The water in Afghanistan is very strong. It shrinks my clothes.
I came out on this mission fully intending to put the festive season behind me. I had heard that the place where I’m staying has a gym, a swimming pool, and tennis courts. I didn’t hold out much hope for the latter, but the pool was a possibility, and the gym would certainly help. I took up valuable space in my bag to pack t-shirt, shorts, gym shoes, white socks – all the stuff people wear to a gym.
I gave up on the idea of tennis (if I had ever had such an idea!) within 30 seconds of arrival. I looked outside as we were checking in, and saw the tennis courts – under about 30 cms of snow. Still, the other two remained possibilities.
On the second day we were having dinner, chicken something with rice, naan bread, and green tea, when I asked where the swimming pool was located. One of the fine young men who serve in the restaurant showed me the way, out through the doors and on to a patio. The pool is huge. It has to be at least 30 metres long, and is very deep at the deep end, almost two metres. It is also in good condition, glazed with nice tiles. I could see all this clearly, as the only thing that was missing was water. Mind you, the patio was open to the outside, and so it would more likely have been a rink than a pool, should water have been present. It must be nice in the summer, though.
On the third day, after a breakfast of omelet, naan bread, and green tea, we asked to see the gym. We were led outside by a different young man, through a different door to a different patio. We crossed a marble step, sheer ice in the morning chill, and managed not to fall. We trod our way along a snowy path, to a shed. Inside the shed was a generator, and a broken treadmill. Through another door, to a larger room, which contained a stationary bicycle, free weights, and a small heater bolted high up on the wall. I looked at Jim, who was vaguely recognizable through the fog of our breath. We both smiled ruefully, recognizing in that moment that a daily gym workout was simply not going to happen.
We made our way back to the main lobby, gingerly stepping on the slippery marble step, crunching through the snow. Later that day, over lunch of lamb kebabs, naan bread, and green tea, we discussed our predicament and tried to identify possible solutions.
We could make our own circuit, walking up one flight of steps from the lobby, across the landing, down the second flight of steps to the restaurant, and back along the main corridor to the lobby again. That would be doable, combining both the treadmill and the step machine. We could set our own pace, and alternate between fast and slow. We could even carry bottles of water and do arm curls as we walked. It would be a good workout. As long as nobody saw us, that is.
Another option would be stop sitting at our desks all day, and take 5 minute stretch breaks every hour. We could combine the stretching with rapid pacing around the office – zoo-caged lions are always thin and svelte. That would work, at least it may stop total stupor from setting in. We considered that idea more fully over dinner that night, chicken something else with rice, naan bread, and green tea, and thought it might work. And it did, except that our interpreter broke up into hysterics as he asked us what we were doing. That made us a bit self-conscious.
The next morning, over our regular breakfast of omelet, naan bread, and green tea, Jim came up with a radical solution.
“What about giving up naan bread?”
Never, I replied. It’s too good. And anyway, the human body needs some carbs.
That day on our way to work we asked the driver. He said that every day when he got home he went to the gym and ran five miles.
“Afghan food is excellent,” he said, “but it’s really unhealthy!”