I’ve put if off for too long, but now I HAVE to tell you about one the funniest things in Bujumbura. It’s called Gym Tonic and at the risk of sounding as naff as the girl introducing each session on my fitness DVD, “it’s incredibly hard”!
I found out about Gym Tonic through a friend, who insisted that it is a really good work-out. But while I nodded with a polite smile, my smug self thought that it couldn’t possibly be true, and that judging from my experience of Africa and sports (or rather of Sudan and OMG-are-you-kidding-why??-no sport), I should be treading on safe ground.
And at first, I clearly thought I was. Most Gym Tonic participants, Burundians for the vast majority, are either males in their mid-forties with a significant beer belly or as Mma Ramotswe would put it, “traditionally-built women”. As I handed my $2 entry fare to the attendant, I believed that those years spent in Sudan doing crazy aerobics by 40 degrees on a roof terrace were finally going to pay off. Well, they did not.
Enter the instructor, a Burundian athlete of Olympic proportions. There’s no time for small talk here, so quickly he starts the session with accelerated techno-dance music. The pace is unbelievably fast and for the next 90mn it will not stop. I look around and my neighbours, who appeared so inoffensive at the start, have now mutated into über-humans. The whole experience feels like a boot camp, with everyone shouting and grumbling in unison as they kick and punch the air.
But worse is to come. After 30mn of fighting to catch my breath, the instructor decides to put on some Congolese music while staff helpers lay steps in front of every participant. The ordeal continues with more jumping and clapping to reach a climax as the instructor screams “Now daaaaance!” and everyone with no exception starts swirling around their step in perfect rhythm. Everyone but me.
I cannot say what amazed me the most. Was it the fact that I was so unfit despite all my Sudan efforts? Or rather the sight of all these people who managed to keep pace despite... well, their shape?
In any case my friend was right. Gym Tonic is a good work-out, it certainly rivals any well-polished Western class and I will kick and punch and dance on anyone that attempts to mock it in the future.
(You didn’t seriously think I was going to post pictures as well, did you?)