I am sure you all think I am unfit because I am slightly beefy, but I walk for exercise. I do not have to be thin you know!” Somalia, however, is not all that bare. There are indeed a few gyms in the city.
Jazeera Hotel has one. Other big hotels also have in-house facilities where residents can work out. However, all these facilities have open membership, and only serve the clients residing at the hotel due to primarily security reasons. Jazeera hotel has a gym with all the equipment that are needed to operate a standard gym. It is open 24 hours so that guests are free to use it at their pleasure. The facility can accommodate a maximum of six people at any one time. The hotel’s manager Justus Kisaulu, however, admits that since it was opened, he has never seen more than two people use it at a single time.
For a country struggling to rebuild and reconstruct its vital sectors after years of war, a gym might seem like a luxury. However, staying fit is not a preserve for a particular group of people. Furthermore, with more Somalis from the diaspora going back home, facilities like these help in ensuring fast adaptation to the local environment.