Call it vanity, obsession, or a New Year’s resolution, working out and fitness is integral to contemporary American culture. A number of Americans put up large sums of cash every month just to use a treadmill. Sports and fitness in the U.S. are huge sources of revenue for many, from the local level all the way up to ESPN. Their relevance to the American identity is impossible to ignore.
Personally, I have never been that interested in sports. I swam in high school and that was about the extent of my athletic prowess. That being said, the benefits of living an active and healthy lifestyle are many and lasting. I try to keep a disciplined workout routine during the school year.
Since moving into my host family’s L’Ocean neighborhood in Rabat a few weeks ago, my roommate Pablo and I have established a convenient workout schedule with a local gym. As far we can tell, it doesn’t have a name. Most workout establishments in Rabat seem to be this way; many are quite small and situated on the bottom floor of residential blocks. This particular weight room exhibits a good selection of equipment, all of which have been in use for the past 20 years. Trying to figure out how pounds translate to kilograms is a struggle. Music selection ranges from Michael Jackson to “Barbie Girl.” Although it might not be the cleanest gym, it is a great place to work out.
Sayyid, the manager and personal trainer, was quick to set up our memberships and give us the run-down of the place. Everyone at the gym knows Sayyid. He has worked at la Salle (Moroccan Arabic word for gym) since 1988. He started lifting as a hobby in the early 80’s and even competed from 1985 – 1994 in physique tournaments. During this time he was champion of the Rabat-Sale area on numerous occasions. Between vintage posters of Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Lou Ferrigno, one can spy pictures of a young Sayyid from his tournament days.
Sayyid uses his gym and fitness as a way to teach the youth of Rabat about discipline. As his successful past shows, it gave him an outlet from his studies and a place to work. Many teenage Moroccans workout there, and Sayyid is constantly helping his younger patrons develop attainable fitness goals. He mentions that fitness and weight lifting in particular are becoming increasingly popular in Rabat and that his gym has been gaining more adolescent members on a regular basis since the late 1990’s.
Like many other public spaces in Morocco, the gym is a place that separates the sexes. More upscale clubs have entirely different rooms for women to workout in and weights are not always an option given to them. When asked for his opinion on this matter, Sayyid eagerly told me that Moroccan women should be encouraged and given more access to weight lifting. I hope he says this for the same reasons he assists his younger patrons.
Regardless of his motives for equality, Sayyid has become a welcome part life in Rabat. He always has a smile on his face and an encouraging word for you. As my Darija (Moroccan Arabic) improves, we continue to compare our own gym experiences and respective cultures. Sayyid deserves a huge thank you for letting me use his gym, take up his time to ask questions, and take some photos.