For those of you who are wondering, yes, I am still running. Not as often as I would like, but still in the habit. Ever since my first experiment with a 10-k race in Austin for the Austin American Statesman in 2007, (where I was joined by 30,000 other runners) I have considered running an integral part of my life. If I don't run, I don't feel like myself. It helps me exercise, stay fit, and I work out all sorts of problems by running and thinking about things. It's a way to clear my head and let off some stress. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to find balance in their life. When I first started running, I could not run to the end of my street, so don't have to have any experience to run. I started out slow and I'm still not a fast runner, but I have built up a lot of endurance and stamina over the past two and a half years. If you want a new challenge--try running.
There is a Monday running group called the "Hash House Harriers" and about 50-60 people (both Ex-pats and Sierra Leoneans) run together each week. They have silly traditions after the run and they even drink beer when they get back (which I was initially appalled at but soon got the hang of ....). We set trails, we arrange special runs on the weekends, and do other social activities. It's a great group of people. After 10 runs, you get a Hash name. The group chooses for you. I am now officially called "Pink Lady" and it's official because the group voted on my name and then poured beer all over me. Not what I would have liked as an official ceremony, but it's tradition. A couple of weeks ago, it was my turn to set a trail. We choose a location, mark the trail with shredded paper and the next day the whole group goes on the run by following the paper. I hope you can follow this! Anyway as I was setting the trail with two other guys, I was initiated into the group of people I call "real runners." By this I mean that I got hurt. A real runner is dedicated, trains hard, and eventually gets hurt. I had gone two plus years without so much as an injury. I had been lucky, but that Saturday my luck ran out. I was running down a steep hill that was covered in lava rocks. I set my foot down in the wrong place and as soon as I tried to move it to take the next step, my foot jammed in the rocks and I went down like a ton of bricks. Falling is strange; it's in s-l-o-w motion and you can do nothing to stop it even though you can see the fall coming for seconds that feel like minutes. You know it's going to hurt and there is not a damrn thing you can do to avoid it. I fell on my left arm and hand. I fell hard enough to know I should try and keep myself from crying in front of the guys. Luckily, they were far ahead of me and didn't actually witness the fall, or they probably would have died laughing. So, there I was smashed on the rocks and rolling around trying to stop the motion of hitting any more of my soft body parts on the hard rocks. My shoulder and hand got the worst of it. Both my knees were cut and bleeding but that sting had not hit me yet. I got up as quickly as I could, brushed off the dirt and my bruised ego and scampered down to join the guys. As soon as they saw me, they were worried. Because we were by the ocean, they took me right in the water and washed off the blood. It was then that I noticed that my left hand had a bruise the size of a golf ball. Oh oh, that didn't look good. There was no ice near by (only lots of bright sunshine) so I toughed it out and contined to set the trail. My hand was throbbing but I tried to ignore it since there was nothing I could do. I did run the trail the next day with the group, but my heart was really not in it. I have to tell you that the bruises on my arms lasted a full two weeks. If anyone tried to give me a hug and happened to touch my arms; wow, pure pain. My knees were scabbed over and ugly for the same two weeks, which is particularly bad when you wear dresses to work a lot. But the worst part was the golf ball sized-bruise on my left hand. The bump finally went away but in it's place was a black bruise that made me look like an i.v. drug or heroin user. It was so painful that even typing the first week was difficult. Did I get an x-ray? No. Even if I had, the clinics here probably would not have read the x-ray correctly. I just took ibuprofen a couple of times and waited it out. I still have slight pain in that hand and I think I probably broke a small bone. Welcome to the world of "real runners."
Tonight I went for a typical Sunday run at the beach. It was about 5:00 pm and it had finally stopped raining--which it had been doing for the past two days, since it's rainy season now. I arrived at the beach to park my car and the very first thing that happened, irritate me. Welcome to Sierra Leone--third world country. I was still inside the car, turning off the radio, taking off my jewelry (no need to draw any attention to yourself here), and hiding my purse in the back seat. I looked out my drivers window and there was the source of my irritation. An African mom was standing there with her three little children and one infant tied to her back in the traditional African way. I had not even gotten out of my truck and I was already being accosted by people begging for money. People beg for money all the time here. If you give money to everyone, you will have no money left for yourself. I don't mind giving sometimes, but today I just wanted to enjoy my time alone on the beach and not be confronted by the needy women who seemed to exploit her children for the soul purpose of playing on my sympathy. How could I not give her something? I would have to answer to God and her children; not to mention that I could not even exit my car with her standing there. I reached into my purse and gave her some money and wished for the 100th time that the government of this country would do something more to help it's people so mothers with lots of children can find a decent way to earn money besides preying on white people who run on a Sunday.
Running here in Sierra Leone is much different than running in the U.S. Try to imagine that you are a white person and almost everyone around you is black. You might say you 'stand out.' When I run, people notice me; and it's not for my quick speed. Add to that, the fact that most black people here do not run; they have far too many other back-breaking things to do with their bodies to incorporate running into their routine. So a person who runs is is already somewhat of an oddity. Someone running for fun? What in the world for? So here is me running along the beach. Some of the young black men make comments when I run past....comments like "thanks." I wonder what that means. Does it mean they are thanking me for being cute as I run past? I hope so. Does it mean thanks for saving us from boredom? Probably more likely. Some people say "run faster." To those people I want to turn around and say, "why don't you try running and see how fast you go!" Some people say "white man" or "white woman" (like they can't tell the difference?) and I guess I'm glad at least they know their colors. In Austin, no one would call out the color of my skin as I ran past.
As I drove home, I saw a little girl about two or three years old standing very near the road as cars whizzed past about 30 miles per hour. Not a parent or adult or even another child was anywhere nearby. I used to be surprised by such a sight, but not anymore. Children are often left alone here--its common--but it still upset me that a child that small had no one at that moment to care for her. Next I saw a couple of starving dogs searching endlessly for food. You can see the ribs of the dogs, the skin diseases eating away their furry coats, and the fleas that drive them crazy enough to scratch themselves even in the middle of the road. I have written about starving dogs before, but I never get used to it. The dogs in the U.S. are so pampered. Here we are sometimes glad when a dog dies because it does not have to suffer anymore.
The last stop of my running Sunday was buying bread from a small stand on the side of the road from Abu and his wife Awa. I have been getting bread from them for a couple of months now. They always smile and greet me like a friend and I like ending my day seeing then and having fresh bread for dinner. There are bright spots here in Sierra Leone, you just have to look for them. I will pray for all the people who don't have bread tonight, for all the dogs who don't have food and I hope that the money I gave that woman and her children will help feed them dinner. When you look at the food on your dinner table tonight, be thankful that you have enough to eat. Many people in the world do not. I see it every day here.