Caroline Vumbunu believes that exercising among the dead helps prolong her life.
Every morning, the 59-year-old takes power walks in the Warren Hills cemetery in Zimbabwe’s capital.
She’s not alone. The cemetery has become a workout site for dozens of other Zimbabweans due to a lack of gyms and other exercise venues in many Harare neighborhoods. Vumbunu navigates not only through rows of graves but also past people performing calisthenics.
At 5 a.m. on a recent day, the well-maintained Muslim and adjacent Jewish sections of the cemetery were already teeming with activity. The fitness enthusiasts tend to avoid other parts of the cemetery, established in 1957, that are poorly maintained, with collapsing grave markers and potholed roads.
The dozens of men and women broke up into groups for routines led by instructors. Dressed in colorful track suits, they did pushups and crunches on a cemetery road bordered by countless graves.
“Come on, six more,” instructor Stewart Chipato shouted to a group of young women.
“I want this gone,” 23-year-old Chido Chindomu told a reporter, pointing at her potbelly. She said she heard about the cemetery workouts from a friend after she complained about “funny whistles” and the looks she got from men when jogging in her neighborhood.
Before he goes to his day job in personal training at fitness centers in richer suburbs, Chipato leads a group made up mostly of his neighbors for a workout at the cemetery.
Those who come here in search of fitness among the more than 20,000 graves enjoy the serene environment. There are few distractions besides the occasional service vehicles or people driving by to visit the final resting places of their loved ones. There’s a nearby hill for climbing and little risk of twisting an ankle on the smooth tarred roads at the Muslim and Jewish sections.
“The only place I can exercise undisturbed is here in the cemetery,” Vumbunu said. “It’s too noisy at home. I have to stop to greet people every now and then.”
Jimmy Jones began exercising in the cemetery after moving from Mbare — one of Harare’s poorest suburbs but which has government-provided stadiums, gyms, a swimming pool and community halls — to a new suburb which lacks such amenities.
“I grew up a fitness fanatic, so it was a nightmare when I moved to this place,” said the 45-year-old. “But it’s solved now because the cemetery is proving to be perfect.”
Diagnosed with diabetes, Vumbunu had been admitted into a hospital so frequently that she began to fear for her life. Then, a year ago, her doctors advised her to take up exercising.
“I have to come here. Otherwise I will be hospitalized again,” she said. “This is where I found life.”