My second day in Dar, I went for a late-day run on Coco Beach,
discovering its delicious cream sand and clear turquoise water,
though it is most infamous for a man-eating shark that ravaged
its waters on a killing rampage a few years back. The tide had
pulled away, leaving a gooey carpet of seaweed that one athlete
used as a mat for strange and vigorous acrobatic stretches that
looked like they could do more harm than good. Along the shore,
a wave of Sunday party-goers were wading, splashing, running,
playing soccer, flirting, strolling, and boxing on the shore.
Even the Arab women in black-shroud purdah were whooping it up,
reveling in their bare feet. Wait -- boxing?
With nothing more than two pair of cheap gloves and a square drawn
in the sand (quickly erased by the scrapping), two young men circled
and jabbed, feet clumsy in the shifting grains. If God airdropped
a personalized birthday cake at my feet, I couldn’t have
believed more strongly that He loves me and personally answers
my prayers and emails.
“Me next!” I called out, unable to contain my excitement.
They finished the round, no bell, stopwatch, or knockout to know
when or why it ended, even the “ref” himself, an even
younger kid in a black and white striped tank top, didn’t
seem to know, but no matter – I was up.
One guy gave me his pudgy gloves, the beginner’s kind that
have extra padding in the front so you don’t have to wear
wraps. I went at the one left in the “ring” with a
storm of flurries, which seemed to surprise and annoy him. What
I lack in technique and skill, I make up for in sheer energy and
aggression. He caught me off guard with a hard uppercut to the
chin that seemed to say “We’re not playing around
here. Go back to your dolls, little girl!” Undeterred, and
in fact happy to have a real opponent, I put up a good little
fight, conscious of the crowd slowly gathering and yelling out
commentary in Swahili. Though they are what might better be referred
to as “pitter-pat” punches, the mere fact that a girl’s
glove even made contact with his skin seemed to be a serious affront
to his manhood. Then again, in retrospect I think he just didn’t
have any sense of his own strength, a common problem amongst debutante
Eventually he tired of our game and gave the gloves to the ref.
Unlike his predecessor, the ref by was having fun getting wailed
on by a half-pint white girl. He would cover up with his gloves
for my flurries like someone taking shelter under a newspaper
for a sudden storm, not coming from under until I tired of punching
him. They seem to have a different set of rules here, or perhaps
he wasn’t told, but he would drop practically to his knees
to punch me in the thigh. No bell, no stopwatch, no knockout,
and now no ref, we went at it for what seemed like a ten-minute
round under the descending but still hot and sticky sun.
When we finally called the round, I asked where the guys trained
and couldn’t get a straight answer, even with a guy helping
to translate. Maybe the alpha-boxer was telling them not to encourage
me any further. Or maybe they didn’t have a gym, which would
certainly explain why they were out here on the hot sand. In any
case, we gave each other a pound and I continued my run along
the gorgeous beach, up a path through the rocky grassy fields
that traced rocky cliffs that reminded me of Big Sur.
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