Today I Run


“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.


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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