Second to Last Day! It is all ending too fast!

Today was Day 16. That means we had to run from Brikama to Serekunda, and that tomorrow we will finish our run on the Atlantic Ocean in Banjul. The time has finally come!

We started out today refreshed and ready to go after spending the night in the semi-luxurious hotel of Leybato. Luxurious because they have mosquito nets, 24 hours electricity, reliable running water, and air conditioning. In summary, we all slept well and felt prepared to conquer the final two days.

The whole crew at the start to day 16 (police escort included)

The whole crew at the start to day 16 (police escort included)

Today was our first day of running through the city; for most of the run we were going through bustling markets and heavy (unpredictable) African traffic. There are no sidewalks to run on here (most shops start right off the street), and cars (and donkey carts, bicycles, and trucks) are constantly pulling on and off the road with little regard for pedestrians, so we had a police escort for the entire run today. I was truly grateful for the police officer on the motorcycle that drove ahead of us for the entire 22km and made sure cars passed safely around us. Not only did this keep us all safe, but it also brought attention to the run.

We started out in the busy town of Brikama, with the police escort blaring his siren ahead of us and the team blasting the horn on the African jeep chalet for us. This was another goose bumps moment. We all have so many kilometers behind us, and they have led us to these final two days, where we have finally showed up to the busy part of The Gambia. It is still hard for me to process that we are physically here.

Kebba and I running with the police escort

Kebba and I running with the police escort


Rita and Spider running in support of Love4gambia

Rita and Spider running in support of Love4gambia

We start out with our normal routine, running (approximately) 2km and then grabbing a quick drink. Lots of people wave, shout, or look questioningly at us as we go by. Some people seem unimpressed and other seem to get into it, running with us for a bit, clapping, or cheering “go! go!”. The running feels great.

Such a strong group to run with - not alone, but as a team

Such a strong group to run with – not alone, but as a team

Soon enough, we pass the exit for the airport, which means we are about half way done. My knee/hamstring has been aching slightly over the past couple of days. At one of the water stops, Kebba has to “water the plants” so I walk ahead to keep moving. Then, as soon as we start us again, the pain starts a lot worse than it has been yet. It feels like a cramp in the tendon behind my knee and hurts to open up my stride. It really hurts, but I know that it isn’t even close to enough to stop me from running the set distance for the day.

I distract myself by focusing on the markets and people we are passing – goat farms, used car parts stores, local fast food restaurants, welding shops, mango vendors, police check points. I focus on soaking up the experience of being able to run down the main highway in Africa with a police escort- I don’t think there could be a better way to do sight-seeing across a country. I focus on the good times we have had as a team, and remember the jokes. I look back and see the team running behind me and Kebba running at my side.

It all helps a lot, but the knee still hurts… I find that it especially hurts after a water stop, and that getting back into a rhythm is the hardest part. I try to spread out the water breaks as much as possible and this helps a lot. I take some pain killers and this also helps a lot. Before I know it, Kebba tells me “500 meters left”. Even though my knee still hurts I say, “That isn’t enough”. It can’t be over already. Sure enough, we are at the intersection known as “Westfield” where we have planned to start tomomrrows run. Everyone gives each other hearty hugs. It feels surreal to be at this point. We finish off the day singing our Love4Gambia theme song “Running down the road again” composed by Steve. We are all clapping and singing in the middle of the busy intersection, all immersed in the team spirit and feeling of accomplishment that we do not even notice the groups of people and cars passing all around us.

I must say that, despite the knee hurting today, it was a perfect day. I know tomorrow will be an emotional one, but today was still a happy and celebratory run, knowing that we still have 14 more kilometers to go tomorrow. Those are going to be the happiest and hardest 14 kilometers of my life. So, tomorrow’s the day, by this time tomorrow I will have ran across a country all in support of peer health education programs in The Gambia. Just 14 km…just 14km…just 14km.

Much Love,

Jennifer and the Love4Gambia team


ALSO, IF YOU ARE IN HALIFAX AND WOULD LIKE TO CELEBRATE THE LOVE4GAMBIA FINISH PLEASE READ THE MESSAGE ABOUT THE SPECIAL EVENT ON JULY4th IN POINT PLEASANT PARK

“Please join Nova Scotia-Gambia Association for a 5km friendship run to celebrate Jennifer Pasiciel and Team Love4Gambia’s monumental accomplishment of reaching their destination, the Atlantic Ocean in Banjul, after running 427km clear across the nation of The Gambia.

We will be gathering on Thursday, July 4 @ 6:00pm at Point Pleasant Park, meeting at the lower entrance to the park. Jennifer and team are due to reach Banjul late morning, July 4.

If you have Team Love4Gambia gear from a Blue Nose race, please wear it! You could also red, blue or green, the colours of the Gambia flag.

This is a by-donation fun, untimed 5km following an out-and-back route in support of NSGA’s Love4Gambia campaign. There will be water at the finish. Two washrooms are available at the start and there are two on the route.

Please contact Love4Gambia found Erin Poirier, erin.poirier@novascotiagambia.ca for more information.”

Day 2.. We have arrived in Basse!

This is the blog from yesterdays run that we were unable to complete on account of the poor internet connection. Blog about completing Km 50-75 today will be up soon!

Two days, 51 kilometers completed. We have all made it, but the kilometers are definitely not getting any easier as we continue down the long, hot, and dusty road. But, we shall continue; one day, one kilometer, and one step at a time until we reach our goal.

The team ready to begin Day 2!

The team ready to begin Day 2!

A long and hot day 2

A long and hot day 2

Today I woke up a bit sore and heat exhausted from day one, but still in good spirits and ready to conquer day two. I started out running with Cielianna and Pa. Right away, a side cramp steps in as if I had never stopped running from yesterday. So this is how its going to be today, I think (I’m still working on balancing drinking enough water (you can never drink enough water here) to stay hydrated, but not too much so that I cramp up. Not to mention trying to find some food that I am used to that is somewhat nutritious – I had some greasy fries with mayonnaise and coleslaw for dinner; its not the easiest place to be a vegetarian). I focus on my breathing and count my steps, the cramp eases. Then, as if I need another obstacle to deal with, my nose starts bleeding about 4km in. The team passes me some tissue, I stuff some up my nose (sorry for the graphic image) and continue running. Luckily, this does the trick and about 6km into the run I am cramp and nosebleed free. Phew – now I just need to keep my head down, my pace easy, and get through the rest of the day.

About 12 km in I am told that we are approaching another school in which the NSGA implements its peer-health education programs. A small group from the school had walked a distance to meet us on the main road on a Sunday to sing and cheer us on. Once again, this spirit from the Gambian community was amazing, and helped to inspire me and the entire team to continue our journey. After saying many thank-yous and shaking many hands, we continue. However, this time we have an addition to our team; a 15-year-old peer health educator named Abdoulie Baleeh from Kundank School had decided to continue running with us – and not just for a kilometer or two, but for the rest of the first part of the day. Not only that, he was also only wearing socks with sandals and blue jeans in 40-degree Celsius weather. He said that he really liked the NSGA peer-health programs and that they were really important to him and his school, and this is why he wanted to run with us. Pretty inspiring and motivating words to hear right when you need them.

Pa, Abdoulie, and I getting it done one step at a time.  All for peer-health education in The Gambia

Pa, Abdoulie, and I getting it done one step at a time. All for peer-health education in The Gambia

Finally, after many Gatorade and ‘cool down’ breaks, we make it to the 20km mark, which means it is time to rest. This is becoming the favorite part of the day. I am so hot when we first sop, I feel as if we may never cool down. Slowly but surely my heart rate lowers, I can feel a bit of a breeze, and I begin to relax. We are all a lot less talkative at the start of the break today than we were yesterday – the exhaustion from the travel, running, and heat is increasing. However, slowly, everyone returns back to life, begins making jokes, and I know it is time to grudgingly take a gel and finish off the last five kilometers for the day.

Kebba always has the strength to yell BANJUL CALLING!

Kebba always has the strength to yell BANJUL CALLING!

I really hope I have been smart about my Gatorade/gel/water intake and that the same post-rest cramps from yesterday do not begin again. Being cautious, I start out with some drills for the first half-kilometer to ease my body (mostly stomach) back into running. I probably look like a crazy “touhbob” to the locals working in the field, staring questioningly at me. The drills really make me feel better and ready to conquer the final leg. I continue and feel much better, stopping less, and feeling (relative to the morning) strong. But, when we reach 25km, I am more than happy to stop and call it a day. Another day! It was slow, but we got through it and we are already on the outskirts of Basse. Tomorrow is going to be a crazy start – with the school in Basse, through town, and onward to Bansang. As Keba would yell when we pass people on the side of the road in an extremely loud voice – BANJUL CALLING!! (Fist pump encouraged ☺)

- Jennifer

Also, I would like to recognize and dedicate the run today to Mizuno Canada, who has generously donated lightweight clothing and shoes to me and the team. Although I did not have much of a chance to train in the lightweight clothing in Canada on account of the never-ending winter, it is so amazing to have it while in 40+ degrees Celsius weather. Thanks Mizuno!

5 Quotes to Challenge You

Quick Blog Post Today:  Thought I’d share some really moving and inspirational quotes that challenge me to try harder, do more, etc.  Hope they do the same for you!

Number 1:

“Everyone agrees that primary education is the salvation of struggling societies – that every additional year of schooling – beyond providing the glorious wellspring of knowledge – brings with it the best chance to defeat poverty, the best chance for better parenting, better health, better nutrition, great opportunity, and a direct line to economic growth”

-Stephen Lewis

Number 2:

“No reform is possible unless some of the educated and the rich voluntarily accept the status of the poor, travel third, refuse to enjoy the amenities denied to the poor, and instead of taking avoidable hardships, discourtesies, and injustices as a matter of course, fight for their removal”

-Gandhi

Number 3:

“I have seen time and again that if you stay with a challenge, if you are convinced that you are right to do so, and if you give it everything you have, it is amazing what can happen”

-Wangari Maathai

Number 4:

“If the entire population of the planet is represented by 100 people, 57 live in Asia, 21 in Europe, 14 in North and South America, and 8 in Africa.  The numbers of Asians and Africans are increasing every year, while the number of Europeans and North Americans is decreasing.  50% of the wealth of the world is in the hands of 6 people, all of whom are American.  70 people are unable to read or write.  50 suffer from malnutrition due to insufficient nutrition.  35 do not have access to safe drinking water.  80 live in sub-standard housing.  Only 1 has a university or college degree.  Most of the population of the globe live in substantially different circumstances than those we in the first world take for granted”

-Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil.

Number 5:

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit”

-Aristotle

If you agree with these as I do, please help me to support the Nova Scotia Gambia Association and the work they are doing to change the health and rights of children across a country.  Small donations can have a BIG impact overseas!   Everything counts and a bit of money can go a long way towards educating youth on essential health practices in The Gambia.  For $20 (less than the cost of most 5km races) you can cover the costs of a health education billboard in The Gambia, and for $50 (less than the cost of most marathon entry fees) you can cover the costs of a drama troupe production around a health/human rights topic, arming an entire community with health promotion knowledge.

Thanks and happy running!

Every Child Deserves an Education on Health

 

The village we were traveling to

The village we were traveling to

I am a strong believer in health promotion.  Health education is one of the most straightforward ways to promote health among a population.  Teach a child about how to ensure they have clean and safe drinking water (and give them the necessary tools and resources), and you can prevent all kinds of diseases down the road.  It saves time and money, and it just makes a lot of sense.

This really hit home for me during an excursion I had while traveling in Eastern Africa in 2008.   One day, I had the opportunity to tag along with a group of volunteers to a rural Masaii village.  We were going with a local organization to do a presentation on HIV/AIDS and safer sex options.  It was a completely humbling and life changing trip.   We drove over an hour and arrived at a small village, and proceeded to the one room school.  The children Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 12.24.10 PMwere cleared out to continue their lessons outside, and slowly, the adults of the community filtered in.  Soon room was packed, including people listening in through all the doors and windows around the one-room building.

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 12.25.25 PM

Singing and celebrating after the presentation

 

And so the presentation began, with two Canadian girls and a translator.  They talked straightforwardly about what HIV/AIDS is, how it is transferred between people, and what can be done to prevent the transmission of the disease.  It was a pretty straightforward presentation about the topic, one that you would expect to see in a junior high or high school in Canada.  However, what was different about this population was that it was a group of adults hearing this information for the first time.  When the standard banana/condom demonstration was brought out, the whole audience was giggling and couldn’t take anything seriously.  It was funny, but at the same time it wasn’t.  How would the information and skills taught at this presentation be used in real life if it was a laughing matter and only presented after sexual habits had been engrained.  It probably wouldn’t. 

While it is important to teach health promotion information and practices to adults, it is even more essential to teach them to children so they can establish habits and a community of safer health practices.  This is what makes the approach taken by the NSGA so efficient.  The NSGA provides peer health education on a wide variety of essential health topics, including (but not limited to) HIV/AIDS, malaria, environmental sustainability, landline awareness, and clean water.  Educate children in junior high and they will use those skills for the rest of their lives.  They will establish a community and norm of making healthy choices, and pass these healthy practices on.  It is a lot of bang for not much buck.

Here in Canada, we have health education in our school systems that inform and protect our youth.  However, this is not the case for many children in Africa.  Luckily, for many students in The Gambia, access to this vital information is available through the NSGA.  This is why I am taking the time and effort to run across The Gambia in support of the NSGA peer health education programs in The Gambia.   Please support me in this cause by donating here (please select love4Gambia from the drop down list).  Any and all help is greatly needed and appreciated!

I will leave you with one of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes:

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice”

Thanks for the read and much love,

Jennifer

Beauty, Humanity + the Opposite

With this blog, I want to share some beautiful writing about the continent of Africa.  I then I want to climb up on a virtual soapbox and protest someone who I believe is using Africa for their own profit.

cover of book Africa. Altered States and Ordinary MiraclesLast week, I picked up a book at Chapters on a whim titled Africa: Altered States and Ordinary Miracles.  The first chapter knocked my socks off.  In author Richard Dowden’s opening pages, I read in his striking words, exactly what I feel about this beautiful continent. He writes what Ashley and I cried about on Leybato’s peaceful patio overlooking Fajara beach before we came home in August.  We cried because we feared that no one else would understand our experience; understand how we’ve come to know that Africa is filled with the most beautiful humanity left on the face of this planet. This author puts understanding into words that are easy to read.

I will share the words that captured my breath.

Richard Dowden writes:

“I have watched the sun set, shrunken and mean, over a cold, drab London street and stood outside a mud hut the next morning on Kenyan hillside and seen it rise in glory over the East African plains. Africa is close.

“Few go there. Africa has a reputation: poverty, disease and war. But when outsiders do go they are often surprised by Africa’s welcome, entranced rather than frightened. Visitors are welcomed and cared for in Africa. If you go you will find most Africans friendly, gentle and infinitely polite. You will frequently be humbled by African generosity. Africans have in abundance what we call social skills. These are not skills that are formally taught or learned. There is no click-on have-a-nice-day smile in Africa. Africans meet, greet and talk, look you in the eye and empathize, hold hands and embrace, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness.  All these things are as natural as music in Africa.

“Westerners arriving in Africa for the first time are always struck by its beauty and size- even the sky seems higher. And they often find themselves suddenly cracked open. They lose inhibitions, feel more alive, more themselves, and they begin to understand why, until then, they have only half lived. In Africa the essentials of existence – light, earth, food, water, birth, family, love, sickness, death – are more immediate, more intense. Visitors suddenly realize what life is for. To risk a huge generalization: amid our wasteful wealth and time-pressed lives we have lost human values that still abound in Africa.”

One page later:

“Amid Africa’s wars and man-made famine and plagues I have found people are getting on with life, rising gloriously above conditions that would break most of us. In Africa even in the worst of times you do not hear tones of doom and despair that characterize some Western media reports on the state of Africa. Africa always has hope. I find more hopelessness in Highbury where I live in London, than in the whole of Africa.”

I am halfway through this book and what follows is as good as this beginning.  It’s possible, I guess, that something might disappoint me in the second half.  I don’t think it will.  If you want a closer glimpse at the humanity I love so much, if you want to learn more about Africa’s past and present from your own home, if you want to explore Africa’s complexity, do yourself a favor and read this book.

I am disappointed in a move the publisher of this book made.

On the back of “Africa,” you find this review from O, The Oprah Magazine:

“A deeply informed and informative ‘tough love’ love letter to a continent.”

Let me remind you what ‘tough love’ means. ‘Tough Love’ is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the Promotion of a person’s welfare, esp. that of an addict, child, or criminal, by enforcing certain constraints on them, or requiring them to take responsibility for their actions and also as love or affectionate concern expressed in an unsentimental manner (as through discipline)especially to promote responsible behavior.

Wow, O Magazine, way to be so xenophonic, condescending, representative of the worst Western stereotypes and completely miss the point of this book.

Did you miss the blatant main message of the prologue and each chapter?

Africans will develop solutions for Africa. 

Africans will develop Africa.

Not Westerners.

In fact, the author clearly articulates his theory that colonization, imperialism, post-colonial neo-colonization and continued political interference by Western governments are some of the primary reasons for much of the conflict and political instability on the continent of Africa.

O Magazine, if you understood this, you would not have read this book as a ‘tough love’ love letter because you would understand this book was about understanding Africa.  It was written for those who haven’t had the enormous fortune to experience it themselves.  It was not about passing on paternalistic judgment from a (wrong) place of moral superiority.  If you understood that, you would understand that a Brit writing a “tough” love love letter is neither required nor appropriate and the last thing that Brit Richard Dowden would do.

I am disappointed by this comment and disappointed that the publisher chose to put it on the book cover.  Perhaps the publisher felt that this book needed the blessing of the conglomerate that is Oprah.  Sadly, Oprah inarguably has a powerful influence on many members of the American public in areas of what to read, what to buy, what to want.

I’ve never hidden my opinion of Oprah.

I dislike her.

There, I said it.

If you love Oprah, that’s fine. Millions of people love her.  My reasons are pretty simple.  She deliberately and widely promotes herself as a great and generous philanthropist.  She wants the world to believe that she is a person who cares deeply about education in Africa and that she is saving lives in Africa, one student at a time.

I don’t believe that her actions back up her self-created grandiose philanthropic savior image.  Given the scope of her publicized philanthropic persona, I don’t believe that she is that generous.

Sure she pledged $400 million dollars to build a girl’s school called the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls south of Johannesburg, South Africa. Education is a cornerstone of development in developing nations.  Building a school is great.  I give her that.

Oprah’s school, set over 22 acres, opened in January 2007.  It began with an enrollment of 150 pupils with plans to increase to 450.  It features state-of-the-art classrooms, computer and science laboratories, a library, theatre and beauty salon.

The school had been criticized as elitist and unnecessarily luxurious.  I agree.  There are a lot of youth in South Africa that don’t have access to education.  South Africa is a country of over 50 million people. There are 18 million youth under age 18. According to Unicef’s 2009 data, 30% of high school aged boys and 26% of high school aged girls are not enrolled in secondary school. Poverty and lack of resources keep youth out of school.

It’s important to think about want things cost in the world of international development. Well-known Canadian NGO Plan Canada (formerly Foster Plan Canada) has been in the business of building schools since 1937.  According to their work, the price of school supplies for one child for one year is $30 a year.  A library in a box, enough books for 100+ students costs $120 per year. Teacher training is $500 per year.  School fees are about $300 per student per year. The price tag for building a school (in Rwanda)? $40,000.

So did the 450-student school that Oprah built require an expenditure of $40 million?  Probably not.  Could she have built many schools for that price?  Sure.  Did the school that she built require a beauty salon?  In a country where 30% of youth can’t attend school  because of poverty?  No.

I don’t think that the way Oprah lives and conducts her business (the Oprah Winfrey Show) are congruent with being a true philanthropist.  Oprah does not spending a considerable amount of her net worth on development in Africa.

  • She is reported to have a net worth of 2.5 billion dollars. That’s more than 2 times 999 million.
  • By 2008, her yearly income had increased to $275 million. And that was 3 years ago.
  • On the season premiere of 2004, all 276 people, in Winfrey’s show audience were given a new car (donated by General Motors).
  • Some 302 “ultimate fans” accompanied Winfrey to Australia (donated by Australian tourism bodies).
  • In fact, Oprah has given away 570 cars over 25 seasons. Read more here
  • She owns 6 homes.
  1. A 42 acre ocean and mountain view estate in Montecito, California called “The Promised Land”
  2. A house in Lavallette, New Jersey,
  3. An apartment in Chicago
  4. An estate on Fisher Island off the coast of Miami
  5. A ski house in Telluride, Colorado
  6. An estate on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

Does a person need six homes? That’s a rhetorical question. Oprah can live her life and spend her money whatever way she chooses.  I don’t believe that the small amount of net worth that she spends on Africa gives her the right to brag about being a heroic philanthropist, resulting in publicity for herself, her business and adoration by the masses.

I’d love to see her take a page out of the Bill Gates’ life and do some long lasting good with her considerable wealth.  Bill and Melinda Gates are the second-most generous philanthropists in America, having given over 48% of their fortune, $28 billion, to charity.

Oprah makes the list at number 35, having given over 12% of her fortune to charity.  My problem is that she has given herself about 95% more publicity than the 34 people ahead of her on the list.  Those 34 people are ordinary heros.

You can read more here, here and here from Americans who feel the same way as I do about Oprah (they go a few steps further).

So to close this blog, read Africa. Altered States, Ordinary Miracles and ignore Oprah.