Yes We Can: Keeping Fit in Central Asia in 2009 by Sheila Andrew

This was written my Judy’s Mom in 2009 as she attempted to train for the 10 Km at Ottawa Race Weekend. She would have been in her late 60’s at the time.

I had doubts about signing up to run the Ottawa 10 km ten days after getting back from three weeks in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. This was a trip to explore the marvelous mosques, palaces, gardens and ruins, going by coach from Tashkent to Tehran, not a healthy hiking trip. However, Judy told me I should sign up and so I did.

Experts suggest we should train in hotel rooms with rubber exercise tubes. So I packed one, although I was slightly concerned about what X Ray machine readers would make of it. Fortunately, nobody asked. The next problem is finding something in a hotel room that won’t collapse when you pull on it. I rejected the shower bar and settled for tying the tube to the bed legs, which limits arm exercise, but I got a leg stretch or two. Then my knots slid into snakes and my stretch turned into a ballet step and stagger. I must work on knot technique with my Girl Guide granddaughter.

We all know we should use the stairs not the elevators. All we need to do is persuade hotels of this. The Afrosyiab Hotel in Samarkand put me on the 7th floor, with a great view and exercise potential. However, we all know the problems. Those of us looking for stairs often have to venture down the fire exit: will it turn you out onto the street? Will the doors onto the ground floor open from the stairs? Or in this case, which the heck is the 7th floor when you are going up. Counting didn’t work as there were mysterious administrative floors in-between and several floors where I could not get out. On the first trip, I disturbed a lot of pigeons in the loft before I found 7. However, in spite of kindly staff trying to dissuade me, stairs worked quite well. I’m still wondering about the blood stains around level 5! 

We were staying in some hotels that advertised pools and exercise rooms. Fore -warned by the on-line comment on the Iran hotel: “Both the pool and the bar are dry”, I didn’t rely too much on that, but it worked sometimes. The Soviet legacy of Bukhara was evident in the Palace Hotel “Health Club”. The equipment was red, occasionally very active and noisy. The red paint was flaking and the kindly assistant put the treadmill on at  6.5 km per hr for me ( !!) so I could leap to work. My style is to start at zero and speed up, so I’m checking phrase books for “Drive slowly please” (usually in the section about taxis). The rest of the equipment screamed in loud protest at being used at all and the weights were often stuck at some macho level way beyond me.  This is where miming confusion to a local muscle man came in handy. Next day, there were no allies, so I ran round and round the empty swimming pool: to the considerable amusement of staff and fellow travelers.

Running can be done anywhere- well almost. “Health Club closed” said the severe lady at the hotel in Turkmenistan. “Pool closed,” she added. Opening was apparently unlikely, so I considered an outdoor run in Turkmenistan. All these countries have a legacy of gardens, pools and riverside walks, but we know the safety problems. Under the gaze of several posters of the current ruler, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, I decided to give it a try. I’d already walked by the river and there are lots of women working on the plants and gardens on the bank who smile at another woman, so I went out that way. Alternative paths allowed me to bypass stray males and a unit of the Turkmen army and a flock of goats were a welcome walk break; turn around point was when I was chased back by a territorial dog.

Running in Iran was more of a challenge. The tour group told us to respect local standards and buying something to fit a conservative Islamic culture had been a challenge in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I had a long black skirt (the golden buckles could be hidden under the grey high-necked figure- hiding blouse I finally found) and the on-line head scarf we ordered proved very practical- even if fellow travelers suggested the way I wore it made me look like Johnny Depp.  There was another exercise enthusiast on the trip and she told me she had seen women running in the Laleh Park behind our hotel in Tehran. Unfortunately, she had the frequent travelers’ problem for much of the trip, so couldn’t join me. Visualize me in the ankle-length skirt, head-scarf and neck to wrist skirt, heading nervously into the park, with my running shoes on. Yes, there were black ghosts in the trees, between the male runners and even with the male runners. If there’s ever a Tehran 10 km ladies, I think we might make age group champion, but still, power to these women. So I jogged and we cheered each other on (Don’t try thumbs up in Central Asia; it has another meaning). There were exercise machines men and women used too (See the photo my friend was up to taking) and I passed a group of men and women, in separate groups, learning Tai Chi. Some women were playing badminton with a boy friend, but volleyball and soccer were all male. I went back in the afternoon and found police on motor bike patrol, six police cars and twenty or so police in the central area of the park. None of them bothered me, but I did wonder why they were there.

An Iranian nurse I met on the plane back to London told me that’s where most of the demonstrating feminists are arrested! This all made running in the Ottawa Race weekend a pleasure! Sheila Andrew/ Judy’s Mum

Published by judyapiel

Runner, triathlete and coach. Owner of RunK2J, Community Support Coordinator at Bushtukah. Always looking for a new travel adventure.

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