I hate running. Not because its that hard, or because it makes me sweat, or because I might mess up my hair. I hate running for the same reason I hated math in high school: its boring. But since I made the ridiculous decision to participate in a half-marathon later this month, I’ve discovered that running isn’t as boring in Africa as it was in Indiana.
Running in Indiana goes kind of like this: corn, corn, soybeans, and oh, more corn!
Running in Dar is a bit different.
There’s lots of dust, which means, unless you run with sunglasses, you’re constantly squinting.
There are people everywhere. Running in a straight line is impossible. If you’re not dodging people, you’re jumping out of the way of dala dalas careening down the road, bajajis cutting in and out of traffic at the most inopportune times, and piki pikis (motorcycles) driving down the “sidewalk.”
If you’re feeling a bit low on sugar, that’s not a problem, as there are fruit stands every few kilometers with loads of fresh fruit. There’s plenty of bottled water for sale along the road as well, in case the hot sun starts getting to you.
Animals aren’t fenced anywhere. At any given moment, you may have to avoid running into stray dogs, cats, cows, goats, or chickens that just happen to be crossing the road for no particular reason.
You will never be at a lack for encouragement to keep running, with kids mocking your stride, drivers giving you the thumbs up, and guys either catcalling or saying “good job, good job!”
In the case that your iPod dies, there is music exploding from every little corner shop in all varieties, from the ever-popular Celine Dion to Justin Bieber and traditional African rhythms.
If you are running on a dirt road, the struggle gets real as you are forced to navigate rocks, ditches, puddles the size of Lake Victoria, and cow dung. The paved roads aren’t much better, as flooding has caused the road to be washed out into the deep ditches on the side of the road in numerous places. And of course, the cows don’t care if its paved or not!
The scenery, however, is probably the most interesting. From faded walls topped with broken glass, freshly whitewashed stone with multiple lines of electric wire, to dilapidated wooden shacks and painted shipping containers, the architecture varies nearly as much as the vegetation. Depending on your run, you might see the gorgeous turquoise waters and white sands of the Indian Ocean, tall grass waving in the breeze, the trash-lined muddy river running beneath the bridge, or the red dirt of the quarry. Bathing suits, sports shorts, football jerseys, and shoes all hang from trees alluring you to stop and shop, while delicious samosas fry with tempting aromas nearby. Vehicles drive by with odd slogans like “Face differ from mirror,” “Jesus the ultimate insurance,” “Get rich or die trying,” “Facebook,” or “Born City.”
Bicycles and motorcycles drive by piled high with all manner of craziness–mattresses, chickens, goats, eggs, people, bread, water cartons, etc. Just this week, I saw a bicycle with so many water cartons somehow balanced on it, that the contraption took up an entire lane of the road and I thought it was a bajaji until I passed it, and saw the rider dwarfed between the two piles of containers (they were stacked on the front too). Sometimes it would be worth carrying my camera while running…
And every once in awhile, you see another white person, which of course requires the obligatory, shocked, “mzungu!”
Running 7 miles in Dar may be a dirtier and sweatier adventure than in Indiana, but it is also just that, an adventure. Every time.