Monthly Archives: February 2015

Today I Run

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“Janngo non?” – And tomorrow? “So Allah jabbi,” if God wills it.

6:17am the alarm goes off. In the hot season (most of the year) I’m already sweating through my nightgown, my sheet sticking to my shoulders. In the two months that it gets chilly at night, the coolness makes getting out of bed so difficult it is almost physically painful.

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Get up, head to the bathroom. This is the step that defines all mornings. It could be catastrophic, ending all intention of running in one simple squat. Or, it could be completely unremarkable. The amount of times in which this step of the process has ended my good intentions of exercising, however, makes it worth mentioning. My motivation is not the roadblock to my consistent exercise, but instead my diligence lies in the strength of my bowels on any particular day. My intentions are always good.

Once dressed in my pants and t-shirt, iPod clipped on, shoes on, I step out the door. During most months, the sun has already brightened the sky, my family members up for the Morning Prayer, washing hands, feet, and faces. In winter months, however, I shut off my light and walk outside to blackness so black it brings me to a halt every time. I tiptoe to the end of the cement of my doorstep, thinking about whether or not running when it’s this dark is really a good idea. As I shuffle out the door, not a soul awake except Baaba Mamoudou, my father’s brother and owner of the boutique, my eyes begin to adjust. The compound door creaks open with a low groan and I walk towards the main road.

Cement greets my feet. Right or left? Right leads to Diaba, ~3k away. Left leads to Thilambol (via Mbolo Birane)~4k away. Benefits of Diaba – not as far away, quicker run, nobody sees me, I greet Ada at his clay oven on the way back and get free warm bread. Benefits of Thilambol – when John Kelley lived there, we would meet up and run together, my tailor runs that direction some days and we meet up, running through Mbolo Birane makes the run more interesting/seems to go faster, if running with my tailor, we stop at his buddy’s place and lift weights on the way back. By the time my feet hit the pavement, however, I have long since decided.

Every day, the run is different, and yet looking back it all seems so similar. I have been running on the same stretch of road now for a year. Almost every single day. I know the trees by memory, I know which shrubs creep out into the charett (horse/donkey drawn carriage) path enough to where I have to duck, even when it’s dark, I know where the sand is deeper making running more difficult, I know which parts are rocky and uneven. I have stretching spots and push-up spots. Every end point, be it Diaba or Thilambol, has a distinct sign (literally), and I push myself until I reach it. The regulars in the garages know me and I know them by their silhouettes in the dark, pacing the roadway or sitting in the shade structures ominously.

I began running in my very first week at sight, to vehement protests from everyone. I had been running in Community-Based Training (CBT) in Nguekhoh before I had installed in site, and it was something I had wanted to continue. Running is something that is mine, my routine. Nobody can take it from me, except last nights’ bean leaf sauce. It is something that I can accomplish by myself, at my own pace, without the eyes of the world on me. The events of every single day are out of my control. Things happen without my knowing it or understanding why, plans get thrown by the wayside, meetings cancelled… nothing is for certain, except for my own ability to run. And of course, that is not certain either, but somehow it still seems more certain than most things because it is something that I own, something that I can control and commit to. Something that is mine, every day.

Jingling bells clink through the sound of my headphones and the reading of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, causing me to look up from the tire tread marks of the hard packed sand below my feet. A charett rides towards me; two donkeys strapped to the metal tusks, the wooden platform on wheels behind it. The sun had just begun to rise and orange streaks shot out of the sky like lightning frozen in space. The glow made the acacia trees stand ominously, darkened like ghosts. The dust being kicked up as the charett neared me was glowing with a more yellow/brown hue, making the charett itself seem like a black outline, backlit with dust. I moved up off the charett tracks and onto the pavement slightly elevated above, and the charett trotted by, man dressed all in black sitting on top. Black chayas (big flowy pants), black long shirt, and black meileuse turban wrapped around his head and neck, the tail of it flapping in the wind on his back. His face blended in with the cloth and even the whites of his eyes were dark from the sun. We exchanged quick greeting mumbles as we stared at each other while passing, both of us seeming like an oddity to the other.

I have now ran in almost every place I have spent any real amount of time in: Kolda, Kedougou, Dakar, Thies, Tivouaouan, Ndioum, etc.  I run to see where I am.  I run to know and understand the landscapes.  I run to better understand how to escape a dangerous situation if ever I were to need to.  Always know your exits.  Always know your surroundings.  Always know how to run away.  I feel safe when I run.  I always keep aware of all sides of me, constantly watching, only ever listening to one earbud of my audiobook.  Sometimes friends run with me.  Lately, Sharif, my tailor has been joining me and it makes me feel much safer as well as providing great conversation.

I cannot count the number of times I have been offered rides during runs.

I have two pairs of shoes that I have switched between after a year of running in one pair exclusively.

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Dakar-Fuuta

The Dakar-Fuuta Bus

Busses run from Dakar to Ourossogui along the Fuuta route all day every day.  Most leave their starting points at 4am

Busses run from Dakar to Ourossogui along the Fuuta route all day every day. Most leave their starting points at 4am

The alarm goes off, a chanting/singing noise. Abou rolls over, grabbing his phone and turning off the alarm. He checks the time – 4am. His brother has already left, his bus leaving Sedo around 3am. He is long gone. Abou turns on the light, his wife already awake from the alarm, she rolls over on her mattress on the floor, careful not to wake her week old baby. They must not sleep in the same bed together because she has so recently given birth. This is how it is. He steps outside to wash his face, hands, and feet before praying. Changing his pants and adding a light jacket, he gathers his overnight bag and cell phone, kissing his wife, who is now sitting up, back resting against the foot of the wooden bed frame, gently on her cheek.

Abou and his wife Mettu, dressed up on a Friday afternoon

Abou and his wife Mettu, dressed up on a Friday afternoon

Mettu and her baby at the naming ceremony one week after his birth.  This is their third boy

Mettu and her baby at the naming ceremony one week after his birth. This is their third boy

Mettu and her baby at the naming ceremony one week after his birth.  This is their third boy

Mettu and her baby at the naming ceremony one week after his birth. This is their third boy

Using his cell phone’s weak flashlight, he heads down the dark hallway and out the front door. He walks around the block to where his and his brother’s busses sit, now only his left glowering hauntingly in the dark of the early morning. A streetlight a few blocks away casts strange shadows through the electrical lines and tree branches. There is some movement around his bus as he walks towards it; his apprentices have beaten him to the bus. Front door open, they begin to turn on the bus, its ignition struggling as it chugs and spurts to life. Two people arrive from the shadows of the village, huddled in scarves, one carrying a baby, the other, their baggage. Quick greetings are exchanged and they board the bus, choosing seats close to the front, the one with the baby leans her head against the window and closes her eyes, the other fingers her prayer beads, mumbling silent prayers. 5:10am and no one else seems to be showing up, Abou boards the bus and starts shifting it into gear, the bus rumbling. The apprentices board the bus through the front and back door, taking seats wherever they feel. The bus rolls sleepily out of the narrow winding sand alleyways of the village and through the desert emptiness until they come to the main road. The bus slows to mount the concrete road, raised a bit from the sand. The bus leans dangerously to one side as the bus aims diagonally onto the road, no other cars around for miles. Abou shifts it into gear and off they race, towards Dakar… a whole day’s trip away.

The bus charges forward between villages, but most villages result in stops- people flagging down the bus. No way to know which extended arm wants to flag the bus to take all the way to Dakar or instead just to the next village, which results in many stops and the apprentices yelling out the doors to the waiting crowds, “Fo jemm?/To paa daa?” (Where are you going – Wolof/Pulaar) The waiting party proceeds to yell towards the bus as it may or may not proceed to a stop, sometimes speeding right back up again without even correctly hearing where the person was going. When a stop is made for someone possibly traveling farther than the next village over, the bus slows and the apprentices jump out of the front and back doors, jogging along side the bus towards the waiting party. They confirm where they are headed and whether or not they have baggage. Fares are shouted back and forth until one gives in and stops arguing. The luggage, if large, is then shuffled, hand-over-hand, to the apprentice waiting on top. It is settled in among other packages, rice sacks of dried fish, goats with their legs all lashed together, a sheep packed completely into a rice sack, braying depletedly.

Windshield of a mini car, not Abou's bus, but similar issue here

Windshield of a mini car, not Abou’s bus, but similar issue here

Inside the bus, there are curtains on almost every window, held by rope lining the windows. These curtains flow in the breeze as the bus flies along the bumpy road, one passenger ties the curtains into balls so as to stop them from batting him in the face as he leans his head against the window, trying to sleep. Posters of Chiernos (Imams – religious teachers of the Koraan) are taped up to the plastic barrier behind the driver’s seat and the beginning of passenger seating. Faces of large men with long chains around their necks – photos of other large men hanging on them, the posters bordered with decals, photoshopped with backgrounds of multiple famous mosques (all in different countries) or computerized beach scenes. Next to the posters hangs a plastic hand-woven loofah, a small bar of soap lodged inside – just in case the opportunity to bathe presents itself along the way. No one should ever be caught without their soap and loofah. On the stick shift hangs an old tiny beat-up baby shoe for good luck; wiggling every so slightly every time Abou shifts into second gear. The bus hits a pothole on the right side and the automatic door engages- just one half – opening as if triggered. The apprentice standing in the doorway shoves it closed again, but instead triggers the other half door which then springs to life, almost smacking him in the face. The bus tilts back the other way and that door too then slams back into place. Through the ‘automatic’ doors, you can just barely see the rear-view mirror, which is lashed onto it’s post with red twine, facing exactly the opposite direction. But it’s on, at least. There is no real need for that mirror, however, for that is why Abou has so many apprentices – standing in the doorways, ready with the tap of their silver ring against the metal siding and shouts of ‘Hey! Eh! Eh!’ to communicate when to stop or go to Abou. The front window just barely being held together by clear packaging tape. A sound, which had been first interpreted as electronic squeaking or creaking of the structure or gears of the bus itself has been emerging instead of from below the bus, but from above the heads of the passengers. 4 crates, with small holes along the sides sit on the left luggage rack inside the bus. The movement inside them becomes evident, the noise not letting up when the bus stops – birds! The sound of their chirping sounding astoundingly similar to the electronic sound emitted underground of the San Francisco cable car. Prayer beads and a pair of sunglasses dangle from inside the central rear view mirror – this one quite functional.

Stop in Oro Fonde for the morning prayer. Stop in Aire Lao for lunch. Pulling into the gas station, Abou rolls slowly waiting for the worker to signal to him which station is functional. The worker doesn’t gesture right or left because, as he soon finds out, the electricity is out. The worker goes inside, picks up a yellow oil bidon and comes out, grabbing a half cut off 1.5 liter soda bottle with a piece of hose attached and walks towards the bus. Never turning off the engine, the oil is emptied into the tank, money exchanged, and the bus is back on the road. Stop in Richard Toll for the afternoon prayer. Arrive to Dakar around sunset, just in time for the sunset prayer. Dakar, being so large, people are let off long before the garage, leaving only a few left in the empty seats upon arrival to the garage. The apprentices unload what’s left of the baggage and people, sweeping out the trash on the floor. The bus, now devoid of people, looks like a bomb has gone off in it – trash strewn all about the floor, a layer of dirt, grime, grease, and plastic water sachets stuck to the ground amidst mandarin peels, banana peels – already black, a child’s shoe left behind, half a bag of peanuts spilling on the floor, sticky plastic bags that had held popsicles, etc. The apprentices sweep what they can, the layer of grime left to collect whatever passes over them.

Dashboard of a car

Dashboard of a car

Abou picks a few seats, sprawls across them, and takes a nap. The apprentices all do the same; the hustle and bustle of the garage not phasing them in the slightest. Dinner, hanging out, catching up with friends, drinking ataaya commence at a nearby house – relatives of Abou. They stay up late into the night, drinking shot glass after shot glass of ataaya, people coming and going. After a few hours of sleep, 4am alarm goes off and Abou and his crew shuffle through the streetlight glow back to the bus in the outskirts of the garage. Dakar, surprisingly busy at all hours, is alive, movement in the darkness resembles ghostly dream creatures sneaking around quietly behind walls, around steel canisters, walking in and out of doorways, shrouded in shadows.

People wait under the huge cement shade structure on the bench aligned between two bus spaces. Money is exchanged, tickets are ripped off, change exchanged, and a percentage haggled and given to the garage workers. Travel in Senegal is mostly about the liquidity of money. Money comes from the passengers, is then passed to the garage attendants, some given to each apprentice, filling up the gas tank a few liters at a time, some given to beggars and Talibe boys (young boys who study the Koraan and beg as a form of humility) and some used to buy food and water along the way. At the end of the day, not much money is made by anyone, but everyone involved in the process gets a share.

Leaving the garage, the next bus rolls into place

Leaving the garage, the next bus rolls into place

The bus takes off again, this time not entirely full, but baggage piled on top as high as the bus is tall. The 4 apprentices now all take up the entire front row, one of them sleeping across two seats, whole body swaddled in his thick coat. They roll through the darkness on their way back up to the Fuuta – back to Sedo, back to his wife, back to his newborn child, back to his other two sons, all just a day’s drive away, and yet on the other side of the country.

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Abou and I at the naming ceremony of his newborn son. His village only speaks Wolof so it sucks going there... Good thing he's worth visiting

Abou and I at the naming ceremony of his newborn son. His village only speaks Wolof so it sucks going there… Good thing he’s worth visiting