In the worst place in the world for women, women go to the gym.
When most Westerners think about Africa, they picture starving babies from television commercials and magazine pages. Bloated bellies, listless bodies, vacant eyes, knobby knees. The obesity epidemic isn't generally associated with Africa. It would be hard to raise money if aid organization showed photos of large women pedaling slowly on wobbly bikes or waddling down the street in bleach-white Nikes.
Yes, people are hungry and I gave some ideas last week for how to get involved. I even showed some of those photos. But also, yes, people are fat and consume unhealthy amounts of sugar and don't know about a balanced diet.
That's goat meat and salad with: colored rice, fried bread, French fries, and tea with loads of sweetened condensed milk. Delicious, but not super healthy. Oh, its also the portion size for one adult and two toddlers.
Like the battle of trying to lose weight.
Here's an article in the Somaliland Press (from the BBC) about Somali women working out in Mogadishu and in Hargeisa. The stadium in Djibouti also hosts some women-only evenings. My good Somali friend who attends these evenings says it is "The Biggest Loser Show," Djibouti-style.
Gaining weight has been a value for Djiboutian women, especially after marriage because it proves their husband is able to provide well for them. A thin woman, one without a jiggling butt, is sickly. Another friend says women's butts are supposed to sway in the rhythm 'Kun, laba kun. Kun, laba kun," which means "one thousand, two thousand, one thousand, two thousand." My butt never jiggled like that, not even with pillows in my pants.
When women find out I have three children, including twins, one of the first questions is: "Where is your stomach?" The second question is: "Where are your breasts?"
I tell them I exercise.
They nod and say: "Oh, you have one of those vibrators."
"Pardon?" I ask.
"Those belts that you hook around your belly and it shakes and you lose weight while you watch TV and drink tea."
Maybe I should invest in one of those instead of the 57+ miles I put in running last week and see what happens.
But, as more and more women are developing diabetes, heart problems, and other health issues, they are beginning to exercise. Sort of. They stroll around the track and push a punching bag around. They wait in long lines to stand on the shaking machine. One night, I taught my Arab-Djiboutian friend how to bike on a stationary bicycle at the track. She kept pedaling backwards and quit after less than five minutes. I had to help her climb down so she could wait for the shaker, a full body vibrator.
Amazing, isn't it, how much Americans have in common with Djiboutians? You might not know it, if you only look at the starving children. They seem so other, so needy, so able to be helped. But when we start to realize that people around the globe are not so entirely different from us, maybe we won't be intimated by our differences, but rather inspired by our commonalities.
I'm encouraged to get my Djiboutian friends running with me when I get back. Or maybe walking. Or maybe just moving a leg at a time...