The chatter, hooting and the unending din as buyers haggle for better prices with sellers is what defines most markets in Kenya. Wakulima Wholesale Market in Nakuru is no different. But there is a different noise sweeping through this market, popular for its fresh farm produce.
Every afternoon, chances are high that you will be hit by a ball than falling farm products being unloaded from delivery trucks. Here, women traders are taking their health more seriously and are working out to keep fit. Because they spend half of the day seated as they wait for customers, afternoons are now spent on workouts at the workplace.
The market opens its doors at 5:30am and closes at 1pm when clients have already picked supplies for sale in the neighbouring retail markets. Cleaning, on average, takes an hour.
Majority of the traders here are women aged between 30 and 60 years who have less activities to undertake in their half-day businesses.
“We sell our supplies in large quantities which we leave to male loaders to handle. Most of the time we are seated waiting and negotiating with clients. Once the market is closed we have nothing else to do,” said Lilian Nyaboke.
Nyaboke, 45, who has worked at the market for the past 22 years, says this trend has left many of them unfit and exposed to weight-related diseases.
“Lack of strenuous activities has been a great threat to my health. I didn’t know when my weight hit 100 kilos and kept rising. At one point I found myself almost unable to walk comfortably after hitting 125 kilos,” said the mother of five.
Nyaboke’s story is similar to that of many other women at the market some of whom have been battling with illnesses such as high blood pressure and arthritis as a result of being overweight.
Florence Omanga, another trader explained that this has left them raising funds to help their colleagues settle medical bills for some conditions that could have been avoided.
“Some of us have been in and out of hospital due to weight-related complications. I was almost getting hypertensive. I used to leave the market at noon. At home I had very little to do apart from cooking and laundry,” said Omanga.
The women would resume the same routine the next day when their orders had been delivered from the farms.
Realising that they had a common problem, a group of five women from the market brainstormed on how they would chart a new path towards gaining fitness and lead a healthy life.
“The five of us bought skipping ropes. Once the market was closed and cleaned, there was available space for us to exercise. It was a painful, but good start towards shedding weight,” said Omanga.
For Zipporah Kerubo who used to watch them at a distance, the exercises were more of drama and women engaging in games meant for young children.
“At first I couldn’t imagine myself playing the same games I would find my young girls playing on the road. It was a rare scene, women in their 40s and 50s weighing over 90 kilos skipping a rope? Not me!” said Kerubo.
As some of the participants started losing weight and regaining their fitness, more members came on board bringing with them ball games that would help them in their journey.
Today, a visitor passing by the market would confuse it for a school playground as the women engage in different games having moved their stock to the side leaving a level ground in the middle of the market for their exercises.
With the assistance of Coach Peter Karori, the group has grown to 38 registered members with several others joining them depending on their availability.
“Cleaning is concluded by 2pm and we immediately start our one and a half hour session. We begin with simple exercises such as jogging and jump squats before progressing to ball games. The women not only find it fun but also helpful for their health,” said Karori.
The women explained that they have no regrets for engaging in the exercises seeing that it has helped them do more than they could.
“In the past three months I have cut weight from 125 to 115 kilogrammes. My target is to reach 80 kilos in the next few months. My legs are no longer as stiff as they were. Football and volleyball are my favourite,” said Nyaboke.
Their games are usually a spectacle as other town residents watch them from a distance in amusement.
“If we can get a better place and kits to do our exercises we can do much and inspire more women. Many are struggling with poor self-esteem due to weight. The market is not the proper place but for now we have to do with it,” said Kerubo.
Omanga added that many of them cannot afford subscription to modern gym facilities most of which charge up to Sh300 per day or Sh4,000 per month.