Erobic Massage Tyboo

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 days.

“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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