The dusty lanes of Hamriya lead one to restaurants serving authentic Bangladeshi cuisine while people hanging out here (predominantly citizens of Bangladesh) can be seen seated around carrom-boards, enjoying cups of hot tea and sizzling pakoras at street corners, and indulging in high volume chit-chat, all of it creating a third world ambience. But away from the din at dusk, in a gymnasium located in the basement of one of the low-rise buildings, a few youth spend their time pumping iron.As one drives past the single-lane street winding around this locale – the hub of construction workers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and handymen delivering a range of services – one wonders whether life in these lanes has its own silver lining, because apart from socialising at street corners, there seems to be no other way to unwind after a hard day’s labour.
Then, you see a youth emerging with rippling muscles glistening from sweat, clad in a fake Adidas jersey and Van Heusen track pants, from one of the lanes, and you know there’s an invisible gym somewhere around. The guys standing around are happy to lead you to this oasis of fitness which has been the haunt of many youth in the area who seek affordable avenues for staying fit – the better option to idle chit-chat.
The hidden gym is run by Captain Abdullah Shiha, a winner of several medals in various bodybuilding competitions in Egypt and Oman, who spent over two decades of his 35-year bodybuilding career, as a fitness manager in different gyms in Muscat.
When he thought of starting his own gym, the first thought was to make fitness affordable for all classes, says Captain Shiha who chose Hamriya as the most apt location for his maiden venture. “Hamriya is densely populated with young expat migrant workers, who cannot afford big bucks, and I thought, with a little help and motivation, I could introduce fitness into their lives.”
When Captain Abdullah Shiha was about to start his maiden venture, however, the COVID-19 pandemic came along and Hamriyia (as well as Muttrah) witnessed one of the longest lockdowns in Muscat. Despite challenges, he waited patiently for months, and as soon as restrictions eased, he opened the doors to his ‘Fitness for All Gym’.
Fitness for all
Keeping his ‘affordable gym’ plan always in focus, Captain Shiha charges a comparatively very low fee of RO10 for a monthly membership. However, there is an added benefit to this charge. While other gyms in town charge addition fees for personal attention and coaching, Captain Shiha incorporates his 35 years of bodybuilding skills into the monthly fee – which means members get coached for no extra fee.
“When a layman takes a gym membership and walks into the gym, he does not know how to effectively use the fitness equipment to suit his own abilities and goals. Most gyms have additional coaching fees up their sleeves and they bring them to the fore when members seek help. This might cost as high as RO15 – 20 per hour,” he pointed out, adding that is is not fair to charge extra for expected guidance.
He, however, pointed out, “Many people enter the gym expecting results in a week or two. This cannot be possible, and this is where the problems starts. Either people lose interest or hurt themselves by indulging in over usage of fitness equipment.” Captain Shiha’s gym membership charge is inclusive of a personal trainer fee.
Khalfan al Rahbi, a resident of Amerat, comes to captain Abdullah’s gym regularly. More than affordability, his friendly nature is what attracts al Rahbi to this gym. “He is a good person with a golden heart, I knew him for a long time. I feel I am in good hands with Captain Shiha around while I am training.”
Like Rahbi, Ali Kashmiri, a resident of Muttrah, is also a fan of Captain Shiha’s friendly disposition and style of training. “I started exercising under his supervision when I was in school. People who wish to join other gyms think twice because the charges are very high in Muscat. But, RO10 is something anyone interested in fitness can afford. Other gyms need to do the same.”
Amir Sohail, who lives in Hamriya, had been working out in his home town in Pakistan. However, since he migrated for work, gyming was on his back burner as he could not afford the high cost involved. “At this gym, I am not compelled to take take long term membership to avail of better rates. Besides, Captain Shiha understands the financial constraints of members and is willing to go easy on those who face hard times.
Abu Talib, another Hamriya resident, recalls that his friend Nizamuddin introduced him to this gym and said he has been thankful to him for opening up vistas for fitness for him for affordable rates. “I was a newer to physical workouts but Captain Shiha guided me onto this new journey, with step-by-step training and guidance. He helped me se goals for myself and work towards getting into better shape with dedication.”
The gym has helped many a youth in Hamriya spend his time more fruitfully in the evenings. Instead of wandering around the alleys with friends, Talib, a resident of Hamriya, says he enjoys spending time building his mental and physical health. It also keeps his urge to spend on unnecessary snacking with friends under control, he said.
Nizamuddin, another resident who was fond of workouts in Bangladesh but could not afford joining a gym in Muscat, said life has a new meaning for him after joining this gym. “Since I joined this gym, my evenings are productive, I am not only taking care of my health, but also building immunity, which is so important in this COVID-19 pandemic,” he said, adding, “I quit smoking to fill the void of my evenings. Fitness has taken over my life, thanks to this gym.”
With more youth signing up for this affordable gym, the younger generation of expatriates in Hamriya are slowly introducing fitness into their lives as a fruitful pastime for the evenings. A new trend has began taking shape.