Just back from the Aquathon this morning where I was cheering on newly made friends. As well, yesterday afternoon was a MOI-sponsored mini triathlon. I've been thinking a lot about sports, health, fitness, attitude, approach to life, etc. It all ties in.
As background to my thoughts I'll explain a little about my attitude towards health and fitness. I've always been actively involved in my own physical, as well as mental and emotional health. But the path to emotional and mental health, in my opinion where I am concerned, is through physical well being. Since an early age, I've been both running and practicing yoga. I've always thought that the blend of these two activities are just perfect. If I could do more, I'd do a ballet workout, as well as become a strong swimmer. That would be total balance I believe.
Of course, there are limitations to all this, namely work. Perhaps even location can be a limitation I've come to believe. Maybe it is just a limitation of mind, but I will say that my last two years spent in SE Turkey had a limiting effect on my physical well being. I could do my primary series (astanga) yoga at home with some ease as it takes nothing but a mat and some space, but I didn't a lot. I stretched out, but my discipline waned for sure.
Sure I could have joined a gym- there were a few. But they were segregated, and this wasn't something that I wanted to engage in. I'm not sure exactly why, but I just didn't want to.
With running, I was fortunate to live across the street from Gaziantep University's track/futbol field. I lived in a place where running wasn't easy- in terms of no one else doing it. There were parks that I could travel to if I wanted via public transportation (no car), but I don't like to have to work too hard at doing sport. To get on the dolmus or light rail in running gear would draw attention. Sure, I lived in a city, but it wasn't necessarily so progressive that I wouldn't stand out. To be clear, this was more like a large village next to the Syrian border. Quaint, yet quiet. As well, as a single female living in a place where there weren't many expats, did I want to stand out? Not really. I can say that not many locals of the area were interested in running, or walking even, for fitness.
But the track solved everything. I could jot across the street and run my heart out, and I did. My friends were sometimes playing ultimate frisbee on the field as well. If I was running in the evenings, the track team was usually practicing. If on weekend mornings, the junior futbol clubs were gathering for their weekly scrimmages. I felt sort of like I fit in. I, typically, was the only female though so this still made me feel a bit shy I suppose. The track was exposed to a major thoroughfare so there were always 'watchers' who looked perplexed.
Now that I am in Bahrain, and nearly a month to boot, I've found that health is a big agenda here in the Kingdom. It's like I got to the island and hit the ground running. I immediately joined the Bahrain Road Runners Club and found that locals and expats alike are running! I found out that it is not a big deal. I found out that I could just be myself and fit in. Not that I need to feel a part of something, but just that other like-minded individuals, it's nice to find a group of peeps that share my enthusiasm.
I guess what I'm getting at is that I didn't have this outlet in SE Turkey. Like anywhere, there is comfort in numbers. I think back to Tunisia and this also existed, but my stay there was so short before the revolution erupted and I had to leave that I didn't get a chance to delve into the Hash House Harriers local unit there for example.
Back to Bahrain though, now I think about how my fitness style is evolving in comparison to back home in Hawaii. To set the tone of where this post is going, read this. It is an article from my favorite website about health/fitness/food, etc. Let me just say that the recipes are awesome. I've made quite a few. They are for diabetics,;they are for gluten-intolerant peeps; they are for health conscious peeps that think about their consumption and make choices with their food patterns in terms of healthy alternatives...
So, I just read this article above after coming back from the Aquathon- I didn't compete in this as I'm not a strong swimmer, but I now realize (while laying on my couch) that this should not limit me.
Now, back to Hawaii... When back home this summer, I was joyous at the thought of going on long trail runs in Makawao, or wherever I happened to be. While I was visiting family, I invested, for the first time, in something on the verge of me thinking I was starting to become... competitive *gasp* I mean, I've always been into exercise, but for me it was a solely internal thing. I did it. I felt great. I loved the adrenalin. I didn't feel the need to compete in anything. I just didn't have the desire. I didn't want to dedicate the time specifically. I had a lot else going on in my life- namely archaeology, and yoga. Yoga, traditionally and will ALWAYS be in my mind, is not a competitive 'thing', you know? This is about quieting the mind in your own terms. Of course, every athlete can say this about their (competitive) discipline. At any rate, this was my thought, and still is. With running, I only competed in relays because that was fun- it was a group effort and I didn't think of it as 'competition.'
So... I have a new Timex GPS Run Trainer on my wrist and a heart rate monitor strapped to my chest. I tried it out with trepidation. What would the results yield? When I hook up that watch to my Mac Book Pro, what would I see? What rabbit hole would I fall through never to return? Well, I was right! It is so interesting to look at the statistics of my body! Amazing I thought!
Knowing that I was moving to Bahrain soon, I started logging in miles and data to upload. I started reading about Bahrain, and difficulties I would encounter- in terms of weather. From doing research on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I already found out that I would have no problem 'fitting in' in terms of sport because I saw so many websites proving that health is on peeps minds over here. It is not an anomaly. I will say though that from what I've seen so far, it is expats and local men involved in sport competitions here. I do not see many local woman, comparatively, but it does exist. As another side note here, the walking track that I run on almost nightly (it's made of... brick) is packed full of women in their national outfits, as well as men power-walking.
In terms of all the fast-food chains that I see here, this is a good sign. How peeps don't take note of what fast-food chains have done to the average American, I just don't understand. I don't know for sure, but I would think that things like heart-disease and adult onset diabetes, etc are on the rise here. I see all body types out power-walking while on my runs. It is encouraging.
Anyway, back to my main storyline here... Back in Hawaii I was running up to 6 miles 4x a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I decided that I wanted to see the difference between Hawaii and Bahrain- in terms of how hard I am working my heart most especially. Well, what a humbling experience. The first two weeks here (of course with jet-lag considered), I could only run 3k at a time. The wall of heat I encountered each time was just too intense for me. For 2 weeks, I didn't even put on my heart rate monitor. Then I finally did it. I felt like I was starting from scratch all over again.
Upsetting in a way, but also intrigued because I knew I wanted to get back to where I was when I was in Hawaii. I'm slowly getting there now, but I've realized something else- perhaps even more powerful. Something that I never thought about before- competition... What I realize about the athletic clubs here is that they provide comfort. And with comfort, I feel I want to be a part of it- the inner sanctum.
Perhaps it's because I'm an expat. This isn't 'my' place. When I find time outside of work, I want to spend it with people. I'm here to explore. I'm here to work. I want to feel a part of the community- through many channels. Sports is a big channel here! I understand more now I suppose. I feel comfortable here. In the past 2 days especially at these events, I have met some of the most amazing human beings. One is stationed here in the Navy. SHE kicked ass in yesterday's triathlon, as well as this morning's Aquathon. I met a great couple from South America/Mexcio. I supported Lynette (my downstairs neighbor, the Fulbright Scholar); I recognized the Greek guy from both races; peeps from BRR I recognized from our weekly runs in Riffa. It feels good. It even felt good to get kicked out of the pool at Sofitel last night because we weren't guests...
So, as I read the above article, I realized something about myself. This article represents a lot of who I was in the past as a sportswoman. I wasn't into competition. I was not 'tough'. I had perseverance, but I didn't feel the need to display it, I guess. A lot of my views revolved around my yoga practice, and I just carried that over into the rest of my fitness regime.
To sum up, that was then, this is now. I'm ready to dive in! I'm signing up for the 5K, 10K and 15K next month. I'm already on for the half marathon in January. And, next weekend at the Ritz I'm going to do the running portion of their event (another new friend, Dana, is preggers so she can only do the swim portion so we'll tag-team it).
Another side note, many of the sheikhs here are avid sportsmen. They are also involved in local organizations concerning health and fitness and youth, etc. They help organize these events. They sponsor these events. They are positive role models in a society that is changing due to western influences. This is nothing new with many societies of course. Bahrain has a legacy of colonialism with England, as well as further back in history to Persia, Greece, etc.
Part of what I'm here for with this Fellowship from Georgetown is to get involved with the community. I want to get involved where it matters. For me, this is the youth and sports and peace. As a rep. for USA a few weeks back at the UN-sponsored Youth Peace Conference, I started to get ideas- ideas of what I can do to help make a difference. From that conference I walked away with some confidence that I can do my part, and I can do my part well. I've sat back and absorbed a bit, and now is the time to come up with an idea that turns into a plan that turns into a working reality.
We are organic beings. We live in an organic, ever-changing society- even if only detectable on a microscopic level. I've already witnessed my own growth within the time-span of 1 single month...that's lightning fast. I'm learning so much from this tiny island nation. I thirst for knowledge- always...
I'm ready to push myself- in many different ways. After all, life- it's a long, strange trip, IF you're lucky :)