Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Saudi based Motswana on trading freedom for greener pastures

Fitness trainer Anne Kuhlmann chats to Lifestyle’s THOBO MOTLHOKA about giving up alcohol, fashion, driving, dating and PDA, before flying back to the Middle East 

The ever rising rate of unemployment has left many Batswana graduates on the streets with hardly any prospects of landing a job. The few lucky ones that do work have had to put their credentials aside and settle for whatever could pay the bills. This is why it might just be comprehensible for someone to give up all the other non-employment related perks that come with living in this country and seek employment elsewhere.

But Botswana’s Saudi Arabia based fitness trainer Anne Kuhlmann did not have to be jobless to do all that. A fitness fanatic herself, Kuhlmann was already getting a monthly paycheque for her passion as a fitness trainer at Jack’s Gym.

A 2009 University of Botswana Bachelor of Arts graduate, she began taking part time exercise science classes at Health and Fitness Professionals Academy (HFPA) in South Africa while doing her BA. 

“I commuted fortnightly between Gaborone and Johannesburg from 2007 to 2009 attending classes at HFPA,” she says. She admits however that she was not always a fitness fanatic.  It was only when she started attending gym sessions at Energym Health Studio that her love for the profession blossomed.

“A friend suggested I take up fitness training because they saw the potential fitness trainer in me.” 

Following her training in SA Kuhlmann swept aside her BA qualification and focused on being a fitness trainer. She worked for Energym, Livingstone Kolobeng Gym, and Jacks Gym respectively as a fitness trainer before setting her sights beyond boarders. 

The winds of destiny blew in her direction when she received a life changing call all the way from a UK based recruitment agency. “I did an interview on Skype and passed,” she said. Prior to her recruitment at NuYu Fitness Centre Kuhlmann says she knew nothing about Saudi Arabia. 

She had no idea she was going to have to relegate her favourite fashion items to only within her residential compound. “All women in Saudi have to abide by a strict dressing code,” she tells Lifestyle. She, like the Saudi and all women living in Saudi Arabia have to wear the Abaya; a simple, loose over-garment (like a robe or dress) worn by women in most Muslim countries. 

Traditionally the abayas are black and may be either a large square of fabric draped from the shoulders or head. The abaya covers the whole body except the face, feet, and hands. It can be worn with the niq─üb, a face veil covering all but the eyes. Kuhlmann would also learn she would be sipping goodbye to her favourite alcoholic beverage as she boarded her final flight to the Middle Eastern country where alcohol consumption is prohibited. She says Alcohol is so illegal that you will not even find a mouth wash that contains it. Kuhlmann says you cannot buy alcohol in any form openly in Saudi.  But where there’s a will there’s a way. Although she refuses to admit it, tourist reports suggest one can still buy alcohol the same way one can buy illegal drugs anywhere else in the world. 

“Don’t be stupid! Smuggling in booze is likely to get you into serious trouble, the sort of trouble that will entail long stays in jail and losing your job. It really is not worth the risk; you can buy alcohol when you get there if you ask around your fellow expats. Within a few weeks of being there I had enough contacts to buy just about any type of booze you could need, just don’t try to buy from Saudis or other Arabs,” one tourist wrote. 

Although she has a driver’s license Kuhlman does not get to drive herself to work and back because women are prohibited to drive. “I have my own male driver to drive me around,” she tells Lifestyle. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. With women also not allowed to take part in sports, it’s a miracle they are even allowed to attend the (all women) gym .Women’s rights have long been a contentious issue in the ultraconservative Islamic country. Kuhlmann says women are not even allowed to drive or go in public with any man who is not their driver, husband, or brother. 

Despite the dramatic differences in culture Kuhlmann loves Saudi Arabia and she is working on extending her two year contract. “The Saudi people are incredibly humble and nice,” she says. “The difference in culture has helped me grow in a lot of ways as a person. It builds character.” 

If there is any change she can complain about, the fitness trainer says, is the weather. “It can be extremely hot sometimes.” She encourages Batswana to open up and look for opportunities elsewhere. “The problem with Batswana is that they are afraid of change. They like comfort. But if you have dreams and are willing to achieve them you should not limit yourself on geographical grounds,” Kuhlmann advices. “Through this job and change of environment I have learnt new tricks and business opportunities that I hope to launch back home.” 

Kuhlmann works nine hour shifts at the all women NuYu Fitness Centre where she started in January this year and spends her time at her expatriate residential community compound with over 500 other expatriates from all over the world. While she uses English to communicate she is also taking Arabic lessons. Saudi Arabia is a desert country encompassing most of the Arabian Peninsula, with Red Sea and Persian (Arabian) Gulf coastlines. Known as the birthplace of Islam, it is home to the religion’s two most sacred mosques: Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca, destination of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and Medina’s Masjid an-Nabawi, burial site of the prophet Muhammad.


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