Scrap metal, tin cans, discarded auto parts at a rough and ready gym in Ouagadougou’s rundown Dapoya district, young bodybuilders using homemade weights know powerful muscles can lead to a job.
“We started out with tin cans that we filled with cement or with sand,” said Maxime Tiendrebeogo, 40, who founded the MM Club with his brother Mathieu 20 years ago. Surrounded by rundown buildings and a graveyard of rusting vehicles and scattered auto parts, a dozen sweaty people are working out in the dappled light of the thatched hut.
Around 60 members exercise there every week, many tattooed with crosses and broken hearts. At the MM Club, the equipment is made of scrap material, from engine cylinders and clutch plates to steel petanque balls. The benches are worm-eaten, dust hangs in the air, some of the weights are painted in the gay red, green, and yellow of Burkina Faso’s national colors.
“We collect what we need, have it weighed by an ironmonger, then take it to the welder,” said MM member Idrissa, who works nights as bouncer in a dance hall. After leaving his village at 10 and like thousands of others working in an opencast gold mine, Idrissa came to Ouagadougou looking for work before meeting the two gym founders.
Most club members work as security guards or bouncers and earn an average of 80,000 CFA francs (US$138) a month, a decent wage in the Sahel nation that is one of the poorest in the world. Zakaria left his village for the city three years ago in hope of helping his family. Until he met the bodybuilders, he lived on the streets, sleeping on cardboard and selling bread.
“Before I began developing my muscles, I couldn’t carry a bag of rice,” said the 18-year-old. Now he works days in a bus station, handling heavy goods, and at night as the watchman for a bar-restaurant.
“My fitness helped!”