Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Working Out at the Armed Forces Officer's Club

Busy, Busy, Busy is all I can say about the last two weeks! I have renewed my commitment to live healthier AND to lose some weight. We are members of two health clubs---one downtown at the Hilton Hotel. This one is complete with spa, beach club, pools, private beach, fitness, and is located right on the Corniche (sort of like a Boardwalk only it does not have a carnival atmosphere)overlooking the beautiful marina.

The other club is the Armed Forces Officer's Club. All I can say is......well, when the Emirati build an officer's club----they build an officer's club. This one makes the US Officer's club look pathetic. Among its many amenities is a full sized, 400 room hotel complete with 8 Royal Suites, 16 Presidential Suites, and 40 Executive Suites. It has an Olympic sized indoor pool; a Billiard's Lounge; a small bowling alley; an indoor shooting range; covered tennis courts; squash courts; steam bath and jacuzzi; a paintball field; a football field and track; an indoor "children's village"; an entertainment theater; a cinema; lecture halls; banquet halls; 6 cafes; 4 restaurants; a ladies only gym; a unisex gym; VERY large hallways and atriums with escalators; gift shops; and lounging areas everywhere. Upstairs is an lounging area that looks like a bedouin tent. They have travel agencies and banks. A barber shop (men's saloon) and a beauty shop (women's saloon).

The building is constructed in the shape of a falcon. I am not surprised at this because the Emirati enjoy falconry as a favorite sport. They love their falcons (one of my neighbors has one that sits out in front of his house on a perch). The building is HUGE and over-the-top. The gardens can seat a banquet of 10,000 people. Marble and chandeliers are everywhere. They are building a kiddie playground and an outdoor pool as well as a marina with docks. People will be able to pull up in their yachts to go to the club (Emirati like big boats!).

I go to this gym to workout several times a week as it is quite close to my house and very convenient for me. I usually go to the ladies gym to work out. I could use the unisex one, and I think most of the expatriot women do. However, I wanted to experience the "real deal" and step into this mysterious world of the Emirati women. I am curious about them and I wanted a chance to see what all the mystery is about. What have I learned? That these women are the same as women everywhere else when they take off their black robes and uncover their faces. They laugh, smile, and giggle just like girls everywhere. They gossip. They sweat. They share secrets. They encourage each other. They workout together.

The women in the gym pretty much ignore me. I think they just pretend I am not there. I see other ex-pat women in there but they seem to be ignored also. On occasion I will get a smile from someone or a nod of greeting. Mostly I am just tolerated and sort of invisible. That's okay with me because then I can observe. One thing I have noticed is that most of the women are not there for maintenance. Very few young women are there working out to maintain their figure. Most of the women are obese and middle-aged. (or at least only older obese women are there in the mornings when I am there; the younger ones may come later in the day) I also notice that many of them do not know much about exercise. The other day I had a women meet up with me at the water fountain as I was refilling my water bottle. She had been on the treadmill for the last 30 minutes the same as I and had worked up quite a sweat. She was thirsty. She timidly asked me, "do you always drink water when you work out?" I answered yes, trying to hide my surprise. She then asked, "should I be drinking water when I exercise?" I explained the importance of drinking water to prevent dehydration. I encouraged her to bring a water bottle and keep it at the treadmill with her. She seemed very appreciative of my advice. She was very interested in what I was doing and how I was doing it.

The staff is Asian and Indian and they are all very nice to me. They talk with me and offer assistance. The Emirati women are very used to being waited on by servants and leave their things everywhere. The staff likes it that I pick up after myself and don't expect them to retrieve my headphones or pick up my dirty towels from the machines. They have towel bins but they don't seem to like to use them. One thing I love about this gym is that they keep a small refrigerator full of cold, scented washcloths for exercisers. It is so refreshing to use one after working out.

I don't think I want to go to the steam bath and jacuzzi. It would just be too weird. I am really not sure how they do it because they are so modest here. It is against the law to undress in the locker room (no kidding---it is a UAE law with signs posted to that effect) and the lockers have changing rooms for that purpose. I hear stories about the Europeans stripping down in the locker rooms and the women all getting hysterical over it and calling management---a real uproar. I'll have to remember never to never undress in the locker room!

I also have a fear of the pool area. The Emirati women swim in something that looks like a wet suit with a hood on it. I don't think they swim with their veil on.....:) I think it would just be too weird and I would feel uncomfortable in my swimsuit. Suddenly I think I would feel "exposed."

I love this strange new world I am living in these days. I feel so privileged to get a peek inside!

***All photos courtesy of the Armed Forces Officer's Club & Hotel Website*****(no photography allowed on the property----and they are very serious about this!)

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