The Challenges of Exercise In Central Africa

Kevin Light multisport Africa_gm60The small fixed-wing aircraft quivers at the end of the dirt runway. The athletic, blonde, French pilot, with an ornate ‘R’ tattooed on her neck, just behind her left ear, opens the throttle and we’re speeding off into the early morning sunrise.

The bush of central Africa opens up just a few hundred metres below us. It is beautiful beyond the telling of it. I sit back and breathe deeply into my growing gut.

I’m on contract for a client just north of the equator in Uganda, visiting some operational camps. It’s an adventure for sure and the little boy in me loves it: new work challenges, people to meet, cultures to learn, places to discover, food to sample. It’s all an exciting opportunity to learn and explore.

One challenge I haven’t solved, though, is how to get some training in while I’m here. In my head, I Go Multi, but actually doing it has not been so easy. There have been a few obstacles. First there are days full of commuting which make finding an exercise rhythm difficult. Hotels are not sport-friendly, even with their closet gyms and pretty, oddly-shaped swimming pools.

Then the roads are hectic – congested with bicycle taxis, buda-budas (motorbike taxis carrying up to three passengers and, once, a pig), minibus taxis, cars, pedestrians, hawkers selling airtime, books, beds, fruit and wheelchairs (Oh, no, that one was a beggar).

These challenges are exacerbated by the 4x4s bullying their way through, just like in Sandton and Steenberg Estate. Except that here the potholes make such vehicles a basic necessity. Some holes are like small mineshafts and the traffic contorts itself around them with constant creativity. The traffic is an ever-swarming mass at all hours, moving in every direction at once; weaving, bobbing, intertwining, miraculously never touching, making the roads and pavements a forever-changing puzzle. Despite wanting to, I can’t imagine running here. Understandably it is against company policy to allow cycling. I could try to go out early when the roads are (a little) quieter. But that means running in the dark and last week two colleagues broke legs by falling into uncovered manholes.

Apart from it being difficult to get out to run or cycle, the food is so gooood! All the good stuff summons me seductively. Every meal is like a gastronomic triathlon: chiapat (like roti), goat curry, smooth white maize, grilled Nile perch (fish), wild spinach, steamed bread, sweet offal, bean gravy. Belch. And the beer is cold and cheap and comes in big, long bottles with the condensation running down the smooth neck in rivers of refreshment. You know how it is when people start buying rounds and you haven’t had your turn – it would just be rude not to stay and reciprocate! BELCH.

The small plane has landed and I’m settled in the bush camp where there’s no traffic so maybe at last I could get my training back on track. There’s a stunning dirt road to run and a gym set up under some wide trees (I noticed some skipping ropes and that’s my latest fad). Or I could ride one of the many mountain bikes spinning around the camp. I wonder whether I could do an open water swim in Lake Albert?

But it’s hot. HOT! Swelteringly hot so that my running kit is sweaty without me even putting it on. So hot that the off-duty national military who are guarding the camp are slouching under every tree, clad only in small towels, murmuring without moving their mouths. I can’t possibly do anything now.

Okay, I know I’ve been lazy, alright! I’ve put on a few kilos and the Cycle Tour and Rhodes Trail Run are just around the corner. But it’s been difficult. And it still is, so I prefer to find a spot of shade between two containers, where the light breeze blows.

I’ve just settled down, opened my book and an ice cold bottle when an oily artisan walks up. Stopping, he extends his hand, “I’m William, I hear you run and I’m just heading out for 15 kays on the bush track – see you at the gate in five?”

Instantly I get past the multiple reasons not to and find my feet and my shoes. Where there’s a Will, there’s a way! Going Multi is about finding both, no matter what the available excuses are. Will turns excuses into reasons, problems into lessons and obstacles into opportunities.

So mix it up – change when and what and how you sport. Look those excuses squarely in the eye, and say to them, “I see you but don’t make yourself at home. You and I have business to do!” Dig deep, call on that inner friend called Will and find a way to get your Multi-Ass going. It will give you a lighter spirit (and a flatter gut) for sure.

Originally published in the March/April 2012 issue.

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About Kevin Light

Kevin helps people work. He is an organisational effectiveness consultant who specialises in leadership development, change and diversity management and inspirational speaking. His proudest moment is finishing the Tuffer-Puffer duct taped together.

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