Dubai Diaries: Back to the gym

Kirstin Bernabe-Santos/Dubai
Filed on May 12, 2021

There's one place in Dubai where we allow ourselves to get yelled at.

"No yelling,” my husband and I agreed when we moved in together, bracing ourselves for our first big fight as a married couple. Take deep breaths, count one to 10, and then we talk. If ‘very angry’, as Thomas Jefferson said, ‘count to a hundred’. We wanted to create a peaceful space to come home to after a long day at work. But there’s one place in Dubai where we allow ourselves to get yelled at, once a week.

“Five more, bro!!” A tall, burly man blurted out at the top of his voice, as my husband slumped on the floor, thinking he was done with his squat jumps. He went straight back to position and bent his legs—with nary a grunt or a sigh of complaint. Five, four, three, to one.

I was about a few feet away, in the middle of my plank push-up torture. From holding myself off the ground on my elbows and toes, I was lifting all 62kg of my body, one arm at a time. Pushing up with my right arm first was doable, but when it came to my left…I started questioning my decisions in life. My arm trembled with every push. “Last 10! Come on, Kirstin!” my trainer shouted, clapping her hands (not to applaud what was obviously a sloppy form, but to say, ‘chop-chop, more to come’).

Perhaps the workout arena is the only place where, after a shouting match, you can immediately switch gears and talk about everyday things. As I gulped a lungful of air and chugged a jug of water, my trainer asked, “What do you watch on Netflix? I just started Vampire Diaries.” On the other side were two men talking about where to pick the cheapest, wife-approved furniture. After 30 seconds of chitchat, though, we had to be back in action — because the longer the chat, the harder the next exercise would be.

The gym is a jungle. Trees of steel tower over you at every turn, with cast-iron fruits hanging from their branches in the form of giant discs and bars. Only the strong and the brave could pick and devour them. And in that forest of lions and gorillas, my husband is a cub and I…a butterfly. But we survive. Our entire body – from forehead to toe — may be crying buckets with every push, pull, lift, and jump, our shirts soaked in sweat, but we keep going.

After a hiatus of several years, we went back to the gym for different reasons. Kevin is working hard to get rid of the pandemic fat all over his body, while I get my heart pumping to beat stress and keep the happy hormones flowing.

Take deep breaths, my trainer said, as I carried a 4kg dumbbell up and down a plyo box, counting from one to 10. At the other corner was my husband lifting his dumbbells, his eyes fixed on the wall. In between a hundred breaths, he muttered “don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit.”