First off, I apologize for being a little late with this month’s article. I just returned from a month’s deployment to East Africa: Comoros and Madagascar specifically. As part of my job here at the International Training center, a couple times a year we take our show on the road to do some training in other countries. While the travel is sometimes long (almost 25,000 miles for this trip, as I no shit traveled by plane, train, automobile, rickshaw, horseback and on foot), I still enjoy the experience. Mostly, as I think I learn more from my students (and their countries), than they learn from me and this time was no different. We held training every day on different bases, but I had a lot of opportunities to observe their own training and see a lot of the country. It was a busy month to say the least.
As I usually do on these trips, made some time to PT with my students. Their PT routines were the standard issue for Africa that I’ve seen for years; lots of running, calisthenics and soccer. The infantry guys also do a lot of humping with packs and running with weapons. We even humped a couple of mountains together. There are no weights, no cross fit, etc. type training to speak of. For the most part, they are in pretty decent condition, good runners especially. Tough, lean guys for the most part, this is nothing new.
Now as a trainer, I also take an interest in what they eat. Needless to say there are no special diets going on here. Many of these countries are only a few short steps from starvation, so eating isn’t thought about the same way as it is in the United States. Supermarket type places to food shop are far and few between, and are priced for rich tourists and a few high placed locals only. Everyone else gets their chow from open air markets. Very little refrigeration and NEVER any ice here; Fresh fish, butchered meat, vegetables, fruit and everything else is just piled on tables for sale. Loaves of bread are stacked like firewood. Rice and flour are measured out of the sack and there are plenty of live ducks and chickens for sale. If you’ve ever been to one of these markets you never forget the sight and smell of it. In other words this isn’t your local farmers market that sets up in your hometown square on Saturdays in the summer. This is everyday life and it’s as raw and un-sanitized as you are now imagining.
Now you think with these unfiltered conditions and simple diet these people would be on deaths door? I found the opposite to be true. Most of the people I saw were healthy, thin, muscular and hard working. Most doing serious hard physical labor every day to make ends meet, including the women and children. Not much of a welfare program here, you work or you don’t eat is the basic idea. Just for one example; Madagascar has one the largest brick making industries in the world, due to the rich clay that is everywhere. I saw tens of thousands of small brick making operations going on and with that I saw a conservative estimate of several million bricks, all of which are made completely by hand. I watched people of all ages making, stacking, curing and carrying these bricks. It’s no joke back breaking work, no shade either.
Their simple basic diet of real food fuels all this work, as I saw very little processed food of any type. The butter and milk we saw was all full fat and the sugar was raw brown. There was no fast food, other than soda, which is very popular. Even in the huge capital of Antananarivo (over 1.5 million people), these open air markets are the norm for the vast majority of the people. They do use plenty of local (hot) spices to jazz up the simple fare, but little else. We pretty much ate like the locals the entire trip and we didn’t get sick, nor get the shits the entire trip (we only drank bottled water, I’m not that brave, or stupid). Our rep from the Embassy told us that when local people eat processed food, and sleep in AC they get sick. They know this from when they hire locals to work at the embassy and the hotels.
The funny thing is that you also see very few overweight people. I saw lots of older people working, walking and carrying heavy loads along the roads with everyone else. The roads are very crowded with people walking and riding bikes. The other thing you notice when you meet the people is generally how happy they are? Families are together all the time, working, eating and living. They don’t seem to be burdened with stress and worry, even though their circumstances would be considered dire by any standard that we go by. They value family, their faith (I seen all faiths there) and enjoy the simpler things in life as most have no TV either. Now you could say that they are just ignorant, simple peasants and aren’t smart enough to know any better. So I guess you need to be educated and have 300 cable TV channels to be miserable? Ok got it.
After a few weeks you kind of take all this for granted, then I got on a plane backs to the states, landing in Atlanta. As soon as you land the first thing you see is the over whelming number of obese and obviously stressed out people in the airport. Not a few, but frankly a large majority and of course every few yards is another fast food place, most with a long line of fat bodies waiting to get their fix. It’s a sad fact that we are the richest people in the world money wise, but in many ways we are the poorest. Maybe we could learn some simple lessons from some of the poorest countries in the world. Stay active, if you don’t have a physical job, get some regular exercise. Eat real food, simple food from the earth, not a plastic box. Along with that relax a little and try to keep things in perspective, in the end nothing is more important than your family when you get right down to it.
Now before you say it don’t give me this crap, that if its so great move there? I’m not going anywhere, not for money, free beer or virgins. I’m an American, who has fought for this country all my adult life and I continue to serve. I’m staying regardless, even if I have to the last man standing holding the flag. My point is that with all our wealth, all our greatness, I feel sometimes that we are rotting from within, and we could do better as a nation, starting with our health and attitude. Enough ranting for this month.
Be safe always, Good when you can.