Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mizungo Runner

Evan gave me a training schedule before I left which included quite a bit of running and a smattering of yoga. I have been really trying to keep my coach happy (I was once his top student) and keep my mental health, so I have been running. If you are going to run in Africa, Rwanda is the place to run. You have high altitude (4900 ft. where I am) and it is safe. It is so safe it is crazy. According to my taxi driver Jean Baptiste, it is so safe because President Kigame trained the police "very strictly" so if "you murder you will be murdered on the spot and if you rob, you will be in jail for 20 years". I am not sure this is all factual, but it is ridiculous how safe this place is. Much safer than Southeast DC for sure.

So I leave my Solace Guest house (that the government is generously spending $30/night to house me in…more on this later) and run on the washerboard dirt road west as the sun sets. Churches line much of the run and I run to the soundtrack of their choirs practicing. School is just getting out and hundreds of little hands reach out for high fives shouting "Mizungo! Mizungo!" (which means "whitey") as I run by. I feel like a real life rock star. I am the talk of the town. the queen of the village. It is awesome even though most of the adults on the sidelines are telling me to "try harder" and "run faster". Whatev…I am running so that is something.

I rarely run alone. I typically pick up a pack of 5 or so 5-11 year old boys and girls who want to show me that they are faster than me. They often are, but only because they run for 200 meters and then drop out. I encourage them to continue running "diex minute plus?" most the time they don't know what I am saying because my French is super embarrassing for having dated a Frenchman for 18 months. Nonetheless, the hand gestures get them to follow. They drop out after about 3 minutes, huffing and puffing. I am ashamed to admit that I get a sense of satisfaction from that. Tonight a group of boys stayed with me for 5 minutes. One guy was really panting. I wanted him to stop, but the peer pressure of his friends wouldn't let him. If he doesn't have asthma, he will sleep like a baby tonight. Please don't have asthma , kid. I think there are about 30 Rwandan mothers who will thank me for running; their kids will sleep a hard tonight.

As I ran through a part of the "neighborhood" that had lots of shops and bars, one little girl about four years old--"little" being the operative word, she was about 3 ft tall max--ran with me for about 5 minutes. the people out in the streets cheered for her. There is part of me that wonders if my running does anything to challenge some of the gender norms here? I get the feeling that little girls aren't going on jogs very often. Though I will say that I do see grown women running periodically, but not nearly as much as men.

While the sun set and the lights flickered on tonight, I started thinking about how different Rwanda is. NO one really harasses me. They say stuff in KweRwandan that I am sure I should be grateful I don't understand, but that is the extent of it.

returning home, I passed a kid who had run with me for a couple of minutes and dropped out. He decided to run a bit more and stuck his hand out for a high five. I obliged and he grabbed my hand and asked me "please give me money?!" it was kinda frustrating. Earlier, as the sun was setting, he told me "good morning ." I am sure that this boy knows 10 phrases in English, and one of them is "please give me money." If you haven't been in this part of the world much, you may not appreciate how disabling this mentality is. Thinking that begging is okay is the gateway drug that eventually leads to human trafficking, child prostitution, parents dismembering or inflicting other physical handicaps on their children, etc.

I shake off the frustration when my last and largest group of mizungo runners joins me. About ten 8-10 year old boys race me. We are running up hill, a steep hill at the end of my run at 4900 ft. I kick it because I don't want them to win, and there seems to be no way I can win. The pied piper can't fall behind her flock. I hit anaerobic threshold and loved every minute of it. The boys giggled the whole way. So did I.

1 comment:

KamilahNYC said...

You are a rock star! I would high five you and ask you for money! Seriously though, it is sad that that mentality is so prevalent.