Saturday, December 10, 2005

Swimming Below Freezing

I was not thinking clearly enough about the circumstances when I decided to go to aqua aerobics this morning. Held at a nearby health club with an outdoor pool, it’s a wonderful creation that allows one to enter the pool directly from a heated area. I’d gone before on chilly days and marveled at the ability to swim outside in the cool air. But those days were nothing like today – a freezing winter day, in which snow remained on the ground, the sidewalks were sheets of ice and the snow-tipped brown tree branches rose into a grey-white sky.

Management was clearing doing what it could to keep the pool swimmable. The water coming in through the vent was so hot it burned if I got too close. And steam rose from the pool in heavy clouds.

Nevertheless, my wet shoulders and neck frequently emerged from the water during the exercises, allowing the wet hair ends to gel into frozen particles, allowing my skin to feel the frigidity of the air. I looked at the teacher, a young woman dressed in a down coat, wool hat and gloves. She was blurry through the steamy mist, but I could see her sitting on her hands as she demonstrated what to do with our legs, trying to keep them warm. Behind her rose a tall, old white Soviet apartment block.

A man giving swimming lessons to children stood at another end of the pool, also dressed in a puffy down jacket. I lasted until the end of class, but determined to not do any more swimming in below zero weather. When I swam my laps at the end of class, I wasn’t trying for speed or varying technique. I moved slowly, focusing on keeping as much of my body as possible below water.

This evening I gathered with some people at a delicious Lebanese restaurant. Three of the couples were Western men, together with local women. There were no Western women with local men.

I’m starting to get to know some of the expatriate community in Bishkek and that’s nice. There seem to be quite a few interesting and fun people and they tend to be good sources of knowledge about fun things to do.

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