People here are in good shape– average people my age look like they just finished filming a P90X commercial, and and the above-average ones are just superhuman. Senegal has a real culture of working out–when I go down to the beach at around 18h after work, I see people literally elbow to elbow along the tideline doing pushups in little craters that they’ve hollowed out to give themselves more range of motion, and people actually wear grooves in the sand from doing endless sets of lunges across the beach. Practically all of the athletes are male; I have no clue where the women go to work out. It definitely isn’t my gym. The Fana Body Gym et Salle de Musculation costs 1000 CFA ($2. it’s swanky) per visit, and holds an eclectic mix of brightly colored hand weights that look like they belong on the set of a Jane Fonda aerobics video, and some disturbingly technical modern machines with vivid muscular diagrams and maintenance instructions in Italian. I go in the mornings when it’s only about 90 degrees, although they don’t turn the fans on until it’s actually hot or anything. My coach is a 6’3″ guy with dreadlocks, arms the size of my entire body, and a very friendly attitude. I like it a lot–it reminds me of my beloved Gym Alpha in Uganda, but more modern– and I’ve been supplementing my workouts with beach pushups and swimming.
I also played soccer the other day. The games are played 4-on-4 at low tide when there’s a wider stretch of packed sand, and after every goal the losing team switches out. The rules are pretty simple: two cinderblocks on each side serve as the goal, the keeper can’t use their hands, there’s a throw-in if the ball goes in the dunes, and the ocean isn’t out of bounds so much as a water hazard–I’ve seen guys trying to dribble a floating ball past defenders in water up to their thighs. I had a ton of fun playing; I was matched up with three other guys facing four lean opponents who more chemistry than Walter White, and they danced around us like pros and we kept trading the field off with the other subs. The game went on until it got dark.
The other big sport is wrestling, laamb, which is more even more popular on the professional level than soccer is. I’m gonna hold off on writing about that until I get the chance to attend one of the professional matches in one of the Dakar stadiums, but I will say that kids start training for it from ages 6 and up. It’s more like sumo then like American wrestling: the goal is never to be on your back, stomach, or with all four hands and feet on the ground. Depending on what rules you’re playing by, hitting with a closed fist is also allowed, and so combatants will take big windmill swings at each other before clinching. I actually still haven’t tried it, although not for lack of opportunity–during a recent run on the beach I got challenged three times in four kilometers, twice by people just running at me and trying to clothesline me. Next time I’m at Fana I’ll ask Coach to set me up with a wrestling-specific workout–I want to go in prepared.