I have officially joined a gym in Jerusalem.
No. I am not just trying to show off that I exercise (I plan to do that in my next blog entitled “my day at the gym”). I am trying to express my utter outrage and protest the fact that Jerusalem has given me no choice but to join a gym.
It won’t let me run outside.
I don’t like to call myself a runner, as that would imply that people don’t normally out-walk me as I jog, but compared to other women in Jerusalem I am a cheetah, and it’s not only because I often tackle gazelle in my spare time.
It’s because women do not run here.
In the two weeks that I have been here I have seen numerous men running, one woman running with a man and one woman running from a man, I assumed they were playing tag. I have only seen one women running alone, and since it was my reflection in a store window it really doesn’t count – or does it count twice?
So why don’t we run?
It could be because it’s dangerous for women to run alone… but it’s dangerous in the States. I’ve long grown accustomed to my vulnerability. I’m not naïve. I have an emergency fund set up just in case my parents have to pay ransom; I also know a plastic surgeon who makes great ears.
So maybe it is a religious thing. I have been told that running in shorts might offend religious citizens who believe that the knees and running shoes are holy (to be fair Nike is a god).
One religious man even yelled at me as I crossed the street. I didn’t understand the Hebrew, but he was either telling me to cover my knees or that I should watch out for an oncoming bus. Either way, it was hostile, and I prefer people to warn me of oncoming traffic with their library voices.
Other girls I know have had similar experiences. One girl was spat on. To be fair this could also be construed as a warning sign, as I am sure that some species of monkeys spit to warn of invading predators. But in this case there was no bus or hyena, so the spit was probably not a warning alarm.
In general when I run, even without the shouts, I feel watched, glared at, ridiculed, and worse, out of shape.
Initially I was going to put up with the abuse. The shouting was good motivation to run faster, and it sure was cheaper than a gym membership let alone a personal trainer.
But then I got stoned.
I mean in the biblical sense – mom stop jumping to conclusions, my pupils are naturally this large. I was running with a friend (who for the record is also above the influence) when a rock flew by my head.
I looked around, all I could see was a pair of young boys, laughing and holding small rocks. It couldn’t be them; they were clearly into holding rocks, not throwing them. But then they threw another one.
To be fair it is possible that they were just throwing rocks at a kite nearby and I got in the way – I do have a tendency to run diagonally (just in case a crocodile is following me). However, even if it was not a direct attack, the fact that I perceived it as one highlights just how uncomfortable I feel running here (and it’s not just the chaffing).
I am going to make this very clear (since I have been misunderstood in the past): I am by no means saying that all orthodox people in Jerusalem shame women who run, I am not even saying that all of them disapprove of us. But it is kind of like the Foucault’s panopticon – the threat of being watched makes me regulate myself… or does that only apply to prisons?
Regardless, it feels odd running around a city of men.
So I joined a gym and now I run in place around a bunch of men. The gym is a beautiful windowless cave below ground. It has six treadmills (four of which work!), a stationary bike and at least a dozen men at all times who stare at me and make fun of my inability to use the machines properly (but I know I am doing the leg-pully-uppy thing right).
But despite its dual use as a bomb shelter, the gym is a dismal place. It’s old, it’s sweaty, and it is full of old men who are surprisingly sweaty even though all they do is walk slowly on the treadmills for hours.
So needless to say I don’t want to work out at the gym. I don’t even want to pretend like I want to work out at the gym (it’s not New Year’s).
Maybe I’m being an idealist, but I would like to run outside. I refuse to be oppressed. If that means I am going to offend small children, well then, I’m sorry. They’ll manage.
I’ll manage. Especially if these kids have bad aim.