Sand Boxing

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 boxers.

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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