At last we move from our rather shi-shi digs at the Protea Hotel
into the two-bedroom house I will share with my fellow VolCon
(TechnoServe jargon for volunteer consultant, though it makes
me feel like a Star Trek character) for the little time I will
be in Dar. It’s your typical African modern house, spacious
and sparse, tiled floors and gaudy upholstery, nice landscaping
and a wrought-iron gate.
As my continuing luck would have it, we have moved right around
the corner from the gym.
I go for a post-work jog to see if I can find the place on my
own, and find a few finely-sculpted young men out back. One of
them is teaching the almighty jab to a line of young boys, who
are practicing the punch in a tedious back and forth motion.
Hoping they aren’t going to send me back to boxing kindergarten,
I introduce myself to the assembled. Ameed, who, like the manager,
looks like he has some Arab blood somewhere in his lineage, chats
with me in good English. He tells a bit about the local boxing
scene, a familiar old story, lots of good talent but little support,
equipment, etc. They have certainly done better than Guinea, however,
as it seems they have a number of pro boxers who do get fights
throughout Africa and Europe, particularly the Eastern halves.
I go several rounds on the focus mitts with Lamazani, one of the
boxer-cum-trainers. A welterweight two-time national champ with
a 20-3 record, boxing is his only hope and pride, as he has no
family, job, or education, as I will discover over the coming
“Jawa! Rija!” he calls out, which I take to mean “Jab!
Right jab!”, holding up the pads for mainly one and two
punch combinations. “Out, out!” he calls out when
he wants me to move left, right or back.
My trainer at home would be appalled – training me with
single wallops rather than the flurries that win you points –
and fights – as amateurs. Still, my knuckles are raw and
red, hands trembling, by the time we finish – reminding
me what I already know, that boxing is a use-it-or-very-quickly-lose-it
sport. A week away and I am already feeling my conditioning vaporize.
Ameed makes a phone call to one of the boxing promoters, and promises
to take me where the real boxers train tomorrow, as well as perhaps
arranging a fight with one of Tanzania’s lady boxers. “We
have a bantamweight girl,” he says casually, and I am immediately
suspicious – it reminds me of a tournament just before I
left, where I walk in with my trainer and teammates and they ask
how much I weigh. “Yeah, we got a girl around that size,”
one of the matchmakers says, and later I see her – a tall
gangly girl with an armspan twice my own chubby stumps. No thanks.
Before long, I am fully networked into the little boxing community,
which is more happening than I would have thought. The promoter
in question managed to get a bout with a major US boxer for one
of his fighters, and has taken his fighters (some of whom hold
international titles) to the U.S. more than a few times. We both
see the potential to collaborate together, though I am still struggling
to bring my one boxer friend from Guinea a year after launching
the visa process.
I wake at 5am the next few mornings to make the am training session,
which turns out to be just me and Lamazani. Rather than the quiet
calm one might expect at this hour, there is a cacophony outside
my window, someone’s transistor radio blaring news from
the BBC, the roosters singing their favorite tune, two competing
but mellifluous calls to prayer undulating from nearby mosques.
Only the pious and the profane are up at this hour – people
off to their religion of choice, Islam, Christianity or sport
– while others have quite apparently been up all night partying
with the mosquitoes.
I jog the mile to the gym, backpack full of gear, past the peaceful
Christian cemetery on our road, where I am told prostitutes lie
down with their clients, past myriad amusingly named businesses
on the main drag, from the Hunter’s Bar, Mo’ Money
Barber Shop, Mushy Watch Repair and Victorious Driving School
to arrive at the M&M Universal Fitness Centre to exchange
hooks and uppercuts with my new “parring” partner,
a language that thankfully needs no translation. .
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