Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

My Afghan Fitness Guru ; Intrigued by Nesar's Story, This Gym-Shunning Reporter Forms an Unlikely Bond That Makes Islamabad Feel More like Home

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

My Afghan Fitness Guru ; Intrigued by Nesar's Story, This Gym-Shunning Reporter Forms an Unlikely Bond That Makes Islamabad Feel More like Home

Article excerpt

Many evenings, when I first moved to Islamabad, I used to walk the streets to pass the time. The city is beautiful at night, and it seemed a better idea than watching more MTV and soaps in the native Urdu.

Then I discovered Ultimate Gym, a fitness center just down the street from my house. I was sucked in by the blaring techno music and the earnestness of its young patrons, whom I spied through a wall of windows, gallivanting on treadmills and furiously working half-dilapidated exercise machines.

Life has never been the same.

At first I wasn't serious about the exercise; I thought of it as merely something to do. Joining a gym wasn't something I'd have done back home, but in a foreign place it seemed nice to belong to something.

Then I met Nesar, an Afghan fitness trainer who works for the gym. Nesar is huge, with chiseled jowls any Tajik would be proud of. He looks like he walked off the set of "Rambo III," a mujahideen extra, and talks like it.

"In six year, I made beautiful body," he told me, flexing in the mirror.

The first day I walked in, he suggested I let him train me, giving me a cold look up and down. He inspected my shoulders, patting them skeptically, the way one appraises leather goods or fruit.

"In few months I can make good body for you," he said. Physical trainers, it seems, make the same promises everywhere. I wasn't sure he was right, but he seemed sincere and I had a feeling I'd just stumbled onto a good story.

Every good story comes at a price though. For this one, I have paid with weeks of excruciating pain, the humiliation of knowing my own weakness, and periodic dressings-down from Nesar when I missed workouts or cut out early. If I tell him I have to leave for an interview, he'll just shake his head.

"But I did a lot today," I'll say in defense, suddenly the guilty student. My justifications only prompt his laughter. "You think that's a lot?!" he'll guffaw, then point at my gut, a gesture more powerful and guilt-inducing than any of his words. His real revenge is piling on more weight the next day, yelling, "Come on, big guy!" as I squirm.

Sometimes I feel like I'm paying him to do the exercises for me. Like when I'm doing sit-ups and he just pulls me up and down with one arm. He's pretty energetic. It's the music they pump at the gym. He likes 50 Cent and Shakira, and does a little dance when Michael Jackson comes on. Just don't play Indian music; it ruins his workout.

"Psychologically, I'm feeling very bad when Indian music comes on," he says.

For me, feeling bad comes more from the pain than the music. But it's been worth it, because in addition to getting stronger, I've formed a great bond with another foreigner in this city, and that makes it feel more like home.

Nesar and his family fled Kabul 14 years ago, after his aunt was killed by a missile in the civil war. …

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