Since getting to the lodge, I’ve managed to go running a few times most weeks. If I’m honest the limiting factor is being willing to wake up before breakfast to do it.
Running here makes me imagine myself a character from Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, but rather than being known by a legendary nickname like “Caballo Blanco,” I’m known as “Mzungu,” or “Big Man.” The latter has a bit of a condescending vibe akin to “champ” or “chief.”
The road we run is extremely rocky in parts, and so steep in places that you might as well walk. While there are two clear tire tracks on the road, the grass between and on either side is well over my head. It makes me acutely aware how impressive it is that our ancestors weren’t all picked off by lions, leopards, and hyenas.
The people vary in their response to runners. They’re generally more respectful to men; Adam and I might elicit a chuckle, but the girls have unquestionably been mocked in Bemba by groups of women walking on the road. There are generally four responses:
1) Stupid mzungus…
2) What are you running from? Are you hurt? Are you being chased by something or someone? Should I be running too?
3) You’re lost, you missed the trail to the mzungu lodge (see #1)
4) Will you be my wife? (only the female team members have been graced with this response)
Several times women on the road have stepped in front of me at a fork in the road and angrily insisted I was about to go the wrong way and needed to turn in order to get back to the lodge. I insisted I knew where I was going and was eventually permitted to continue.
The route I’ve been taking lately takes me by the school and across the soccer field (an overgrown clearing which had two sticks staked in the ground). Children have a habit of waiting in the school or in the grass until I pass, and then chase me across the field. They’re all friendly and want to know what I’m doing, but its become routine enough that they seem to know when to expect me.
In spite of all the issues, and the fact that we really can’t run all that far here, there is something a bit poetic about running where our ancestors first learned to run upright. If nothing else I’ll have improved my ability to attack hills for my next race!