I am writing my blog from Bintou’s Paradise Lodge in Bansang. I’m up on the second floor balcony overlooking the Gambia River. To my right, I can see the ferry go back and forth. It is not a motor driven ferry but rather, it relies on manpower to get across. There’s a large steel cable and at least four men use large hooks to pull the boat across. They haul large delivery trucks and cars across. It sure is something you don’t see very often.
I am happy to report that my total so far (drum roll :) is: 126 kilometres! Less than 300 kilometres to go!
Day 1 to 5
The weather is certainly hot and humid! Especially in the east end of the country where I started my run on Sunday on the Gambia-Senegal border.
Before I give a brief summary of each day, I’ll explain my day to day preparation ritual:
The night before, I make sure I have enough water. I purchase my water in bottles as I can’t drink the local unpurified water (not even to brush my teeth). A 1,5 litre bottle of water costs 25 Dalasis each. About 60 cents Canadian.
I prepare two 1 litre bottles of electrolyte drink in platic drinking jugs. I get my clothes ready and have an extra pair of shoes and socks on hand in case I need them. For all my runs, I’ve been using the same pair of shoes. I wash them with Tide liquid packs that I brought with me.
For breakfast, I managed to find some instant oatmeal at a store in Banjul; Maple and brown sugar flavor. I mix it with room temperature water and eat that. I drink plenty of liquids while I wait for the guys on the team to come pick me up. Sometimes I have to wait a bit longer for them. :)
In the car, I will sometimes munch on part of a piece of Gambian bread (looks like a small baguette – very good bread). Spider has premixed some Gambian peanut butter (peanuts or ground nuts as they are called here, are grown throughout the country) and Gambian honey. The honey has a smokey/ molasses taste to it. It is good.
I always carry my cameras with me; digital SLR, rugged point and shoot and GoPro Hi Definition video camera. Pa has been taking some great footage of me running. It is important to me that I document as much as I can. As a photographer, I see things along the way that I’d like to stop and photograph but I can’t photograph it all. The runner part of me is saying, keep going.
This is where it all begins. Months of training and preparation all comes down to this day. I’m excited! Our home base is in Basse. We have to travel just over 50 kilometres on a badly maintained red dirt road. There are holes everywhere and Pa is driving around them trying to avoid as many as possible.
We arrive at a remote village to pick some supplies. We continue driving toward the Senegal border along farm fields.
We are at the starting point; a decaying concrete marker that has no marking whatsoever.
Time to run. It is just past 8 am. Almamo, who was a peer health educator and coordinator is accompanying us. He is always smiling and cracking jokes. All five of us run together for the first kilometre.
After 2 kms, Pa runs back to get the support vehicle; a white Nissan Patrol. Spider and Yankuba continue running with me.
The highlight of the day is arriving at a school and having the kids run out to come and see us. It was great to interact with them. I take out my camera and start taking photos of them and showing them the result on the screen. They sure got a kick out of that! They all want to be in the photos. I meet the teacher and give him some pencils and a bag of candy for the kids. He thanks me and then I continue with the run.
Yankuba and I run together to finish day one at 26 kilometres. What a feeling!! It is a hot day, humid but a light breeze in most areas makes it bearable. At times, the wind was so hot that it felt like a hairblower on hi heat.
Back on the dirt road, bright and early. It’s cooler, at least in the morning, than it was the day before. Starting ealier is definitely better.
Along the way I wave and say hello to the people who stop and stare at this “toubab” (white person) running. Here and there I hand out candy to the kids.
Almamou runs from kilometre 15 with me. We have good conversation. He tells me about his experience being a peer health educator and coordinator. After 6 kms, he calls it a day.
By the end of the run, temperatures have warmed up considerably. Yankuba, Spider and I are happy to be done for the day. 25 kms total for the day. 51 kms overall. We reach the paved intersection in Basse. No more dirt roads for the rest of the run.
I feel a small cold coming on (in this heat???!!!).
In honor of the fallen RCMP officers, we wear red on our run today. We stop along the way and take a few moments in silence in their honor and for their families.
A moment of silence for the fallen RCMP officiers.
We don’t have far to go from where I’ve been staying for the past few day, the SOS Children’s Village (an orphanage). I’m settled in a separate little house with air conditioning (yes!) but the power is not turned on all day Darn!).
Spider, Yankuba and myself run through Basse. Basse is the largest city in the Gambia. We run through streets lined with shops and homes. Kids are walking to school. There are people on bicycles, on a donkey pulled cart, motorcycles, cars, on horseback and whatever means of travel at their disposal. There are cows walking the streets, goats , stray dogs and donkeys. I’ve never seen trucks and vans loaded up so high with whatever needs to be transported. One wrong turn and the whole vehicle could fall flat on its side.
In the next town, I give out candies (or “mintees” as they are known here) to the kids. Some are playing with used bicycle tires.
The highlight of the day is a little boy of around 8 or 9. Upon seeing us, he decides to run along on the dirt road parallel to us, in his bare feet! Yankuba yells at him to join us on the paved road but he stays. I get off the paved road and join the boy. He is running fast and we stay with him. He doesn’t speak. He just runs. I look at him and smile. How great is this? I tell Yankuba that we’ll stop at the next kilometre or until he decides to stop. Eventually, after almost 1 kilometre, he stops. I give him three “mintees” and a bag of water (in addition to plastic water bottles, water is sold in small bags here).
I pack all my things as I won’t be staying in Basse after today’s run. We drive to the school crossing sign where we had stopped on day 3.
It is very hot and humid; the worse it has been so far. Temperature with humidity is in the high 40’s degrees celcius.
Poor Yankuba has a toothache. He stays in the car. Spider runs with me for several kilometres and I run the rest solo for the first time since I started the run. The guys don’t have to run with me but have taken upon themselves to run as much as they each can. Admirable, especially since they have all admitted to not have trained at all or very little.
Along the way, a woman decides to run as I’m coming along about 50 metres behind her. I catch up and run with her. After she stops, I thank her. Spider gives her some water and off I go on the road again.
I try to get my run in as fast as possible so we can get Yankuba to the hospital (they have dentists there).
At the hospital dentist, we are allowed in the room with the patient. I see the dentist insert the needle of anesthesia and press the contents in quickly. He is certainly not gentle. To my surprise he gets to work right away; he doesn’t have time to let the effects kick in I suppose. Yankuba is in major pain and is yelling, and at one point, he grabs the dentist’s hand to stop him. Finally, the dentist gives him one more shot and decides to wait 10-15 minutes to allow for the area to “freeze”. There’s no dental hygienist with a suctioning device. You have to spit in a bucket by the chair. A bucket that already has about an inch think of… How hygienic is that?
When the dentist comes back to finish the job, Pa decides to get up and leave the room. I do not need any convincing and I leave with him. When we return 15 minutes later, the dentist pulled out 2 teeth. Yankuba had an absess.
While all this was happening, Spider was elsewhere in the hospital getting treated for pain on his upper leg.
Both Spider and Yankuba are given prescriptions and so we drive to the nearest pharmacy. We arrive and I look at the place and exclaim “That’s not a pharmacy?!?!?”. But it was. And the guys got their pills.
For the next three nights, I’m staying at Bintou’s Paradise Lodge in Bansang.
I wake up early and stand outside to wait for the guys. The owner of the place follows me out and we chat. He calls me Theo because, for him, it’s easier to remember than Terry. He speaks perfect French. He is Gambian-born but has spent over 30 years in Paris and still has a house there. His four children still live there.
Pa Modou is joining me on the run today. Before I go into the rest of my story, I must provide some context:
When Erin, the founder and first runner of Love4Gambia was running, she would talk to the guys as she ran. Certainly not something they are used to and/or enjoy doing. One day, Erin pointed out some homes and asked Kebba about why people would live in such poor conditions. Kebba, too tired to speak, just responded with one word; “Poverty!”. The guys still laugh about it today.
On today’s run, as I am chatting away, Pa says “I feel like responding “Poverty!”. We laugh. And then I say, “That bad eh?”. Suffice it to say, it didn’t stop me from talking. On his last kilometre of the day, I let him listen to his music.
Due to a bit of rain overnight, the air is less humid in the morning. The frogs can be heard loud and clear as areas that were dry the day before are now filled with water. They certainly don’t sound like our Canadian frogs. The sound is different and much much louder.
Today’s total is 25 kilometres and the total 126.
I’m so pleased with how the first week has gone. I hope it will continue!
Please note that donations are still accepted. I’m seeing first hand where the money is going and I can tell you that your donation is going to a very worthy cause!
Thank you for reading! (I am having difficulty posting images here, if you have a Facebook account, please have a look at the photos there.)